Help me identify an old movie

I don’t know what on Earth made me think of this, I’ve not thought about this film in years. At the end of the fourth grade we had a day of just watching movies, and there was one that really moved me. My memory of it is rather vague, but here goes:

It was about a black kid who lives in a poor neighborhood, with only his mother. He finds a cat, and decides to secretly keep it as a pet in an abandoned building. His mother always gives him money to buy their food at a local store, and he starts spending a lot of the money on tuna for the cat. Not cat food, but tuna - that part of my memory of this film sticks out.

At the end of the movie the cat runs out of the building and is hit by a car. Other kids making fun of the lead had something to do with it; I can’t remember if they find the cat and let it out, or if they catch the kid with the cat and it escapes, or what. I just remember all of us in my class were bawling our eyes out.

I have no idea what this film was called, who was in it, or when it was made. I’m not sure if it was meant to be for children, but I think so - even with the dark ending. The end of the fourth grade would have been 1981, so it’s at least that old. Does anyone remember this?

Wow, that sounds *really *familiar (we’re the same age). I have no clue about the identity of the film, though. Hopefully someone else knows.

I remembered another detail: I think the kid was buying tuna rather than cat food because the store owner knew the kid’s mother, and the kid didn’t want it to get back to her that he was spending the money on something he shouldn’t.

J.T. (1969). It’s on youtube, and I personally own a former library VHS copy of it. It used to air every Christmas season, but I don’t think it’s been shown in over 20 years.

Anyone remember Cipher In The Snow?

Wow, yeah, that’s it! Thank you so much!

Count that as one of my childhood trauma movies.

Mine too. I saw it again in the early 90s and it was every bit as traumatic then. I can’t stand seeing cats injured.

The kid ends up getting his own cat at the end (his mom takes him to someplace where they have a litter of kittens and he’s allowed to pick one out), but even that didn’t fix for me the fact that his first kitty was killed.

I can remember the mother saying something like “Every time I get a nickel’s worth of difference between me and my debt, something happens…” I used to show that film to my students. My teacher’s salary was pretty bleak back then.

Kevin Hooks played the title role. I believe that as a young man he was in Roots II.

I would give a pretty penny for some of the films that I used to show.

The actor who played JT directed two episodes of Lost, amongst his (one shy of) three-score directing credits.

Holy shit! What a blast of memory. That had completely slipped out of my brain, but just the OP’s description brought it rushing back. Wow.

Wow. It was a film. I read it as a book. I remember there were pictures (not drawings, but pictures) in the book. Must have been from the film.

It tore me up as a kid. Tore me up. I’m certain that I only read it once, unlike all the other books I had as a kid.