We gotta do something about those radical black lives matter people!

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After the initial launch of the Black Lives Matter concept to raise awareness of the systemic oppression and racism that was killing Black people through state sanctioned police brutality and extrajudicial murders, the movement expanded.

Black Lives Matter lost some potential allies when they expanded the platform to take a more holistic approach to resisting and informing communities-in particular, white people- about what was actually happening and the duplicity of the justice system in America.

There is a backlash against schools supporting the politicization of students. In Arizona and several other places, there are measures to restrict schools’ opportunities to teach and address social justice issues. The consequence could include slashing 10% of the district’s budget if they offer social justice courses.

Wow. How dare schools really provide a platform for educators to help students navigate the systemic oppression that has deep roots in the racist, misogynist mindsets of founding members of America. Politicians frequently call themselves as champions of “preparing engaged citizens”, so the hypocrisy of Arizona’s politicians is at least consistent. The younger generation may not know this, but this is the same state who didn’t want to embrace the Dr. Martin Luther King federal holiday.

Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, several schools continue to help students navigate the complexity of their feelings, help them to elevate their voices, and resist oppressive state sanctioned policies.

Read the rest of this post at Philly’s 7th Ward.

Are schools further traumatizing students who already have enough challenges?

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“I have experienced a lot, but that doesn’t define all that I am.” -High School Student

Many students across our city and country experience trauma that is pervasive and unrelenting. Often these experiences go unspoken and untreated.

With social services constricted and schools feeling like they are forced to cut counselors, our students are consistently told that they are not cared about. Even before the most recent slashing of school budgets that we experienced in PA, many Philly schools were far below the ratio recommended by experts-which is a paltry 250:1. I have yet to work in a school where that ratio serves students well.

Previously, in my brief stint as a social worker, I saw the impact of trauma in children. As a social worker, I made dozens of home visits and parents would describe conditions that would make grown folks wilt under the pressure. Later, I would learn that researchers called this Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and conducted studies.

Researchers determined that “ACEs are adverse childhood experiences that harm children’s developing brains so profoundly that the effects show up decades later; they cause much of chronic disease, most mental illness, and are at the root of most violence.”

Per researchers, 13% of adults in PA have an ACES score of 4 or higher. In the community we serve, 30-45% of adults reported an ACES score of 4 or higher.

Read all of this blog post by Sharif El-Mekki at Philly’s 7th Ward.

From Philly’s 7th Ward: Black Men, White Boards

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Much has been said about the need for more diversity in our teaching force. I have written about it here, here and here. The US Secretary of EducationHBCU presidents and others have also pushed our country to diversify. Also more readily acknowledged is the need for more Black men in particular. However, even when more Black men are hired, they often leave the profession at a faster pace than their counterparts.

Some, however, question the notion of even hiring more Black men as an intervention. They argue; increasing the number of Black men in our schools is a cop out to solving other entrenched problems. We believe the argument is a false dichotomy and the ideas are not mutually exclusive. Recruitment, retention, and support undergird our work at The Fellowship-Black Male Educators for Social Justice. They are interlocked, just as our collective success is inter-dependent.

Education Trust recently published a report capturing the voices of 150 Black teachers discussing the challenges of choosing to stay and the reasons so many Black teachers leave the profession. They speak of the “invisible tax”: less support and being typecast into non-academic roles. Recurring themes we also hear from our members.

We want to share why some Black teachers choose to join (and stay in) the ranks of what should be the most vaunted profession. Four short vignettes of founding members of The Fellowship follow. All four men are teacher leaders and represent more than a change we have been waiting for; they represent the change our communities are demanding. The lack of equity is one additional disadvantage that our students must and will overcome, but they shouldn’t have to fight this battle alone.

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Many men of color are in close proximity to our schools and classrooms, yet with a few more deliberate steps, more of these mentors, coaches, and disciplinarians can serve communities from within the classrooms, leading through content expertise and social justice and equity lenses.

