Posts Tagged ‘education’

Lambs among wolves: Blind generalizations hurt all our youth

The other morning, I woke up to a news story that caught me off guard. There had been a series of violent attacks against students who attend Urban Prep, an all-boys college preparatory high school here in Chicago. The network of schools has three campuses and boasts very impressive numbers in terms of graduating college-bound students. Its students must embrace a culture of mutual respect, accountability and nonviolence . So no doubt the basic premise of the report caused me to shake my head in dismay. For goodness sake, how disgraceful is it students on a path to be their best selves are targets of ruthless, loose aggression…every day?

As a mother of a soon to be high school student, I can’t begin to imagine how I would encourage my child to adhere to a school’s creed of being non-violent while bearing the brunt of fists. I’d be livid…not to mention frightened out of my mind. In fact, this acute fear has reached me on a personal level. Over the last few years, my children and their classmates who attend another network of Charter schools here in the city have faced similar incidents involving children from neighboring schools or who hang out in the area surrounding their schools. Thank God the incidents at my son’s middle school last year resulted in nothing more than a bruised jaw and ribs. That was mild in comparison to the many violent robberies of laptops that have happened, shootings at the high school. None of this initiated or provoked by the students.

So as a parent I completely identify with the outrage of the Urban Prep parents who want something done. One of the most attractive facets of charter schools is that parents’ voices are solicited and embraced. And these parents were not shy about voicing their concerns. Point blank they want their children to learn in peace; free from stress and worry of the long way home. Their children do not deserve to deal with this type of trauma. They expect community support including police presence to put an end to it all. More than that, though, they are willing to step up themselves.

That is a beautiful thing.

Still, there is an ugly side to all this…. a path that leads us back into the defeated cycle of failed community. And it is imperative that we fully examine and rectify every angle.

When I heard this story, what caught my attention more than anything was the reporter’s lead and characterization of the youthwho attacked the students. The reporter stated that the motive behind the attacks was the Urban Prep’s impressive academic reputation. I’m sorry, but I find that hard to believe. Other remarks followed describing the youth as gangs and thugs.

First of all, Urban Prep is a non-selective enrollment school (thank God for that, Chicago needs more schools that serve all its students equally with the expectation of success. But I digress). So there is nothing determining whether the children donning the Urban Prep uniforms are any smarter or any more proficient than those throwing fists. Nor was there any irrefragable proof that they all live in housing projects and belong to gangs (and which gang have deep seated rivalry with innocent school boys?)

When we allow media to frame our stories and direct our course of conversation, it reinforces stereotypes our community homologates about ourselves, especially concerning our youth.

The bottom line is this, for all who saw the movie Waiting for Superman, or for those who are living the movie; whether it be concerning decent education, housing or basic quality of life, we all are aware that the youth are the ones who suffer and it breeds a spirit of anger and resentment when for no other reason than socio-economics you are left out by design.

What thought process goes into building a shiny new school in an area surrounded by devastation while neglecting to do any community outreach and engagement? What were the expectations of dressing students up in crisp uniformed suits to walk with heads high amongst those who can only look low for loose change and lost hope? I ask again what was expected?

Too often we want to walk among the community, but not with the community. Community is not a neighborhood. It is not only about geographical boundaries. It is about common goals, shared values, thought or communicative exchange.

So now today parents and school officials must scramble to do what is absolutely necessary given the initial dilatory negligence.

See, we must understand the children at Urban Prep are there but for one reason, they have advocates. Either their parents, grandparents, neighbor, mentor or church family is making sure they have every opportunity to keep them eligible for fair play in the game of life. This does not make them any better than the children who reside in the nearby public housing, nor the ones who used to live there before their respective families were forcefully evicted, yet they still come back to the old ‘hood misdirected.

No. None of our children are better than the other, save but the grace of God they could switch places at any moment.

They have more in common than we would like to believe. And I would affirm they are all capable of greatness. They all have the potential to excel. Every one of them needs love and guidance. They all need model standards and mentors.

So what are we going to do about our youth…about our babies? Because at the end of the day, you can proceed ahead believing that your child is better than a child based on your income level or the fact that their parents are recipients of section 8. You can believe your nephew is promised a bright shining future because he attends the best ranking school in the nation. But, here is the reality check chickens come home to roost. So you can build up the few to fall to the many.

Here’s my two cents.

