Black parents, you shouldn’t stand alone

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Dear Black Parents from Memphis Lift,

I owe you an apology. Today, via social media, I watched you show up to be heard at the NAACP hearing on the moratorium for charter schools. You felt blindsided and unheard. You were threatened, and the police were called on you for fighting for what you felt was right.

.@NAACP Regional Field Director Fields Heated Responses from Pro-#CharterSchoolParents after Board Approves Moratorium Resolution pic.twitter.com/31HWUZKrX7 — Choice Media (@ChoiceMediaTV) October 15, 2016

I am a member of the NAACP and contrary to many other black folks; I do have a profound respect for them and what they are meant to stand for. My letter to you is not an entryway or access point for non-Blacks to use to attack the NAACP. My blackness just won’t allow that. Think of this as a family meeting where we have some things to address amongst ourselves. I am not interested in watching Black leaders eviscerate each other at the entertainment of other folks.

However, I do feel that we did you a disservice today. I have never worked for a charter school nor did I attend one. I have nephews that are currently thriving in one. I do not believe charters to be the Christ of education that can baptize our communities to academic heaven. No. However, I am an ardent supporter of your right to make a choice on your own. I believe that you deserve a level of dignity and agency when it comes to how your children are educated. I believe you deserve the right to have an option when one system or school is not up to your standards.

I live my life working to improve traditional public schools. It is a hard and difficult grind, but I see it as a duty for what God has personally pulled me through and I thoroughly feel blessed to be able to do it daily. I want the mark of improvement in those schools to be academic improvements that can lead to a better life for Black students. Let me be clear; I want us to build traditional public schools that Black parents WANT to send their children to, not ones that they are forced to.

I have failed you though because even with all of the degrees, the access to information, the connections I have worked to build and the social privilege I now possess, you still have not been served as best as you can, and I have little to show for how I’ve improved that. In a world where no one wants to take the blame, and everyone loves pointing the finger elsewhere, I know that part of this is my fault.

When I look at the mothers that drove seven hours to Cincinnati from Memphis just to be shut down and shut out, I think about my mother feeling helpless and aimless in my education. I think about the insecurity she must have felt not understanding how to guide my education. I think about the double-digit number of schools I attended across the country and her fear that my educational life may end up like her’s. This country could’ve done more to serve you. I could’ve done more. At the very least, today, we (and I say we because I’m a supporter of and paying member of the NAACP) could’ve made sure you were treated with more respect and dignity than you were. Today could’ve been a day that restored hope rather than one that left you feeling like an orphan with no home or protection. I watched with a clinched fist the live streams of police being called on Black parents today in Cincinnati.

I would have preferred the NAACP to call out the entire system of education as it relates to Black people on the whole. Black parents, I am sorry that you will have to listen to non-Black people quote the NAACP to you as they basically tell you that you do not have the right to choose what you feel is best for your children. It bothers me to my core.

Black parents, let me be clear, family. I don’t blindly trust any of these systems. Not-a-one-of-them to do what’s right by my people. What I support is access to all the information and the ability to do what’s best for your family. Once you make that choice, regardless of system, you must fight like hell for the edification of your child. So in this conversation, I may come off as a charter advocate. Nah, I’m an Agency advocate that understands no perfect system exists so within that context, you need the access and ability to make the best decisions for your family. Our role is to then support you in that decision and help you navigate it.

We must be better for you. Black parents, wherever your child attends school, whether it be a traditional public school, a public charter school or a private school, we can and must be better for you. I have a few suggestions on how we can do that:

  1. Traditional public schools, public charter schools, and private schools must put politics to the side and get real about what it means to educate Black children in this country. That involves us being adults and talking to each other.
  2. Black people have to lead. There are a lot of well-meaning folks out here leading, and I commend you, but Black people MUST be at the forefront of their liberation. When you look at the civil rights movement, there were a lot of courageous non-Black people involved, but they understood that to see real progress amongst the people it had to be Black folks out in front, leading.
  3. Black agency, or the ability to feel confident and in a position of power when it comes to issues affecting your family, must become a priority for any leader that is responsible for educating your children.
  4. Leaders of every sector of this work, we must yell down and shout out anyone that tries to blame the deplorable state of Black education in this country as a whole on the Black family. I completely understand the role the family unit plays, and I respect it. However, if any education system blames their failures on Black parents or tries to convince you there’s something wrong with us, then you should exit en masse. That’s a lie from the Devil’s lawyer, fam!
  5. We have to have a real conversation about results and who’s being educated. Our Black parents need to know that an ‘A’ in English doesn’t necessarily mean your child is reading at or above grade level. Parents shouldn’t need to know that, but alas, here we are.
  6. We must lift up and support when educators, regardless of political leanings or educational delivery system, are educating Black children well. We must seek them out in every sector of education.
  7. We must create a safe space for Black leaders on every side of this issue, along with Black parents and students to have a closed-door, family-only conversation. Remember when we used to have family meetings where we would fight, fuss, cuss, argue, eat, drink and then walk out of that house fortified as a unit and ready to take on the world together? We need that type of space.

