Lean on Me

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Lean on Me is a 1989 biographical-drama film that tells the true story of Joe Clark, an inner city high school principal in Paterson, New Jersey, whose school is at risk of being overtaken by the New Jersey state government unless students improve their test score.

Directed by John G. Avildsen. Written by Michael Schiffer.
A true story about a real hero. Taglines

Joe Clark[edit]

  • This is an institution of learning, ladies and gentlemen. If you can't control it, how can you teach? Discipline is not the enemy of enthusiasm!
  • The Lord said, "Do whatever you have to do." And he didn't say "Joe, be polite."
  • All right people, here we are. This is the day. In one hour, you are going to take an exam, one administered by the state to test your basic skills, along with the quality of education here at Eastside High. And I want to tell you what the people out there are saying about you and what they think about your chances. They say that you're inferior! That you are just a bunch of niggers and spics and poor white trash! Education is wasted on you! You cannot learn! You're lost! I mean all of you! I want all the white students to stand up. All my white students. Stand up. Right now. Stand up. C'mon, all my white students, stand up, stand up. That's it. C'mon, stand up...These are my white children, and they're the same as all of you! They've got no place to go. If they had, they would have abandoned us a long time ago like everybody else did. But they couldn't. So here they are at Eastside High, just like the rest of us. You can sit down. Are you getting my point, people? Is it beginning to sink in? We sink, we swim, we rise, we fall. We meet our fate together! Now, it took the help of a good, good friend to make me know and understand that. And I do understand it. And I'm grateful. I'm eternally grateful...And now, I've got a message for those people out there who've abandoned you and written you off! Can you hear me? CAN YOU HEAR ME? Good!...You are not inferior! Your grades may be. Your school may have been. But you can turn all of that around and make liars out of those bastards in exactly one hour, when you take that test and pass it and win! So here's what I want you to do: When you find your minds wandering, I want you to knuckle back down and concentrate. Concentrate! Remember what's at stake. And show them what Eastside High is all about, a spirit that will not die!
  • [with a baseball bat in his hand] They used to call me Crazy Joe. Well, now they can call me Batman!
  • I don't have to do nothin' but stay black and die!
  • [after refusing admittance to the Fire Chief] You know what he's saying right now? "Black bastard can't throw me out!" You know where he's saying it? Out in the parking lot.
  • [at an assembly] I want all of you to take a good look at these people on the risers behind me. These people have been here up to five years, and done absolutely nothing. These are drug dealers and drug users. They have taken up space. They have disrupted this school. They have harassed your teachers. And they have intimidated you. Well, times are about to change. You will not be bothered in Joe Clark's school. These people are incorrigible. And since none of them could graduate anyway... [to those onstage] ...you are all expurgated. You are dismissed! You are out of here, forever. I wish you well! Mr. Wright... [after Security Dean William Wright and Eastside's new guards eject all the "problem" kids from school, Clark's audience in the decaying auditorium grows silent] Next time, it may be you. If you do no better than they did, next time, it will be you. They said this school was dead, like the cemetery it's built on. But we call our Eastside teams "Ghosts", don't we? And what are ghosts? Ghosts are spirits that rise from the dead. I want you to be my ghosts. You are going to lead our resurrection, by defying the expectation that all of us are doomed to failure. My motto is simple: If you do not succeed in life, I don't want you to blame your parents. I don't want you to blame the white man. I want you to blame yourselves. The responsibility is yours! In two weeks we have a practice exam, and the Minimum Basic Skills Test on April 13. That's 110 school days from now. But it's not just about those test scores. If you do not have these basic skills, you will find yourselves locked out. Locked out of that American dream that you see advertised on TV, that they tell you is so easy to get. You are here for one reason. One reason only: To learn. To work for what you want. The alternative is to waste your time and to fall into the trap of crime, drugs, and death. Does everyone understand that? Do all of you understand me? Then welcome to the new Eastside High.
  • [after asking teachers to put up their hands] Because you are failing to educate them, this is the posture that many of our students will wind up in. Only they'll be staring down the barrel of a gun!
  • Mr. Mayor, on behalf of myself and on behalf the students of Eastside High, you can tell the State to go to Hell!
  • [to the Eastside students who have gathered outside City Hall to demonstrate on his behalf] Wow... Somebody tell me why I can't get this kind of turnout for study hall!
  • Hey, son...! [removing Sams' baseball cap] Put something in your head, not on it!
  • [to Kid Ray, who is leaving school to work for a crime syndicate] You'll be dead in a year, son. Hear what I'm saying? You'll be dead in a year!
  • [explaining why he expelled students from his school] They say one bad apple spoils a bunch. Well what about three hundred? Rotten to the core!
  • [after bringing down a drug dealer] Get this disgrace to his race out of here!
  • [at lunch, in the cafeteria, Clark has singled out Sams] I want all of you to look at this slovenly, sloppy boy here as an example of how not to dress. Now if you look like this when you look in your mirrors in the morning, find something else to put on. Self-respect permeates every aspect of your life. If you don't have it for yourself, you're not gonna get it from anywhere.
  • Code 10! Code 10! This is Joe Clark! Get those chains off the doors, the enemy's here!