Hold community meetings and symposiums with the COMMUNITY; you provide resources like mentoring opportunities for neighborhood youth; job opportunities or free legal advice

Open the gym for basketball tourneys

Host peer mentor session partnering students w/community youth

Our view of the world is only as good as our point of reference. How we choose to view our youth will tell us for sure what our tomorrow holds. Are they all either good or ghetto? Perhaps they are either nerd or thugs? Is every at risk child an incorrigible monster destined to fail?

The Interrupters, a Sundance Film offers a clear view of solutions. Watch it and use as a beginning to address this issue in your city.

Fixing the broken reality of a few is akin to bandaging an open gunshot wound. You get the picture?

Closing Catherine Ferguson Academy: Robbing the Cradle of Hope & Promise Part II

It seems like this story has been written for us since we were forced upon the shores of these United States of America. A grotesque picture book with chapter and verse depicting African men, who before being sold away or savagely beaten to death, granted only the freedom to breed Black children with the African women that would be left alone. The story, ripe with illustrations of these women held hostage by the sweet pain of mothering past loneliness-struggling to survive the harshest realities, the umbra of birthing babies void of hope.

Seems like the story was a grand mastermind of intentional design…and today the story lives on, yet told in epic portrayal.

So I instantaneously connected to that story when I began seriously contemplating the fate of Catherine Ferguson Academy in Detroit, a school for teen mothers and their children. To catch up on the struggle of CFA, read my previous post. But as I was saying, CFA is a school for teen mothers and their small children. We know from any evening news broadcast, the whereabouts of the fathers are highly likely behind prison walls and in detention centers, the new American plantation.We know this because our tragically failing education system disproportionately cripples our children, driving our boys into the prison pipeline and our girls into teen pregnancy and welfare dependency.

A hopeless cycle that has repeated itself unto our community so many times it has become the norm for too many across the African Diaspora. And so it is in Detroit. Yet, when vested and progressive educators got back to the basics, enhancing core curriculum by teaching economic development, agriculture and farming; honing affirmative parenting skills; encouraging breastfeeding (as we know the nutritional and research-based cognitive and sociological benefits this provides both mother and child); the results have stagnated the cycle of destitution and dependency. Now that the village of Catherine Ferguson Academy has found a way to slowly reverse a generational legacy of teenage pregnancy and dropout rates that buoy functional illiteracy, the system that created the “grand mastermind of intentional design” is interrupting progress and success.

Threatening the school with closure.

Now, granted not all Black girls are experience teen pregnancy or consider dropping out of high school. Many flourish, from being recognized as the brightest in their class to being accepted into distinguished universities to receiving Gates Scholarships. And so it may be very easy to separate the girls in our family on our block from those attending CFA. Maybe…

CFA girls and others like them may live a harsh life that when glanced at seem perpetuated by bad choices. However, we know inherently these are our little sisters…and we know their children are our children and future. What they become has strong implications on our community. We also know what plays out at CFA, is but a microcosm of the greater plan (call me a conspiracy theorist) to destruct the moral fabric and cultural fortitude that are implicit in our contributions to this country, and moreover the world. So much is invested in exacerbating vicious cycle of poverty and culpability to government. Many pockets are lined from the devastation of the poor. Jailhouses are built with the poor in mind, grants are written to big foundations, checks cut to lobby for the vices of the poor (tobacco, alcohol, gambling,). Poor people are preyed upon for the almighty green dollar. No question.

WHERE IS THE LOVE?

But here is where I become angry and a sinister dread hangs in my spirit. It is because of the obvious silence, or dare I say total disregard, in relation to the struggle of poor black girls by other Blacks.

Now, the Black community turned Jena Louisiana into a Mecca for the quest of justice when Back boys were damned into the bowels of a racist judicial system deep in the heart of Dixie. I was right there, so I know how we chartered buses, posse’d up our motorcycle clubs, and stepped into the fight with our sorority sisters and frat brothers. We braved KKK deep back roads to free our boys. Let us not forget the countless public voices that gave their platform to rally the community and urge us to keep up the fight. No proof or discernment was necessary. We fought the good fight.

Add to countless times we have swooped in to rally around Black boys in trouble. The Tookie’s and Genarlow’s and Troy’s.

I can even point out the cries of anguish as black boy after black boy is gunned down in our inner city streets. We cry hard when we’ve lost our fearless warriors. Oscar, Sean, Derrion, Amadou.

When we are threatened to lose our Black boys, we lose our collective minds. And this is as it should be.

Yet, on the other side of that, why is it, that the squalid life prospects we are losing our sisters to only renders us silent.