A MENTOR CHALLENGED ME TO TEACH

If I had been asked what I wanted to be when I was young, I would have said a doctor. Ultimately, wanting to become a provider for my future and extended family, football became a more tangible career choice. Having earned an athletic scholarship to attend Lock Haven University, and starting as a defensive back, only fueled my desire to make the NFL.  A career ending injury sustained in my 5th collegiate game forced me to make some serious decisions about my future. Having developed a passion for service, I studied community health and began teaching gang prevention in the Williamsport, PA.  In a search to continue doing this type of preventive work, after graduation I found myself doing truancy case management. Quickly growing frustrated with the judicial system, I accepted a position managing Special Education data for the School District of Philadelphia. Still trying to create a transformative impact in the lives of young people, a mentor challenged me to go teach. Having ignored that call, I was eventually laid off, but quickly hired to work with Birney Preparatory Academy.  Even as the Assistant to the Chief Academic Officer/Director of Operations, I was also encouraged to enter the classroom. Five years ago, I completed my Master of Arts and Teaching in Elementary Education and entered the classroom, where I have been teaching ever since. Raymond Roy-Pace, Teacher Leader

Black men tend to view themselves as mentors for their communities and look for ways to be more effective as mentors. Some may find mentoring as teachers gives them more access and higher levels of efficacy.

THIS IS WHY I CHOSE THE CLASSROOM

Moving to Philadelphia was a huge culture shock for me, having come from a small, country, predominately white town in North Carolina. I was always passionate about education, even as a student, but never found my place in it until I served as a Big Brother for BBBS program in North Philadelphia as a college student. The experience in the urban school in which I was placed showed me how necessary it was for students who looked like me to see more teachers who look like them. My major had nothing to do with education, however, at that moment, I began to seek experience in schools that would show me how my passion for education could be utilized to empower urban school students to be their better selves, using mentorship to push the academic expectation in the classroom. I’m considered an “unconventional” teacher of sorts as I deem it more important to push students to see themselves as successful than it is to enforce upon them the idea of learning to pass a test. At times, our students lack motivation and direction, even from some of their teachers, to not only succeed in their academics but to apply their learnings to real life experiences. THIS is why I chose the classroom…to show them that the more you apply yourself to invest in yourself as a person (using life skills and real world experiences) the more you’ll be able to find your “place” in the classroom. Kevin Gold, Teacher Leader

Teachers found a  sense of purpose, and their commitment to our youth is rewarded. The intellectual stimulation of planning and teaching is difficult to match in any other profession. While people often lament what “kids these days need”; others provide, concretely, the support students need today and tomorrow.

I WANT TO GIVE MY STUDENTS THE SAME THINGS I NEEDED AS A CHILD

I studied political science and Spanish in college with every intention of working for the federal government. I’d worked on several political campaigns and did a short study abroad program which led me to a stint with the Department of Homeland Security working with US Citizenship and Immigration Services. After a few months, however, I knew my passion wasn’t there. I had been approached by Teach for America in my junior year but didn’t give it much real thought until the fall of my senior year. I was trying to put options on the table and that one made sense. I’d spent the last four summers doing leadership training for middle and high school students so I already had experience with facilitation, planning learning units and being in front of kids. A two-year stint—that I told myself I would have to extend to three in order to beat the “I’m just in it for law school” rap—seemed like a path I could at least consider. I completed the online application and over the next few months I continued to move through the process until I was looking at a screen asking me to rank the cities that I would consider as my placement site. I top-ranked every major city on the East Coast, but I would come to learn that anyone with even remote interest in Philadelphia was likely to end up there. And so, I did. My two-year commitment was spent teaching at a middle school and it was there I learned I had a knack for this work. I realized there existed within me a passion for giving my kids more than what was in front of them. Exposure, opportunity, challenge—the same things that helped me determine a path for myself. And despite my intentions of eventually moving back to DC, I’m currently in my sixth year at my placement school. As I seek out my next steps, the one thing that keeps me in the classroom is the fact that I get to directly impact the things that my school (in the abstract sense) can’t accomplish. Content aside, I spend my days problem-solving, challenging my kids and prepping them to take on the world. Doesn’t get much better than that for me. Sterling Grimes, Teacher Leader

SHE PULLED ME ASIDE, “YOU SHOULD BE A TEACHER”

