Christmastime often reminds me of the early 1970’s and a film I saw in elementary school titled, J.T.
I was probably about 10 years old the first time it was shown to my class and if I recall correctly, the teachers brought it out each December until I moved on to Junior High. This film had a tremendous impact on me and I have never forgotten it. The story takes place in the New York City projects at Christmastime and is about a young black boy who steals a radio and befriends a cat.
I had never really been exposed to poverty before and was shocked by how J.T. and his family lived. The bubble I was living in had been popped. Times were very different back then and parents were able to shield their children from the harsh realities of the real world fairly easily. My parents were of the opinion that we, as children, should be carefree and innocent. When I think back, my mother and father rarely watched the news in our presence, nor did they discuss topics like Vietnam, crime or other worldly problems at the dinner table. We simply were not exposed to what today’s young people see on a daily basis. I had heard about the starving children in Africa and that some families were poor but I never had any real exposure to poverty. I had a warm home, plenty of clothes and food in abundance. Watching J.T. living in a cold apartment, wearing worn clothing and having limited food was shocking and very emotional for me.
I have searched for this movie at various times over the last 40 years but could never remember the title. About a week ago, I thought of this movie again, took another shot and googled “boy who befriends a cat”. There was J.T. again, right on my screen in 5 parts on YouTube. I watched and it took me right back to my classroom at Robbins Lane Elementary School. I was bothered having to watch it in parts so I found a place online that I could purchase a copy of the original. I have watched it several times and although it is dated, the story still holds up. It has a wonderful message beyond my simplistic description of a boy and his cat. The film is about love, struggle, family, faith and coming of age.
I’ll be watching J.T. again on Christmas Eve this year and probably every year after.
Here is the link for part 1. This short film was made for the CBS Children’s Hour in and first aired in 1969.