Where is the outrage? Yes, we hold a few conferences and have intellectual intercourse over subjects from films like Precious and Colored Girls. We wax poetic when a verbal injustice is done to our revered celebrity sisters. And we seem to come alive in all our fiery colorfulness if we discuss domestic violence of a high profile sister.

So why can’t we muster a single sentence or tweet or Facebook status or magazine spread for the sisters among us who struggle with some very real shit every single day of their young lives? How cheap do we play ourselves, and these sisters, who if not by the grace of God we could be sitting in their shoes. The little sisters at Catherine Ferguson Academy and ghettos across the country, Black girls like me and you, are living straight out of the Good Times theme song. Keeping their heads above water. Water that in their lives is a cesspool of abuse, broken hearts, hopelessness, neglect, welfare, toxic and temptation of cigarettes and alcohol, debris from failed education systems, and all the dank funk of poverty.

I can’t wrap my mind around the fact that CFA being a village of promise, where young mothers are given the tools to become self-sufficient with a vision of the future, is set to close yet I’ve not read or seen a single mention across my social networks dedicated to this issue. Is it because no one cares? Or have we too lost hope for our girls. But how can we? We’ve seen this story before… we know Maya Angelou, poor teen mother without a father for her child, high school drop out. We know Oprah, molested as a teen and left pregnant. What hope did they have…who pulled them along?

Our living legends give us a dazzling example as proof that the future can be bright for these girls, who among their alumna has produced doctors and PhD students. Let us not dim it by ignoring the present fight that we must engage. It is the responsibility of us all to put on the full armor. Put some gloss and add real shine to our lip service. Save Catherine Ferguson Academy. Save our community!

So I know the reason is not that there is no love for poor Black girls. It has to lie in that I am just not connected to the right folks in my virtual network. It’s simply because I have not reached you, but now that this has made its way to you…please take it personal. Catherine Ferguson Academy needs you to see the connection it has to you.

We need action! Many are gathering for a protest rally at the school today. Still, others around the country can support from afar. Sign the petition. Spread the word. Write letters to congressman and legislator, Detroit city officials and Detroit Public School administrators.

Beyond this travesty, let us please make meaningful connections to our little sisters in the struggle, before they ever believe they can walk a college campus. Join the National Cares Mentoring Movement in your city. Volunteer at a public school in your area. Invite a group from a girls’ home to lunch with you and your colleagues at work. We have more work to do. Need to add some shine to our lip service. For real!

Closing Catherine Ferguson Academy: Robbing the Cradle of Hope & Promise

NOTE: This post has been updated since its initial posting.

 

Here’s your friendly announcer, I have serious news to pass on to everybody. What I’m about to say, could mean the world’s disaster… could change your joy and laughter to tears and pain…” Stevie Wonder-Love’s in Need of Love

I’m so feeling Mr. Wonder on that, cause this piece here, more than anything I’ve ever took pen to, needs to get your attention. In past weeks I’ve seen sister bloggers and academicians  go hard to defend Beyonce and Rhianna’s respective artistic and creative prerogative.  Then too, there’s been much commentary clouding the internet with the age-old dark-skinned vs. light-skinned schism.

Even still, Black-focused magazines have posted countless pictures of Halle Berry and little Nahla, they’ve got really adorable piccs of JHud cuddling with her baby. They’ve spent loads of bandwidth flaming trite, yet popular discussions.

Alas, like Stevie sang, my news announcement is not fluffy and pretty. Nope, I’m here to interrupt the beauty salon flow and girlfriend rhetoric, boldy stating it is time to stop and desist with the mindless chatter. Though passionate and definitely tied to some serious “issues,” it is time to reshape our girl talk.

We can start by getting familiar with the young sisters who attend Catherine Ferguson Academy in Detroit, a school for young mothers and their children which is on the brink of closing.  Repeat-the school, Catherine Ferguson Academy in Detroit, is schedule to close June 16, 2011.

I recently attended the screening for Grown in Detroit, a documentary examining the implications of a learning environment that promotes urban farming; taught healthy parenting skills (including benefits of breastfeeding); mandated college admission as a prerequisite to graduating; and encouraged self-sufficiency. That was just for the teen mothers.

Their babies are also attending the school in a nursery/preschool developmental center. If there were a tag cloud for this school the words would include nurture, belief, hope, persistence, resilience, tenacity, strong, open, energy, village, fresh, direction, counsel, practical, free.

