The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

“Midnight Train”: A documentary sharing a hidden chapter of American history

Courtesy Justice Vanguard
The “Midnight Train” movie poster.

From classrooms to community marches, the social justice organization, Justice Vanguard, shatters the silence surrounding systematic racism. Founded by two Los Altos High School alumni, director Kiyoshi Taylor ‘15 and screenwriter Kenan Moos ‘16, this organization doesn’t just talk about change; it ignites it. Their mission is to spark critical conversations and empower communities to advocate for change by illuminating the realities of systemic racism from various viewpoints. Since 2020, Justice Vanguard has held webinars and community events like Juneteenth, led marches with tens of thousands of people and helped build the ethnic studies curriculum of high schools in the area.

Kiyoshi Taylor (top) and Kenan Moos (bottom).
Kenan Moos (left) and Kiyoshi Taylor (right) presenting to local high schools.

Their latest documentary, “Midnight Train,” will be premiering on Saturday, February 10, from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., at the Los Altos Community Center. The RSVP deadline for the event is today, February 6. With dinner and artwork from local artists such as Emory Douglas, an original artist for the Black Panther Party, Justice Vanguard hopes that the event will educate and bring the community together.

Hollywood’s portrayal of racial terror in films has been a complex and often problematic issue, with concerns about historical accuracy, selective narratives and oversimplification. For a long time, Justice Vanguard’s approach to the issue was to host community film showings and discussions about the distorted view Hollywood has added to history. But this time, Justice Vanguard decided to take a bold step: create their own solo documentary. They didn’t want to just discuss Hollywood’s inaccuracies, they wanted to let the truth speak for itself.

“There’s nothing embellished, nothing changed, nothing improved for the story,” Moos said. “The story is the story. It doesn’t need to have anything done to it to be what it is.”

Story continues below advertisement

In the documentary, Taylor revisits the harrowing experience of his grandfather, Sam Taylor, who escaped from racial terror in the South by traveling to Ohio. In the dead of night, Sam heard a knock on the door, followed by a warning: “You have to get outta here boy.” At age 14, he faced a terrifying choice: flee, or face unimaginable danger. Overnight, Sam sprinted 30 miles, seeking refuge with relatives and a northbound train.

“Despite him coming from almost nothing he was able to make an amazing life for himself and make an example for others,” Taylor said. “The film also shows how sharecropping, slavery and racial segregation are still in our recent history.”

Now 95 years old, Sam’s story provides vital insight into a largely untold chapter of American history.

“There’s nothing wrong with not knowing something, only with not being willing to learn,” Moos said.

With more stories like Kyoshi’s grandfather’s, Justice Vanguard hopes to film and document similar stories that otherwise wouldn’t be told, in a series called “My Story.” They have already accumulated 20 similar experiences.

“During slave times, there was no other way to communicate and share our stories and history except for talking,” Moos said. “If we did, repercussions could be poking our eyes out and cutting our tongues. It’s really important that we capture these stories from our community and immortalize them so it’s accessible for students and the community to be able to learn from.”

In 2020, the organization held the “Black is Beautiful” event, with the goal of highlighting the beauty of Black people and culture. Booths were set up to educate people on accountability measures and ongoing issues, with over 400 people attendees. They’ve also held a Juneteenth festival for the past three years. By showcasing Black-owned businesses and community art, the event gained an audience of over 1,800.

Justice Vanguard also played a role in building the ethnic studies curriculum at LAHS, Mountain View High School and Palo Alto High School in the past year. By talking about bias and representation, microaggressions and accountability, they hope to explain the importance of holding individuals accountable for microaggression.

“Too often in schools someone would say something sexist, racist, homophobic and get told ‘no, you don’t do that,’” Moos said. “But why is it bad? It’s that knowledge of the reason behind it. When you have this understanding of what privilege is, not just that you shouldn’t have it, we can start making that change forward.”

Justice Vanguard partnered with E3 Youth Philanthropy, a Los Altos and Mountain View community organization dedicated to addressing local social issues, to promote the event.

“Kenan wants to have a good time, but also create meaningful discussion around this issue,” junior and E3 Youth Philanthropy member Piper Chatwin said. “Because he’s grown up in this area, it’s so easy to connect with him and understand how this issue is prevalent in our area.”

The premiere of “Midnight Train” represents more than just a cinematic experience; it is a testament to the power of storytelling and the resilience of the human spirit. By centering the raw, unfiltered testimonies of survivors, Midnight Train allows the audience to confront this dark chapter of American history — recognizing the voices often drowned out in the past.

“If you don’t document these now, these people pass away, and that history, those stories, that knowledge is dead,” Moos said. “Black history is oral history.”

Kenan Moos (left) and Kiyoshi Taylor (right).

View Comments (1)
More to Discover

Comments (1)

All The Talon Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • Leo Yang | Feb 6, 2024 at 11:01 pm

    Thanks for providing a unique insight into such a complex topic!