When I graduated college in 2007, I had a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Management and Economics from West Chester University.  The job market was extremely low at this time, and I opted to volunteer with students from the Pathways PA program who were in foster care placement.  One Saturday afternoon, I was speaking to the students about the importance of higher education, and little did I know that my future employer (principal of the school) was also sitting in the audience among the students.  She pulled me to the side and told me, “You should be a teacher.” Two weeks later, I completed my interview and I was a GED instructor for Pathways Pa working with mothers who received state assistance. While maintaining this role, I picked up part time work as an after-school teacher with the Watoto After school program at Russell Byers Charter School. Based on my performance, I was asked to take on a role as a Site Manager with Watoto as they expanded into three new schools. I was placed at school in southwest Philadelphia, and while there I made an impact that was felt so strongly that the principal at the time asked me if I wanted to be a 3rd grade teacher. I was honored and shocked by the offer, and was overjoyed to accept it.  I began teaching November 1, 2010, remained in the 3rd grade role for two years. During that time, I enrolled at St. Joseph’s University where I graduated with my Masters in Elementary and Special Education. I eventually became the 3rd grade Lead Inclusion teacher.  James Brooks, Teacher Leader

Our work is cut out for us, but we intend to continue to support current and aspiring Black male teachers to affect the changes we desire in our schools and classrooms. Hope, alone, is severely lacking as a strategy. More intentionality must be directed in not only the recruitment, but the retention, support, and validation of our Black male educators. As usual, our schools and classrooms represent ground zero. Who are we recruiting, supporting, and retaining to be the heroes to run towards our ground zero?


This post was republished from the blog Philly’s 7th Ward.

Why I chose to teach

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My fervent desire to serve my community is what led me to a career as a teacher. But, it was anything but a straight path.

I have previously alluded to one of the main reasons I ended up choosing teaching as my desired profession and mission. Teaching is, by far, simultaneously, the most challenging and most rewarding career out there.

Although I had a social justice framework in my upbringing, had positive relationships and experiences with many of my teachers, and grew up in a household with a mother who taught, I did not initially consider teaching as my role in society. Even when my martial arts teacher would tell me that I should strongly consider becoming an instructor with my own class of martial artists, I would quickly demur and change the subject.

CHANGING MY SELF-VIEW AND MY ROLE IN MY COMMUNITY

I just didn’t see myself as a teacher (of any kind). But, something changed.

I wrote about being shot here and here. That traumatic, near death, experience led me to teaching, but not directly.

After 12 surgeries and several weeks in the hospital, teaching was still far from my mind. After briefly contemplating law school, I decided to do some social work, which led me to a position as a counselor at the Youth Study Center (YSC).

My thinking at the time was that I needed to help kids like the one who had tried to kill me. Where else could I find youth who might struggle with trauma and tempers, who may have far too easy access to drugs and guns, who dropped out of 8th grade? This seemed like the place to help youth who had lives that mirrored the kid’s who shot me. I believed I could find and support them at the YSC-a holding place for kids waiting to be adjudicated.

The YSC is where I would make my mark in the community and how I would serve those who were in need of support, guidance, tough love, and compassion.

I didn’t make it through orientation.

Although the youth at the YSC desperately needed help, I yearned to find them before they entered such a place. I felt myself falling into depression at the thought of seeing kids as young as 12 in what would constitute as a kiddie jail. When I spoke with a few counselors at the YSC and educators, including my mother and some of my former teachers, they strongly encouraged me to join teaching to make the impact I envisioned. I didn’t just want to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline by working within the system, I wanted to join people working hard to dismantle it by ensuring our youth had a great education and great opportunities to match. I needed a proactive way to fight for justice and equity. I needed to be in a school.

I knew the children at the YSC needed gifted and committed counselors and staff; however, I also knew I needed to find another way to make an impact. I didn’t need to look far because at that very time of my mental and spiritual meandering, the School District of Philadelphia was looking for Black men to engage and instruct youth in the classrooms of Philadelphia-before they ended up in a YSC. The District was partnering with an organization called Concerned Black Men, and a concerned Black man, I was.

FINDING THE RIGHT SEAT ON THE RIGHT BUS…

So, in the fall of 1993, I began my life’s work in southwest Philly at John P. Turner Middle School as an 8th grade Literature and Social Studies teacher. I knew I was in the right place, doing what I was destined to do. I could not have predicted it, but the intersectionality between my love for learning, my commitment to social justice, and my personal north star pointing to serving my community were the magnets that drew me to teach.

Twenty-four years later, I remain immensely grateful to have the opportunity to serve our city in such a capacity. In an effort to honor those who encouraged and supported me, I recently helped found an organization, The Fellowship: Black Male Educators for Social Justice, that can trace its ancestry to the Concerned Black Men who helped launch my career. The Fellowship, similarly, was established to support aspiring (and current) Black men who want to serve in the capacity that marries academics to social justice-teaching.