Black people, I will be better for you and not as some savior, because (1) I can’t be that and (2) you don’t need that. I still do not totally know how, but I will do my damnedest to find out and walk in that. It starts with me. Would love to see other leaders take a similar stand publicly for our people because on the whole, this entire thing could be better for our people.

Humbly and sincerely,

Someone deeply trying to figure out how to be of better service to his people…

How can we better survive the killing season?

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I’m an Oakland boy but the place that birthed me is in crisis and the world is numb to it. Chicago, one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen, is losing Black life at an astonishing rate. What’s worse is that very few folks outside of Chicago are discussing it. The past two weekends have been particularly bloody (read here and here).

The vast majority of my relatives live all around the Chicago area and it astonishes me how so many lives can be taken and the conversation be so small on the national front.

I’m gonna have a real moment with y’all right now. I’m that dude that people say are angry. Folks say there’s a chip there and I’ve always been this way. I go to work and intentionally walk around my entire office every single day and speak to people – not just because I’m this super friendly guy, but it’s because I know how people see me. It’s the way they’ve always seen me, so I put people at ease. But when there are so many inputs that let us know that Black life isn’t valuable and it’s reiterated to you time and time again, it changes you.

I’m talking about cops killing us, us killing us, food killing us, water killing us, education killing us, our government killing us, poverty killing us – ALL OF IT. So when we step up, we’re met with a prime mixture of animus and patronization.

The cop had due cause. Let the hood take care of itself, eventually they’ll kill each other off. We need Monsanto. Just give schools more money. Charters are manipulating you. Don’t blame teachers. If they just got jobs, this wouldn’t happen.

Get outta here with that, man! For real.

What are we doing, both collectively and individually to add value? So many people out here make money off of Black suffering. There are so many nonprofits. So many schools. So many candidates. So many books.

My people dying is a cash cow for this country!

If you’re happy in your life and have some success, I need you to mentor someone. If you’re a Black man and you spend time with your kids, bring along the kid with no daddy.

Murders go up when the temperature rises in Chicago!

How bothered do you need to be?

I just spoke on an education panel discussing the normal stuff; charter schools, achievement – you know, all the stuff reformers and anti reformers discuss. The arguments where neither side is changing the other sides mind. The spaces where we all are just taking up space. I just couldn’t get over what’s been happening to Black folks.

I feel like I just kept yelling that our education system has never really educated Black people well, especially after Brown vs. Board. I just kept going back to the shootings that happened over the weekend. Last weekend it was 40 plus shootings, this weekend (at the time of writing this) it was 18. 13 people killed. This is Chicago for people that look like I do. This is Chicago for poor folks. This is the America that poor folks of color often experience. In this story it’s Chicago, but it’s our country.

I’m all over the place so I’ll end it with this list because we can all do something:

  1. Be a mentor.
  2. Get in front of these Black boys and girls and show genuine interest in them.
  3. Dads and men matter – to the dads on the block, make room for another kid or two in the neighborhood. Take them with you.
  4. Black churches, come on now! You were and are the backbone of our communities. WE NEED YOU. There was a time when you could go to the Black church and get all the information you needed. There was a time when we used to see y’all in the streets.
  5. Mosques, we need you. When I was a kid, y’all had brothers on every corner as we walked to and from school. You brothers made us get to school on time, told us to respect the girls and asked us what we learned. Y’all corrected us and I always respected it, even as a Christian boy. We need y’all.
  6. Media, tell the stories. For real. Make this country care like you force me to care about whatever the Kardashians are doing. Why are there like five shows focusing on OJ Simpson right now? I don’t care anything about that dude.
  7. School leaders, both reformers and anti reformers, I want to see conversations about Black kids. Talk to me about how they’re achieving or no achieving.
  8. The list isn’t exhaustive. It’s clear I’m writing off pure emotion. So what I want to leave you with is DO SOMETHING!

