"This is a wonderful opportunity for young people to be involved in something positive, and I believe if you give young people something positive to do they will be successful," Ebert said. "The earlier you get students to start thinking about writing, the better chance they will pursue a career that involves writing."
This year the annual Black History Month Film Festival at the urban league will have movies reviewed by high school students, including 16-year-old Kaylah Harrington. The junior at Lindblom Math & Science Academy on Tuesday reviewed the movie "American Promise."
"The movie was about two black boys navigating their way through the prep school system from elementary to high school," Harrington said. "I give the movie four stars."
Students chosen to review movies are a part of Columbia Links, a youth journalism program at Columbia College Chicago, and youths involved with the urban league. A different movie for students to review will be shown at 6 p.m. every Tuesday this month at the urban league, 4510 S. Michigan Ave.
Editors at RogerEbert.com will review and select a few student submissions to post on the site, said Ebert, a Lincoln Park resident.
"By doing so, it opens the process equally to African-American students," Chaz Ebert said. "Last month at the Sundance Film Festival, there were 400 applicants for the Robert Ebert Scholarship. Six were chosen, but not one was African-American. My husband believed that society benefited from diverse film industry."
And diversity in the film industry is slowing becoming a reality.
"The African-American Film Critics Association just gave the Roger Ebert Award to Justin Chang, an Asian-American film critic," she said. "I am happy that RogerEbert.com is partnering with the urban league to encourage it. [And] I am especially pleased that the young people the films are intended to inspire will have an opportunity to review them and have their opinions heard.”
Providing opportunities for youths is among the urban league's primary goals, said Andrea Zopp, president and chief executive officer of the civil rights organization.
"We want young people to think critically about how African-Americans are portrayed in films and to discuss in an open forum their social impact and importance,” Zopp said. “Roger Ebert had a lot of fans in the African-American community, and he supported black cinema early and often."
Roger Ebert, who in 1975 became the first film critic to win the Pulitzer Prize for criticism, died last April at age 70 after a long battle with cancer.
Harrington, who plans to study journalism in college, said it's important for teenagers have a say in what is going on in the world.
The Washington Heights teenager said she thinks it's easier for a black film critic to review a "black" movie.
"I don't think you necessarily have to be a black critic to review a movie about blacks," she said. "But I definitely think a black critic could relate better to the movie because of their experiences, and that allows a black critic to better explain [the movie] to other blacks."