Disney Star Cameron Boyce Honors His Grandmother's Connection to 'The Clinton 12' for Black History Month: 'She Has Chosen to Forgive, but Not Forget'
"She has chosen to forgive, not forget, and she learned from it and has just grown from her experiences," Cameron Boyce says about his grandmother Jo Ann Boyce
Teen star Cameron Boyce’s latest role involved no acting at all.
Disney XD and Disney Channel’s new Be Inspired short-film series, commemorating Black History Month, is now airing and features the incredible story of Cameron’s grandmother, Jo Ann Boyce, who was one of “The Clinton 12.”
The U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 ruling in Brown v. Board of Education ordered Clinton High School in Clinton, Tennessee, to desegregate. Two years later – in the fall of 1956 – 12 black teenagers, who became known as “The Clinton 12,” attended the first integrated public high school in the South. Before that, Jo Ann and her friends were told to go to school 20 miles away from their home.
“My Nana stuck up for what she believed in and did something amazing,” the Descendants star, 16, tells PEOPLE. “Things are going to happen in your life and you’re going to face adversity, but if you grow from that and learn from that, you’re a better person because of it.”
Jo Ann was just 14 years old when she and 11 of her friends courageously walked the hallways of Clinton despite intense backlash from a lot of white residents. In 1958, the school was severely damaged by dynamite explosions, which people assumed were related to the school s desegregation.
Cameras followed Jo Ann, Cameron, his sister and parents to the 12 life-size sculptures of the students in the Green McAdoo Cultural Center in Clinton, Tennessee.
“It was overwhelming. It was emotional,” Jo Ann, 74, tells PEOPLE about the experience of going back to Clinton with her family. “I could go back and remember the days that me and my friends walked down that hill together.”
“All of us, all of our parents, every single student that walked down the hill with me, all of our parents wanted us to do better, she says. “They wanted us to have better opportunities, so therefore education was number one for them. They told us, ‘It may be difficult but you guys go ahead. We are with you.’ ”
Since the series was released on Feb. 1 (it’s now also airing on ABC), Jo Ann says the response has been “overwhelming positive.”
“One woman wrote, ‘Finally, Finally.’ Finally this story that has sort of been hidden in the background is coming out, she says. “I’m hoping that children who are watching will be inspired by this story and will know that things are possible. We just want the world to know that there was a group of young people who were brave enough to face extreme adversity.”
Cameron adds, “How could we not bring this up? Giving the Clinton 12 the recognition that they deserve. How could you not be amazed by their bravery?
She has chosen to forgive, not forget, and she learned from it and has just grown from her experiences.”