Show these kids we care about them. Chicago, Oakland, Detroit, show em. Welcome to the Killing Season. Hopefully it’s the last one.

It’s ok if you hate charter schools, just don’t block other families from finding them

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I live in Oakland and there’s a lot of talk about charter schools and consequentially, those talks have splintered off into other related topics. One of those topics is Common Enrollment.

Common Enrollment, which has other names such as Unified Enrollment or One App, has been the new apple in the eye of both reformers and anti-reformers. I’ve written about this before but the general idea is that families would have only one application to fill out for both traditional public schools and charter schools. In addition, general information on all schools would live in one place and students will no longer hold multiple spots in various schools during enrollment allowing for more students to get into their first and second-choice schools.

I’ve been in spaces where folks are loudly opposed and other spaces where folks are loudly for. Here are MY thoughts on the situation. And just to be clear, I’m a free Black man out here in these streets, I speak for me and only me.

1. Education systems have historically underserved black folks. For all my people who don’t like school choice please take me to a time in history when we were doing an amazing job of educating Black folks living in poverty. I want our public school system to grow and become the formidable option that parents deserve. I live to make that happen. I sacrifice to make that happen and I know a bunch of other folks that are doing that as well all over this country. However, it’s pretty well documented that we haven’t always done too well for Black and Brown poor folks since, well…

2. Yo, if you hate charters, you can still hate them. Common Enrollment won’t change that. Yo, I’m personally agnostic. I know how important education is when you’re poor and Black. I was both and I know what the ability to go to college has meant for my life. I am more than okay with a parent having options and choosing what is best for their child and family whether it be a traditional school across the street or on the other side of the city. I don’t care if they choose a charter school or scrape up the money to send their child to a private school. That’s a deeply personal decision.

3. So if you just hate charters then continue your campaign against charters. I don’t think you’ll stop anyway so keep preaching your gospel on how charters are the devil if you like. Your campaign may help persuade a family to make a favorable choice in your eyes. That’s your right. Just don’t take the option away from parents to exercise their right to choose on an easier platform.

4. Everybody, please get over yourselves. Anti-reformers don’t like the idea because they think charters will take over while some charters hate it because it forces them to relinquish control. I say that respectfully, of course.

Denying families easier access when it’s possible is incredibly whack and tells me folks don’t trust parents the way they say they do. There’s a great episode of South Park where the kids are working hard to get their friends to vote – that is, until they find out their friends want to vote for the OTHER candidate. That’s how this feels to me at times. I hear EVERYONE say parents need more information and more access but the main reason most folks want to prevent Common Enrollment is because they are fearful that all of the poorer, underserved parents will choose charters. What?!? You get the gas face, homie. Also, if that is the real issue, shouldn’t we all have an honest conversation as to why that might be? Real question here, how amazing could we be if we all genuinely worked together to improve things for kids?

5. We can learn from successes and failures of common enrollment. So let’s improve it and give people the equity they want. I’ve read arguments both for and against the idea of Common Enrollment. I’ve read about how it helped bring more students back into Denver Public Schools in both charters and traditional schools. I’ve read how in some places, it’s pulled kids from traditional schools over to charter schools. I want to give us all the benefit of the doubt, that we can work together and allow ourselves to be smarter today than we were yesterday. I believe that we can all put politics aside to create a system that educates our kids where opposing dogmatic ideologies can work together and take the best from each other. Our babies need it.


This post was republished from One Oakland United.

 

What’s at Stake When We Fight for Crumbs

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I recently read a report titled, “Out of Pocket: The High Cost of Inadequate High Schools and High School Student Achievement on College Affordability. The article had some eye-opening stats. Here’s a few:

  • 1:4 students entering college had to enroll in remedial coursework
  • This costs students and families $1.5 Billion!
  • 45% of these students came from middle to upper class families while 55% came from poor families
  • 74% more likely to drop out of college
  • Those that do graduate take 11 more months to graduate on average

I felt my muscles tensing up as I read this. I remember graduating being in the top 10 percentile throughout high school. I remember having As and Bs, thinking I knew what I was doing. Then I had to take a full year of remedial Language Arts and Math. I remember the counselor telling me that these 6 classes — yes, dammit 6 classes in a quarter system — wouldn’t count towards my college graduation. More than 10 years after college and still owing Sallie Mae more than $75K, I’m still paying for those courses.