Today, the Youth Study Center still houses too many of our youth. And, we need far more educators-especially men of color-willing to enter the teaching profession. Our communities need educators to serve as “railroad switch” operators, supporting our youth in changing the trajectories of their lives and to help establish social justice in our communities.

Youth, like the one who shot me, are counting on this to happen.

The politics over charter schools isn’t helping kids get an education

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On Saturday, America’s oldest civil rights organization made its opposition to charter schools and Black families official.

What the NAACP should have done, like their local chapter leader, Rodney Muhammad did, was spend time in schools like the one that I run on the west side of Philadelphia. Mr. Muhammad sang praises for the work being done by and with the Black youth in our school community after visiting last spring. But, he was reluctant to share his experiences and the potential that charters have to addressing the massive inequities perpetually forced on our communities.

Mastery Charter School – Shoemaker Campus empowers hundreds of families each year to address generations of educational neglect.  In urban areas long forgotten by the politicians, public school options have become the path to a better life.

Our public charter school has now graduated almost 600 students since it opened in 2006 and has boosted the percentage of students meeting state standards in reading and math by 50 to 70 percentage points on the previous state exams. With the new Common Core aligned state standards, we are currently using this past success to improve our academic program even further.

Despite the fact that most of our students enter our school 2-3 grade levels behind, every one of our students has been accepted to a post-secondary program and 80% were accepted to four-year colleges and universities. By comparison, almost one in every two black boys living in a major American city will drop out of high school.

Equally powerful is the learning that goes on in our classrooms, the new opportunities provided to students before and after high school graduation, and the pride shown on parents’ faces when they watch their children liberate themselves from the school-to-prison pipeline.

THE NAACP CHOSE POLITICS OVER CHILDREN

Like many other communities in Philadelphia and other urban areas, we have found successful, cost efficient, and needed solutions through public charter schools. Yet, the NAACP made the unprecedented decision to call for a national moratorium on these very same schools.

As a principal of a community charter school that has been recognized nationally, this decision by the NAACP is alarming and unjust.  And as an African American who has worked his whole adult life to expand opportunity for African American families, I am offended by the NAACP’s misguided, politically-motivated decision.

I have learned the hard way that when decisions by those who claim to work on your behalf leave you scratching your head in confusion, follow the money. To explain why the NAACP sided against Black folks and to go after schools like mine, the answer is pretty clear: the most vocal opposition to charters comes from teacher unions, who also fund the NAACP to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

By falling in line with these funders, the NAACP has declared war on the very constituency it was created to help.  Instead of influencing policy to support a high-quality education for all children, this wayward organization has turned its back on 700,000 Black children in charter schools and millions more who are desperate for a better education.

Our school districts were failing long before the advent of public charters schools 25 years ago.  The idea that Black families who live in the catchment area of a perpetually failing district school system would be denied choice is unfathomable.

THE LONG LOST LEGACY

The stubborn achievement gaps facing Black students can be mitigated with more – not less – access to better schools like Shoemaker. Public school choice is a right that must not be compromised, especially by a civil rights organization whose stated mission is to ensure “political, educational, social, and economic equality.”

Sadly, the NAACP’s decision perpetuates the kind of unfair stereotypes it was originally created to fight against. To rationalize their decision and cloud their relationship with the unions, the NAACP makes the absurd claim that public charter schools are taking over public education. The fact is, fewer than 7% of all public school children attend charter schools and no one is forced to attend. They are open to all and do not charge tuition.

Stereotypes have long been a part of American history and our culture.  We have all witnessed how these stereotypes play out, whether it is a poorly trained and biased policeman or a racist vigilante assuming the worst of our black children and shooting them on our streets.

For families in Philadelphia’s 19131 zip code, politics and philosophical differences are not luxuries that are part of the decision-making process of our parents. They just want safe, good schools for their child to attend.

Rather than ignoring results and showcasing stereotypes, the NAACP should speak in one united voice that all Black lives and all Black families matter. To suggest that Black families should not have unmitigated access to quality public education shows how far away the NAACP has strayed from its noble inception.

The NAACP has fallen and it can’t seem to get up.

*A version of this post appeared on NBC.