It is such a powerful concept, everyone who attended the screening wanted to literally and figuratively plant it in every impoverished community. Obviously that has been the overwhelming sentiment of  folks who have seen/heard about CFA, as the school earned the Breakthrough High School award in 2004 given by the National Association of Secondary School Principals for outstanding achievement among schools with high poverty rates.

Even Oprah took note and featured the school in the April 2008 issue of O Magazine

So how could closing be the fate of this nucleus of hope and promise for many of Detroit’s most marginalized youth? Girls who dropped out of other Detroit Public schools now maintain a 90% attendance rate while at CFA, a notable feat as the school’s location requires many students to take 2 buses and travel more than one hour each way…with babies and strollers.

Young sisters who would otherwise be left discarded by society, have flourished in the village of CFA where they’ve been given the basic yet most important tools for success.

Yet it is scheduled to close this week. In two days from the posting of this blog. But, we can help save this school and the fate of these mothers and babies. This is where our lip service needs some real gloss.

In April, some of the students were arrested in the halls of CFA after silently protesting the closing.

Rachel Maddow has dedicated a significant portion of her MSNBC airtime to this travesty.

http://maddowblog.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/04/23/6517421-more-about-the-catherine-ferguson-academy

Let’s join her in using our voices to get folks moving to advocate for the children.For more information on what you can do to help save Catherine Ferguson Academy, call 855-ASK-BAMN or emaildonna.stern@bamn.com.

UPDATE: Catherine Ferguson Academy was saved from closing. Detroit Free Press reported on the decision and next steps.

Still let’s continue this discussion, we should begin building this very same model in our cities. Would you be down with that?

Stay posted for part II. I have much more to say on this.

Black History Month: Relevant or Unnecessary

Every year without fail, folks pose the preposterous question, “is Black History Month relevant?

Well…I could immediately begin lamenting the train of thought that leads one to pose that question. But I’d rather share a story with you.

Not so long ago, growing up on the low end of the south side of Chicago, my neighborhood was big on history. In fact, within a 20-block radius of our home on 49th and Michigan, it was nothing to pass through vibrant Black institutions. There was Baldwin Ice Cream Parlor where my cousins and I sat in their heart-shaped chairs and ate our favorite Bubble-gum filled ice cream. On our way to and from the family’s place of worship, Pilgrim Baptist Church; a historical institution itself, we passed the Supreme Life Insurance Building.  There were the public housing developments such as Robert Taylor and Ida B. Wells homes. And the elementary schools I attended, Anthony Overton and Walter H. Dyett Middle School, which similar to a majority of the other schools in the surrounding area were all named for courageous and pioneering Black Americans such as Mary C. Terrell, Bessie Coleman, Jean-Baptiste Pointe Dusable to name a few.

Funny thing about all that history on the low end is its significance was rarely directly imparted to us children, especially concerning the names of the schools we entered everyday. Back then those institutions and businesses stood as a backdrop to a decaying community where Pony cocaine packs littered the streets, neighborhood drunks became heroes, prostitutes turned tricks in vacant lots and schools named after greatness dealt in mediocre standards.

The only time we became remotely aware of the greatness that at one time thrived in our very neighborhood was during the 28 days of February. And even then, only a select few highlighted for us.

Today, that neighborhood is no longer the undesirable “low end” but in its gentrified state is referred to by a much more distinguished name, Bronzeville. There are actual history tours dedicated to showcasing all the landmarks and legacy there.

Considering how little the children who grew up there in the early 80s and 90s were collectively taught of the greatness we were born from, I can’t help but wonder how little of ourselves we would have known if not for Black History Month.

And that’s not the only relevance Black History Month has. Here’s a list in no particular order:

Cultural exchange…

The reality, outside of our own timelines, news and RSS feeds, nobody else is really talking about contributions of Blacks, at least not in any historical context. And with the exception of a few conscious minded Black folks and curious foreigners, the study of Black life and culture is hardly a major interest of whites.

Get your mind right….

So much superfluous chatter online and talk shows, in barber shops and hair salons, relegated to ice cream tattoos, Real Housewives and The Game drama, Twitter beefs, and all things pop culture. At least folks pay a little more attention to our heritage and legacy during February.

Return of investment (ROI)

Corporations and institutions who earn millions of dollars from their strategic marketing and psychological bait of Blacks, invests a small token of those earnings to diversity and cultural programming, much of it during BHM. Not to mention some of our grand award programs and specials would sorely miss the sponsorship dollars.