I was discouraged. I was embarrassed and it reiterated the belief I had when I entered college – the notion that I didn’t belong here. The counselors are straight up with you too. They were clear that you got a few shots at passing these classes before they made you leave the university and get caught up at a JuCo. I knew if I left and went to a Junior College I wasn’t coming back. I know folks that did this successfully but if I left, I wasn’t coming back.

I was able to do it by taking 20 units most quarters and taking full loads during the summer but I was determined to finish in 4 years. That means no summer vacations. No internships. I did that while doing work study as an assistant in the library and working a full load at the shoe store in Bayfair Mall in the next city.

So when I see folks talking about “Opt-Out”, I’m confused. Then when I look deeper and I see folks like Diane Ravitch saying it I get angry. Here’s why. Diane’s kids didn’t grow up where I grew up. For me, the lack of quality education puts me on a path to crime, violence and homelessness. I know this because I was raised by parents with no education and that was my experience growing up. It’s all I knew.

I got those empty grades that lied to me and told me I was prepared to do college level math and I wasn’t. I’ll keep it all the way real with you, I hated taking tests. Absolutely hated it. So if you told me as a child that I could opt out, then you could’ve used me in any way you wanted, straight up! I would’ve made videos for you. I would’ve appeared in commercials, all of it. But as an adult that’s now traveled the country and seen quality education for Black folks, I’m even more offended because I feel like people that will never have OUR experience are using OUR babies to make their point.

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The tests aren’t what’s hurting our self-esteem, it’s the not knowing what the hell I was supposed to learn when you made me come to your school everyday that has us feeling some type of way. Take the results of the test, analyze it and improve how you educate us. Make adjustments. Also, I’m all for improving the tests. Do what you need to do. Make it more culturally relevant. Find a way to better integrate it so it isn’t as disruptive but don’t take away the ability to assess on a large scale. I do want to know how well I am doing compared to the suburbs. I do want to know where I rank amongst different groups.

So no, the test isn’t giving Black kids low self-esteem, it’s when we think we’re prepared to do something and fall flat on our faces because we got empty grades. It’s watching all of your friends around you that you started college with drop out one by one. It’s feeling like we’re set up to fail every step of the way. The answer isn’t to dumb it down.  Let’s smarten it up. The days of my people fighting for crumbs has to go, son! We’re worth more than that. I don’t care where you live, I don’t care what you look like, I don’t care if your parents never showed up to one PTA, I don’t care if your momma was a crackhead or your daddy was a dope boy, you deserve quality. Those things were true for me and if you try to tell me I didn’t deserve better then we may have a problem. Sometimes it takes one of us to say that to the rest of us. You are worth it and you are not getting what you deserve. God Bless.

-Cole Out

BeAnEnergyConvertor #DoWork

I’ll just be a cocky young negro

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Cocky. Arrogant. Self-centered.

I may be all of these things or none of these things – I don’t know. I do know that I carry myself a certain way and have since high school. Allow me to explain. See, there are some benefits to moving as much as I did as a child. You learn how to adapt. In the summer leading to my senior year of high school, my parents did what many Black families did in the early 2000s, we made the “Great Negro Migration” from Oakland out to the outer realm of the Bay Area on the way to Sacramento. A bunch of folks moved to the Antiochs, Pittsburgh, and Modestos. We ended up in Stockton.

In my senior year, I went to Bear Creek High School. I went from a mostly-Black Emery High School, which had less than 300 students to a school with 2300 people, and Black folks were the minority. There, I learned of a beautiful yet mystical thing called ‘privilege’. The kids at this school were different. Whereas only a handful of students even had a driver’s license at Emery, I went to a school with a student parking lot where I saw Range Rovers and Mustangs. One of my close friends had a BMW M3 (he was 17), and one of my other friends drove his father’s Corvette. Needless to say, I was in a much different place.