Dr. Frank Napier[edit]

  • [to Joe] All your shit comes down on me. It's like you're a big bird with radar. And I'm tired of getting hit!
  • The truth is that for all your talking, all your 'Crazy Joe' routine, what have you ever done? Nothing. You're nothing but an insignificant man. It's like you were never born. Your life hasn't made one bit of difference, and neither has mine! Wanna take that to the grave?


  • Boys in Bathroom: [singing] Fair Eastside,
    By thy sign, we'll stand, and always, praise thy name.
    (Praise Thy Name, Praise Thy Naaaaaame)
    To heaven, yea
    Lend our hearts, and hands, to help increase thy fame.
    Ooh Lord, thee honor, yea
    Of all Eastside High, cross forth our loyalty
    Loyalty, loyalty.


Joe Clark: You think you can run this school? If you could, then I wouldn't be here, would I? No one talks in my meetings. NO ONE! You just take out your pencils and write. I want the names of every hoodlum, drug dealer, drug user, and miscreant who's done nothing but take this place apart on my desk by noon today. Reverend Slappy...You are now my chief custodian, Reverend Slappy. You will scour this building clean. Graffiti goes up, it's off the next day. Is that clear? ...Detention students can help you. Let them scrub this place for awhile; let them discover what a fine living people like yourself make doing this. And tear down those cages in the cafeteria! If we treat our students like animals, that's exactly how they'll behave...! This is my new Dean of Security, Mr. William Wright. He will be my Avenging Angel, as you teachers reclaim the halls. This is an institution of learning, ladies and gentlemen. If you can't control it, HOW CAN YOU TEACH?! Discipline is not the enemy of enthusiasm...! Mr. Zirella, you are my new Head Football Coach. Mr. Darnell -- stand up, Mr. Darnell -- Mr. Darnell will be your assistant. You know why you're being demoted, Mr. Darnell? Because I'm sick and tired of our football team getting pushed all over the field! Thank you, sit down! I want precision. I want a weight program. And if you don't like it, Mr. Darnell, you can quit. Same goes for the rest of ya. You tried it your way for years. And 60% of your students -- excluding those with criminal records -- 60% of them can't even pass our state's Minimum Basic Skills Test. THAT MEANS THEY CAN HARDLY READ! They've given me one school year, less than 12 months, to turn this place around...to get those test scores up, so the state will not take us over to perform the task which you have failed to do -- TO EDUCATE OUR CHILDREN! Forget about the way it used to be. This is not a damn democracy. We are in a state of emergency, and my word is law. There's only one boss in this place, and that's me - the "HNIC." Are there any questions? Mr. Wright, with me.
Mr. O'Malley: "HNIC"?
Ms. Levias: The "Head Nigger In Charge".

