The Pushouts,” a Documentary about Victor Rios, Marginalized Youth, and the Power of Mentorship

Update: Since the writing of this article, PBS has decided to pull ‘The Pushouts’ from their Hispanic Heritage Month series. “I think I’ve been crying for the last two days,” said one of the documentary filmmakers on the update video. “There are very few opportunities for Latino producers to be making films about our own community that are true and authentic.”

As part of PBS’s campaign for Hispanic Heritage Month, the network was set to premiere the documentary “The Pushouts,” directed by Katie Galloway and Dawn Valadez through its Latino Public Broadcasting series VOCES. The hour-long documentary was meant to air tonight at 10pm ET. Last week, VOCES premiered a collaboration with American Masters in its premiere of the documentaryRaúl Juliá: All the World’s a Stage.” 

At the center of this week’s film “The Pushouts” is Dr. Victor Rios, the Associate Dean of Social Science and Professor of Sociology at UC-Santa Barbara, a prominent figure in disrupting the “school to prison” pipeline. His expertise is drawn from his own experiences as a high school dropout and former gang member, “pushed out” of the public school system in Oakland along with so many other black and brown peers. The press release for “The Pushouts” cites a figure of nearly 1 in 4 Black or Latinx students who does not graduate high school, an experience that sets up youth for an adulthood fraught with danger, destruction, and for some, time in prison.

The directors explained to Good Docs that their film, for one thing, intends to reframe dropouts as the losers of a system of institutionalized racism and classism. But they also wanted to tell a story that could illuminate the way forward. “‘The Pushouts’ is a film that moves beyond the often negative headlines about youth of color,” says Valdez said in a statement. “The film illuminates the unique potential of each young person, the importance of community solutions and care, the impact of strong teachers and mentors, and the power of quality education on the lives of the most vulnerable — yet often most resilient — young people.”

Rios, himself, is someone who embodies the incredible potential that a person can have if given the opportunity, even when the deck has been stacked against them. Beyond his work as a professor and as a speaker with a TED Talk under his belt, Rios has been leading a summer program in South Central L.A. at YO! Watts to help build those opportunities and offer mentorship for the next generation of young pushouts. One of the most incredible parts of his story is that he is now volunteering at YO! Watts alongside one of the mentors from his high school years, Martin Flores. “Thinking about Martin, how he was there when I needed that kind of support, he was one of those people that saved my life,” he shared with PBS.