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The students at this school just moved differently. They knew they were going to college. At Bear Creek, I was in AP English for about two weeks. The students in this class set high standards and negotiated assignments with the teachers. In my old school, there was a strict no food or drink policy in our classes, whereas in my first-period Spanish class at Bear Creek, I watched a third of the class enjoy lattes and it was never an issue. In my AP English class at Emery, the most rigor I experienced there was a packet on Romeo & Juliet. No, these Bear Creek students were different. They felt like adults. It was a culture shock. So I watched. I watched the athlete with the bleached-blonde hair and his letterman jacket. I watched the way he interacted with the world and how the world interacted back with him. I watched as he experienced multiple internships in different fields. It wasn’t just white folks either. I watched the Black boy whose parents were both highly educated, and he would get frustrated between making a decision between his dad’s alma mater, Stanford or his longing to study in New York at NYU.

I didn’t quite know what I was witnessing at the time. I didn’t have the language for it. What I was witnessing was confidence. It was self-actualization in the teenage form. I was learning a different type of confidence. They didn’t feel like they were lucky because good things were happening; they expected it. They expected to be treated a certain way. Their parents expected things from the school with allowed those parents to place high expectations on their children. I wanted that type of respect. I learned early on that you command respect. Yeah, sure you give it, — we always give it! But I never felt like my people were demanding it. I learned how to exude expectations from my environment in the way I arrived.

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There’s only one problem; my poor Black ass was from Oakland by way of Chicago. There’s an expectation that goes along with that. Striking that balance has been a task that I am constantly learning even today. Here’s what I experience when I display that confidence. There’s a trigger in our heads that go off when the young Black dude has expectations for how the world should interact with him. The trigger says, “Nah, get back in your place, Nigger!” I saw it in college; I saw it in grad school, and I have seen it on every job I’ve had since college.

To the young Black folks that read my words, take heed. Smart people learn from their experience while wise people learn from the experience of others.

I am a person that understands that he doesn’t know a lot and the fastest way to get that knowledge is to find someone that does and commandeer them as a mentor. You can ask some of the biggest leaders working in Oakland today; there aren’t many that I haven’t had lunch with or volunteered to help with something so I could absorb what made them successful. Elihu Harris, former mayor of Oakland, mentored me for a spell when I was an undergrad. He told me something I would never forget. In fact, I found myself quoting it the other day. He said,

“Leaders love to leave a legacy. Every good leader wants a younger, better version of themselves to live through when they leave the work. So ALWAYS pick the brain of the leaders you come in contact with. If their office door is open, it’s your job walk through. If they didn’t want people walking in, they’d close it. Put yourself on their calendar. Make people tell you no.”

I don’t know what Mr. Harris is doing these days or if he would even remember that conversation, but it changed my life. It changed my approach. He told me that people were going to react to me differently because I was a Black kid that came from the slums. He also said that the folks that would have the most trouble dealing with how I moved would be other people of color. It’s stepping out of place in some of those folks’ eyes.

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So I’ve done that. I value my time, and I don’t waste people’s time, and I don’t allow them to waste mine. I don’t think I am better than anyone but I know I am valuable, and it shows. That thinking made me one of the youngest social workers in my company’s history at the time. In my job after that, it would push me from line staff to directing two sites across the Bay Area. That confidence helped me lead a walk out with a small group of others that altered how California State University, East Bay (then it was Hayward) engaged with students around budgetary changes. It helped lead to my Senate seat nomination at that institution. I know my worth. I’ve seen how privilege moves. I’ve seen how it talks. I’ve studied how it walks and it ain’t only for the white folks, homie.

For any young person of color reading this, you’ve got to know your worth. You have to know your value, and that is what allows you to walk into that president’s doors and still be able to kick it with the janitor. You have to be able to do both seamlessly. The world is your’s; it’s just waiting for you to take it. Take your mentors! Take your shots! Fail! Then fail again. It’s one of the best methods to learning. Trust me, I fail at what I do ALL THE TIME. Folks will call you cocky. Folks will call you self-centered. If that’s what it takes for us to have agency and ownership over our path in life then so be it. I’ve seen the alternative. Listen, if you work with kids in any capacity and they don’t leave your presence believing in themselves more than when they met you, you failed. I don’t care if you teach math or Sunday school.

I’ll just be a cocky young negro. If you decide to be one then you’ll be in good company. Malcolm X was called arrogant. Oprah was called arrogant. Denzel Washington got called cocky. As I write this, there’s a full segment on television on just how arrogant Cam Newton is. I want all of our kids to be confident and demand greatness from themselves and respect from the world. Call us cocky all you want, but you’ll be doing it as move out the way of our success.

– Cole Out