Dr. Frank Napier (holding the newspaper): You've seen this yet?
[Joe Clark takes the newspaper from Frank, read the headline that says "Principal 'Crazy Joe' Clark Fights With Former Student"]
Dr. Frank Napier: You know, all your shit comes down on my head.
Joe Clark: Aw, Frank, look--
Dr. Frank Napier: No, you let me talk. It's like you're a big bird with radar, and I'm tired of getting hit!
Joe Clark: Is this my fault?
Dr. Frank Napier: This is nothing! I've got union lawyers threatening me, and there's talk of a walkout!
Joe Clark: Well let 'em! They're not teaching anything down there anyway!
Dr. Frank Napier: Then it's your job to do something about it!
Joe Clark: Not one of them has a personal stake in that school, Frank, not one!
Dr. Frank Napier: The Fire Chief was just here; he says it's illegal to bar those doors. Mrs. Barrett is organizing a parents' group to try to get you removed, since you insulted them at that meeting the other night when you suggested that they "get off welfare"!
Joe Clark: Oh, I didn't mean that...
Dr. Frank Napier: Cause the fact is quite a few of them need it.
Joe Clark: I wasn't talking to all of them, Frank. Now look, you came and recruited me, man. You disappoint me, brother, you disappoint me.
Dr. Frank Napier: The disappointment here is you!
Joe Clark: Me?!
Dr. Frank Napier: Yes!
Joe Clark: Look, you know who I am. You've known me 30 years! You knew what I would do! You know how I operate!
Dr. Frank Napier: Nigga, can you keep quiet!? The fact is you're screwing up! You're alienating everybody! Look at you; you have no life, your wife left you...I oughta walk out on you myself!
Joe Clark: Well, go ahead! Bail the hell on out!
Dr. Frank Napier: But I said I would back you up!
Joe Clark: That's what you said, Frank! That's what you said!
Dr. Frank Napier: Brother, I will go through the fire with you! But you are not taking care of business! This shit you're pulling now, you've just gone plain loco! Now, you suspend Darnell! What the hell was that?
Joe Clark: Darnell is symptomatic of the disciplinary problems that we have in this entire-
Dr. Frank Napier: He is a good, strong, young black teacher! So, he...dumped that desk right on top of your head? Well, right on! Good for him! You will reinstate that man, you hear?! [Clark waves his hand in acknowledgment.] And then you fire Mrs. Elliott. Why?! Because she didn't want to kiss your ass?! Well, I wouldn't either! How about that?!
Joe Clark: Mrs. Elliott has an ego problem!
Dr. Frank Napier: Yeah, well, you lost the best teacher we had! We couldn't get her back now if we wanted to.
Joe Clark: I don't have time for Mrs. Elliott's problem!
Dr. Frank Napier: Well, you better make time!
Joe Clark: We are being crucified by a process that is turning blacks into a permanent underclass here, Frank! A permanent underclass!
[Uninterested, Dr. Napier turns away]
Joe Clark: Nuh-uh, see? Nobody wants to talk about that. Nobody! Mrs. Elliott's missionary zeal about Mozart has nothing to do with our problem! Nothing! What good is Mozart going to do a bunch of children who can't go out and get a job?!
Dr. Frank Napier: Joe, your personal battles are gonna cost us the war. Worry about the test scores.
Joe Clark: [screams] What the hell you think I'm worried about, Frank?!
Dr. Frank Napier: End of discussion! Debate is over; you will write a formal apology!
Joe Clark: I will what?!
Dr. Frank Napier: A formal apology! For your treatment of Mrs. Elliott and Darnell and for your vicious and thoughtless insults to the women of this community! You will kowtow; you will step and fetch!
Joe Clark: Frank, if you think you can get me...!
Dr. Frank Napier: Get used to it; it's the way of the world! If you're so hot on discipline, then goddammit... [Slams a fist on his briefcase] start by accepting mine! Because contrary to popular opinion, I'm the Head Nigger In Charge! [Savagely grabs his briefcase and heads for the door, then turns back to a speechless Clark] Come on, let's go get something to eat.
Joe Clark: [following him to the door and walking out with him] You really think you're bad, don't you?

Joe Clark: Now, let me tell you something: The trouble with being a teenager is you don't know nothin'. The problem with teenagers is you think you're smarter than people who've already been down the road you're traveling. You know what I'm tryin' to say to you, boy? DO YOU?!
Thomas Sams: Yes, sir.
Joe Clark: Did you tell your father I threw you out of school? [Sams shakes his head without making eye contact; Clark picks Sam's head up, yells] Look at me, DAMN IT!
Thomas Sams: [sobs] No, sir.
Joe Clark: Why not? No guts, huh? Afraid of what he's gonna say to you, aren't ya?
Thomas Sams: My father doesn't live with us anymore, sir.
Joe Clark: Oh, is that what you're doing now? Go around feeling sorry for yourself, boy? Huh? Go on. Get outta here! You're wasting my time!
Thomas Sams: [crying] Please let me back, sir. I have to get back in school. I can't go home and tell my mom I got kicked out of school.
Joe Clark: Now why should I let you back into my school, Sams?
Thomas Sams: 'Cause I'm gonna do better, sir.
Joe Clark: How?
Thomas Sams: By doin' my work.
Joe Clark: What else?
Thomas Sams: And stayin' out of trouble.
Joe Clark: What have you been thinking about all this time? Why should I believe you now?
Thomas Sams: 'Cause I changed my ways.
Joe Clark: I don't believe you, Sams. I don't think you've changed a thing. Go on, jump!
Thomas Sams: [sobs] No, I don't wanna jump!
Joe Clark: Yes, you do! You smoke crack, don't ya? YOU SMOKE CRACK, DON'T YA?! [Sams hangs his head in shame; Clark picks up Sam's head up again] LOOK AT ME, BOY! DON'T YOU SMOKE CRACK?!
Thomas Sams: Yes, sir.
Joe Clark: You know what that does to you? Huh?
Thomas Sams: No, sir.
Joe Clark: [taps Sam's head with his finger] It kill your brain cells, son. It kills your brain cells! Now when you're destroying your brain cells, you're doing the same thing as killing yourself. You're just doing it slower! Now, I say if you wanna kill yourself, don't fuck around with it! Go on and do it expeditiously! Now go on and jump! JUMP!
Thomas Sams: [sobbing in tears] No! I don't wanna kill myself, sir!
Joe Clark: You're quite sure about this, are you?
Thomas Sams: Yes, sir.
Joe Clark: All right, Sams, I'll tell you what I'm gonna do: I'm gonna go back on my own word just this once and let you back into my school -- 'cause you're still a baby and you don't know shit. But you understand this, boy: You're not gonna get a moment's rest. I'm gonna be on your case every minute; you mess up just once, and you're outta here. Now, you understand me? Do you understand me?
Thomas Sams: Yes, sir.
Joe Clark: [calms down] Now, go on back downstairs.

