Lean on Me

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Lean on Me is a 1989 biographical-drama film written by Michael Schiffer and directed by John G. Avildsen. Lean on Me is based on a 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.
A true story about a real hero. Taglines

Joe Clark

  • The Lord said, do whatever you have to do. And he didn't say "Joe, be polite."
  • [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.
  • Get off welfare!
  • [Addressing students] 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.
  • The problem with teenagers today is you don't know nothing. The problem with being a teenager is you think you know better than those who have been down that road you're traveling.
  • 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!
  • 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 people 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, [Turns to the troublemakers on stage] you are all expurgated. You are dismissed! You are out of here, forever. I wish you well!
  • Discipline is not the enemy of enthusiasm.
  • [addressing teachers] You think you can run this school? If you could, then I wouldn't be here, would I? No one talks at my meetings. NO ONE! You take out your pencils and write. I want the names... of every hoodlum, drug dealer, and miscreant who's done nothing but take this place apart on my desk by noon today.
  • [at teachers meeting] 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 you. You've tried it your way for years. And your students can't even get past the minimum basic skills test. That means they can HARDLY READ!
  • [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!
  • [at school assembly before the skills test] And I've got a message out there for those people who have abandoned you and written you off. You are NOT inferior. Your grades may be. Your school may have been. But you can turn all that around and make liars out of those bastards in exactly one hour, when you take that test, pass it, and win!
  • Mr. Mayor, on behalf of myself and behalf on 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!
  • [removing Sams' baseball cap] Hey, son... 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!

Thomas Sams

  • [To Leonna Bennett] Vote on this, bitch!
  • Girl! I look at you and I want that oochie coochie!
  • We don't want a good principal! We want Mr. Clark!

Dr. Frank Napier

  • [to Joe] It's like you're a Big Bird with radar. And I'm tired of getting hit!
  • [speaking to Clark] Brother, I will go through the... fire with you! But you are not taking over. This shit you're pulling now, you've just gone plain loco!


Joe Clark: There's only one boss around here, and that's me. The HNIC. Are there any questions?
Mr. O'Malley: The HNIC?
Ms. Levias: The head nigger in charge.

Dr. Frank Napier: If you're so hot on discipline then, goddammit, start by accepting mine. Because contrary to popular opinion, I'm the head nigger in charge!
[walks out the door]
Dr. Frank Napier: Come on, let's get something to eat.
Joe Clark: You really think you're bad, don't you?

Joe Clark: I don't think you've changed a thing. [pushes Thomas] Go on. Jump!
Thomas Sams: [crying] No, I don't wanna jump.
Joe Clark: Yes, you do! You smoke crack, don't ya? [Pause] You smoke crack, don't ya?! Look at me, boy! Don't you smoke crack?
Thomas Sams: Y-Ye-Yes, sir.
Joe Clark: You know what that does to you? Huh?
Thomas Sams: No, sir.
Joe Clark: [Pokes Thomas repeatedly on the forehead] It kills 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] No! I don't wanna kill myself, sir.

[Clark looks at the boys restroom, suspects Sams is hiding something]
Joe Clark: What do you got in here, Sams?
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?

Mr. Darnell: Mr. Clark, just what was that all about?
Joe Clark: I distinctly said, "No one move, during the singing of the school song". Now, if you can't understand that, find yourself another place to work!
Mr. Darnell: I was just picking up a piece of paper!
Joe Clark: You're the one who's 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 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]

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!
Joe Clark: Mrs. Barrett, if you think...
Leonna Barrett: Shut up! You're finished! The school board will hear this at 7:00, and we're gonna vote you black ass out.

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 resistence 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 vein 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 won't 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 it 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.

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