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I was a Black kid that went to pretty bad public schools. My parents had a drug problem and both spent time in jail. We were homeless. My community was in constant turmoil due to violence, both Chicago, and Oakland. I had behavioral issues. I had some teachers that cared. I had some teachers that may not have cared as much. My schools looked like prisons.

I graduated, went to college and now have a few degrees. I work in public education. I don’t hate charter. I think reform is needed and I understand when we fail kids in education many of those kids die younger than kids with better educational opportunities. I possess a set of skills that’s difficult to articulate but is needed. I am one of many.

But I don’t see those other voices in the education space. I don’t see these folks being asked to the table to help lead us to better results for kids. It was hard for me to get here. I bang this drum with everything I have because there’s so few people like me trying to solve the problems that the folks like me face. There are too many folks not like me trying to take options away from folks that grew up like me. There are too many folks not like me lowering the bar so they can feel better about themselves – and we let them! We let them try to close down schools that are educating poor black kids well. We don’t allow anyone to actually critique how poor black kids are getting educated. It’s our fault.

Here are some solutions.

  1. If you are in a significant position in education, attract smart Black people that have navigated the system. Help them learn the ropes. Set them up for success. No revolution can occur without the people that are directly oppressed. I’m collecting both mentors and mentees right now. I both need support as much as I need to give it.
  2. Lift those voices. So often there are conversations about us without us.
  3. Help people see that they deserve better. Look, I didn’t know what was possible in education until I started traveling the country and learning what great education looked like. It’s hard to picture something you’ve never seen before. You have to expose people to transformation if you want them to demand it. Until then, we’ll continue to fight for crumbs. We’ll continue to fight to keep bad schools open. We’ll continue to argue again our best interest because it’s all we know. It’s all I knew. It was all I had so I fought for it. If I’d known what was possible for me in education, I would’ve robbed someone for a school voucher or school choice – anything – in 1997 when I entered high school.
  4. Black folks that grew out of these broken systems can do things that other folks can’t. I got invited into people’s homes. I could hold students accountable better. I knew the language. My students couldn’t play me, they knew I knew the streets just as well as they did. They knew I was showing up at houses if you skipped out on my program. They knew I was having a closed door conversation with students and parents when my kids didn’t give their best effort. There are just some things I can do that my counterparts can’t.

We will never get to where we need to be in education if we keep icing out the oppressed folks that busted through. We make it seem like it’s impossible, but it’s not. I guess if we keep saying it we can let ourselves off the hook. You know, if folks were as creative around how to educate poor Black folks as they are around not taking responsibility I would’ve received a top notch education.

 

Peace. Cole Out.

Charles Cole

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