BHM pays the bills…

Many a Black freedom fighter, professor, author and otherwise self-proclaimed intellectual banks on the speaking engagement and panel appearances across the county. If not for the BHM circuit, most of them would never gain access to the level of mainstream exposure (paid gigs) they garner during February.

I see Black people…

PBS and Cable networks dedicate the entire month to feature Black films and culture, i.e. HBO Lackawanna Blues, What the Lord Made et al

New school…

In these times, schools don’t bear the names of historic figures that its scholars can relate to, but named for neighborhoods or corporate donors. Kids don’t even get to wonder or Google about the greatness over the doors they walk through daily.

The vision…

When Carter G. Woodson created first the week and later the month, the intent was to celebrate all the accomplishments of Black Americans. He had already devoted his life to the research and study of Black life, subsequently forming the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. The month-long celebration is merely an extension.

Which is why I just don’t understand how some question its relevance. Are you ready to say farewell to Black History Month? Have we really overcome a time for celebrating our history?

Qualifications of a Change Agent

Saving the next generation is arguably the most pressing issue our community faces. The violence is deafening. The hyper-sexualized chorus of hot mommas and dope boys harmonizing over raging hormones and chemical imbalances is overwhelming. Startling statistics of illiteracy paralyze self-confidence and cripple ambition. There is desperation for resolve…a healing.

So many have researched and studied the systematic depression we find ourselves. From government entities to pedagogic institutions to interests groups many have invested in white papers and measured case studies. None though, have invested in solutions.

Yet there are those who know all too well what ails us. They are the ones living it. They are the ones perpetuating it. Too often they are the ones allowing our sickness to go untreated within our own families and neighborhoods.

The reality is, saving a generation is but a small facet of the problems the Black community faces. The larger of which is that generations are suffering. Mainly because for generations, able bodied and able minded people who recognize solutions that could begin to fix some of the wrongs are sitting back, waiting for the next person to save the day.

This is in large part due to how those government and pedagogic institutions identify great minds within our community who can play an integral role in their studies. These special minds are granted access to resources that enhance their natural minds. It is a wonderful thing when they return and give honor to the community.

However, because of their well-earned titles, often they are looked to be saviors. Preacher, educator, social worker, doctor, lawyer, celebrity are all assumed to be the answer. If any of them belong to a sorority, fraternity or professional organization they are really thought to possess the cure-all. Fact of the matter, while many of these people are driven everyday by a passion to help their communities, they are no more equipped to solve our issues than the other titled members of our community like mothers, fathers, uncles, god fathers, god mothers, neighbors, barbers, beauticians, shoe shiners, janitors, and elders.

Although the same government and pedagogic institutions tend to indoctrinate everyone with the belief that only the special people can help with societal dilemmas, we have got to embrace the redeeming value in members of our community who are not so sophisticated.

We have to believe, again, that though tongues may not possess articulate ponderings or because vocabularies are heavily laced with vernacular, every one of us have the ability to better our community. We all have what it takes to be a change agent.

Yet, I see it often. A school community that seeks only to provide support and resources for its students, but never fully engage families to take a responsible role. Panels are convened but missing is the voice of common people. Politicians seeking the vote from common folk, but rationing out provisions and incentives to social service agencies that manifest the “missionary” mind set that they have to deliver the community from itself, never going within to find solvent cures.

The reality is, in urban America a young black male can absorb as much knowledge sitting in a barbershop on a Saturday morning as he would sitting one week in a classroom.

There is an unassuming woman on the south side of Chicago saving lives. She doesn’t have any illustrious titles preceding her name, nor following. She is not a member of a high-profile family. This woman, Diane Latiker simply saw devastation around her and went into survival mode to ease the trauma. Diane started Kids Off the Block, an after-school tutoring and mentoring program, and infected other everyday folks like entrepreneurs and others who belong to neighborhood social clubs.

Across town on the southwest side one man, Sy Smith, leads a national movement, National Block Club University, where he empowers neighborhood residents to combat the crime in their area. He has an all hands on deck approach.

That is the point of it all. Obviously there is a sense of pride we all feel when our treasures are found and valued by others. We bask in the validation that we have produced and nurtured those who represent the super heroes amongst us. Still, there has to be an equation of value and balance. Time to stop putting it all on the shoulders of our educators, doctors, lawyers, preachers, etc. All of us can touch a life and brighten circumstances. We have to have confidence that we too are special enough to do the work of healing our community.

Question is what is holding us back from recognizing this?