Mrs. Elliott: I would love to chat, Mr. Clark, but I have a concert next week in New York and I would like to be prepared.
Joe Clark: What?
Mrs. Elliott: Prepared. You do know what that means. It means capable, ready, and up to your job.
Joe Clark: What concert, Mrs. Elliott?
Mrs. Elliott: The one at Lincoln Center. We do it every year.
Joe Clark: Until now. Your concert is cancelled.
Mrs. Elliott: What?
Joe Clark: CANCELLED! You do know what cancelled means, don't you Mrs. Elliott? Over! Finished! Terminated!
Mrs. Elliott: WHY? These children have worked too hard!
Joe Clark: And for not telling me for one thing!
Mrs. Elliott: I filed a form in your office! Why don't you talk to...
Joe Clark: And for RANK insubordination! You've questioned my judgement, my competence, my intelligence!
Mrs. Elliott: I don't want to get into this! You're the one that comes around here to bother me! You're a bully, a despicable man! I have nothing to say to you!
Joe Clark: Alright, let's just accommodate that, Mrs. Elliott! YOU'RE FIRED!
Mrs. Elliott: You need a psychiatrist!
Mrs. Elliott: Fine, fine! Fired! Fired! YOU will hear from MY lawyer! [hits the wall]

Mr. Darnell: Mr. Clark, just what was that all about?
Joe Clark: I distinctly said, "No one moves during the singing of the school song". Now, if you can't understand that, find yourself another place to work!
Mr. Darnell: I was picking up a piece of paper!
Joe Clark: You're contradicting me in front of my students.
Mr. Darnell: They're my students, too!
Joe Clark: They are my students, Mr. Darnell!
Mr. Darnell: Just what are you trying to prove? I'm working my ass off of you, took the demotion and I'm doin' my job! You're just getting your rocks off for treating me like trash!
Joe Clark: No, sir. That's what you were picking up.
Mr. Darnell: [slamming the folders onto Clark's desk] Goddamn it! You give me the goddamn respect you would damn well want yourself, or I will kick your black ass!
Joe Clark: You are suspended, sir, as of right now! Get out!
[Mr. Darnell yells out of frustration and upturns Mr. Clark's desk. They stare at each other briefly, then Mr. Darnell angrily storms out of the room]

[Clark looks at the boys' restroom, suspects Sams is hiding something]
Joe Clark: Let's see what you got in here.
Thomas Sams: You don't want to go in there, Mr. Clark, it stinks!
[Clark grabs Sams and they go into the boys restroom]

Dr. Frank Napier: Don, the man has a legitimate problem. How's he supposed to keep drug dealers out of his school if their buddies can just push open the exit doors and let 'em walk on in?
Mr. Rosenberg: He's got a point, sir.
Mayor Don Bottman: Rosenberg, this doesn't concern you.

Mayor Don Bottman: What do you want?
Leonna Barrett: Clark!
Mayor Don Bottman: Just like that, huh? Head on a platter.
Leonna Barrett: You think I got an attitude. Well, let me tell you what I think. I know why you like Clark. He's a guard dog. Does your dirty work. Keeps the black folk in line - that's fine. But you've got to get re-elected. I've got enough folks lined up with me to give you a DAMN hard time, and I will get more. I will organize. I will beat the streets.
Mayor Don Bottman: Unless I do what?
Leonna Barrett: Appoint me to the school board so we can vote Clark out. Otherwise, we'll just have to vote you out.
Mayor Don Bottman: Vote me out? You know, it's always good to see citizens avail themselves of the democratic process.
Leonna Barrett: My job's gonna be easy. You're not too popular these days, are ya?

Joe Clark: Don't talk to me about saving those kids. The mayor wants to save his budget. And you wanna save your ass!
Dr. Frank Napier: Well, so what? You want the truth?
Joe Clark: Yeah, Frank. Let's have some truth.
Dr. Frank Napier: The truth is that for all your talking, all your 'Crazy Joe' routine, what have you ever done? Nothing. You're nothing but an insignificant man. It's like you were never born. Your life hasn't made one bit of difference, and neither has mine. Wanna take that to the grave?

Thomas Sams: Hey, Mr. Clark, what did they get you for?
Ms. Levias: What's the charge? What's this all about?
Leona Barrett: It's about someone finally standing up to this man instead of taking his orders like a maid.
Ms. Levias: How dare you speak about people like that? Who do you think you are?
Joe Clark: Mrs. Barrett, if you think you can-
Leonna Barrett: SHUT UP! You're finished! [holds up the tape recorder] The school board's gonna hear this at 7:00, and we're gonna vote your black ass out.
Thomas Sams: [calling after Barrett] Yo, bitch! Vote on THIS! [grabs his crotch at her]
Joe Clark: Sams, you go to class! [turning back to Joan] Ms. Levias, you're acting principal now. I expect you to perform as I would.

Ms. Levias: Mr. Clark.
Mr. Clark: Yes, Ms. Levias?
Ms. Levias: May I talk to you for a minute, please?
Mr. Clark: What do you want?
Ms. Levias: I want you to transfer me.
Mr. Clark: To where?
Ms. Levias: Out of here!
Mr. Clark: You know, this doesn't surprise me one bit, Ms. Levias. I've sensed resistance in you since our very first meeting.
Ms. Levias: You're an egomanical windbag.
Mr. Clark: Who are you talking to?!
Ms. Levias: I'm talking to you! You like to whip people who can't fight back! I thought I could take it because I had a father in the same kind of pain that makes you such a bastard, but I was wrong! Life is much too short! I will not endure you any longer!
Mr. Clark: You will not endure me?!
Ms. Levias: The only reason I haven't walked out, and half the staff along with me, is because those children need us here.
Mr. Clark: Oh, the children need you?
Ms. Levias: You're so busy talking discipline, you forget to educate!
Mr. Clark: Is that so? Then what the hell do you think I've been doing all this time?
Ms. Levias: So you cleaned it up. That was the easy part.
Mr. Clark: That's the easy part?
Ms. Levias: Those children want to be helped. They have worked their hearts out for you, Joe. Done everything we've asked them, believed what we told them. But I feel sorry for them. They're not ready to take that test!
Mr. Clark: What the hell are you talking about? I have done everything——
Ms. Levias: I! I! It is always I! There are 300 teachers on the faculty here! You do not do it all alone!
Mr. Clark: [begins to walk away] I don't have to stand here and listen to these accusations.
Ms. Levias: You will listen! You will stand there and you will listen!
Mr. Clark: All right, Ms. Levias. All right, go ahead and talk.
Ms. Levias: For the past seven months, you've been flapping your mouth and you haven't heard a thing. You haven't even seen what's painfully obvious.
Mr. Clark: I'll tell you what I DO see, lady——
Ms. Levias: NO! I'M talking now! Let me finish! Everybody here may not like you as a person, but we all applaud your effort. But what you don't understand is that the same people who support you are the ones that you're beating up! You don't even take the time to say, "Thank you", "Job well done", nothing. You just step in their necks, constantly abuse them, criticize them.
Mr. Clark: (walks towards Ms. Levias) Ms. Levias, what do you want from me? What the HELL do you want?!
Ms. Levias: I want you to get this straight. Most of the teachers that are here are here because they care about those children out there. This school, this fight, they are in it with you. They take it home at night the same as you. They are part of those children's lives. You are thoughtless and cruel. And it hurts. And none of them deserve it. They are sick of it, and so am I!


  • A true story about a real hero.
  • Eastside High was a training ground for jail. Then Joe Clark took over. Now the kids are getting something they never had. A future.
  • At Eastside High, they called him "Crazy Joe" for padlocking the doors, and for changing all the rules. But Principal Joe Clark was crazy about one thing only - the students who loved him.
  • Eastside High never had a principal this tough - or one who cared this much about its students.


External links[edit]

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