Last week, I attended Building a Movement for Impact: A Gathering of Leaders in Oakland, California. The focus of the 3-day conference was Creating a Reality Where Success for Boys and Men of Color is the Norm. Needless to say that I felt at home with like-minded Youth, Organizers, Program Officers, Juvenile Justice Attorneys, Principals, Policy Analysts, HIV Prevention Risk Counselors, as well as others who viewed boys and men of color as assets and recognized the strength of a connected movement where the fates of people of color are intertwined. This same connectedness is the value behind My Brother’s Keeper Initiative endorsed by President Barack Obama earlier this year.
Conference sessions challenged the criminalization of youth of color. One example is the work of Better Our School System (BOSS). [See attachment below.]
The importance of education surrounding police interaction was emphasized via Know Your Rights! Help End Discriminatory Abusive & Illegal Policing (which includes a response to Stop and Frisk).
Also, philanthropic leaders shared their commitment to social change and the common good via A Time for Action: Mobilizing Philanthropic Support for Boys and Young Men of Color and Building a Beloved Community: Strengthening the field of Black Male Achievement.
Back home at Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS), the vision every student college and career ready is not often the framework for conversation focused on boys and men of color. Often discussions are more reactive, punitive, and all about fixing the problem that is often depicted as the boys of color themselves. This is why departments, such as Indian Education and Multilingual are vital. These departments house expertise and experiences focused on a comprehensive approach to the well-being and academic achievement of our students of color and their families as well as provide partnerships with teachers and staff for professional development.
The vision of Indian Education is “All American Indian students are empowered as lifelong learners to become fully engaged leaders, stewards and citizens.” This MPS Department is entrusted with the mission to “Improve Native Student achievement and graduation rates through academically rigorous culturally responsive instruction, family and student engagement and collaborative partnerships with schools and community.”
Within the District Headquarters is also the Multilingual Department that recognizes “cultural and linguistic diversity of the students we serve is our greatest strength.” The mission is to “empower educators and leaders to develop language-rich learning environments that raise the achievement of English Learners.”
These departments should be applauded and consistently funded!
That said, it is perplexing that addressing, investing, and creating a coalition of partnerships to support a vision for Black male achievement (who do not identify as English Language Learners and/or Indian students) remains on the margins. This is even more shocking given the recent (also past) concerns shared by the Office of Civil Rights surrounding Black males at MPS.
When we, as people of color, acknowledge and demonstrate that the histories of involuntary immigrants and voluntary immigrants are inextricably linked together, we have an opportunity for coalition building. Yet, we must keep in mind that the advancement, inclusion and barriers often vary in inequitable ways even among communities of color at MPS (as well as within philanthropy, employment, housing, and healthcare).
When it comes to the topic of boys of color at MPS, why is Black male achievement at the back of the bus?
- Board Equity & Achievement Subcommittee (September – December 2013) – View meeting agendas that invited community members, district leadership, and MPS Superintendent to discuss the vision and investment needed to address the achievement of Black students http://board.mpls.k12.mn.us/equity_and_achivement_committee.html
- Legislative Agenda 2014 http://www.mpls.k12.mn.us/uploads/mps_2014_legislative_agenda.pdf
- In Minnesota, race drives school labels, discipline (12/18/2013) http://www.startribune.com/local/minneapolis/235894231.html
- After years of talk, MPS takes decisive action on the achievement gap (02/24/2014) http://www.minnpost.com/learning-curve/2014/02/after-years-talk-mps-takes-decisive-action-achievement-gap
- New MPS programs to focus on Black male student achievement (03/28/2014) http://www.spokesman-recorder.com/2014/03/28/29668/
- Mpls Public Schools to assess impact of all policies, procedures on race equity (03/19/2014) http://www.spokesman-recorder.com/2014/03/19/mpls-public-schools-to-assess-impact-of-all-policies-procedures-on-race-equity/
Even with good intentions, Black male achievement has yet to be addressed wholeheartedly with the love, commitment, vision, excellence, and urgency that our students deserve at MPS. Since articles of exposed inequity and articles of expected progress, implementation of the Office of Black Male Achievement has moved at a snail’s pace.
This is not an epiphany that resulted from the mentioned conference. Rather, my Oakland experience reminded me what is possible when we truly see Black male students as our students and the urgency to act accompanies this connectedness.
Since entering my role as a MPS Board Director (January 2013), I have consistently communicated my concerns surrounding Black student achievement, while supporting quality public education for students thriving academically and students requiring intensive academic acceleration. For me, it has never been an either/or situation. Rather, it is about a school system that allows certain students to thrive (like yours and mine) and not others. “There’s a rumor in the world that some lives matter more than others” (Father Greg Boyle, Homeboy Industries.) This is unacceptable.
The brilliance beauty and potential within our Black male students is undeniable. They deserve the same attention and focus their city demonstrated to defeat two divisive amendments in November 2012 –Voting Rights and Same-Sex Marriage amendments – and later used the momentum to pass the Same-Sex Marriage and Minimum Wage Bills in the state. Making progress toward better conditions to live fully is what we do in Minneapolis!
My concern is that if community leaders, elected officials, community activists, philanthropic partners, and productive citizens do not pay close attention to the vision for the Office of Black male Achievement, and how District Leadership delivers on this promise our Black male students may once again find their dreams deferred.
So, what will make this new effort at MPS create a tradition of success?
As a mother, teacher and policymaker, here is my perspective on how we could move our Black male students to the front of the bus:
1. Listen to and learn from our Black males students and their families – Adults have expertise. However, we are not the experts when it comes to being a Black male at MPS. We need to recognize, learn from, and connect with our Black male students (in meaningful ways) who learn in and live with adult-made practices, procedures and policies that may not actually serve their well-being. We need to also learn from and listen to the families of Black male students as the first educators of their children. Black male students, their families, and their communities are vital to their academic success. It will take a village.
2. Institutionalize our values in policies – We need to critically ask, “Is it just? Is it right? Is it loving? And is it equitable? If we cannot answer ‘yes’ to all these questions then we must undo what has been done” (Darnell Moore, YOU Belong, 06/16/201). This is especially true for the Behavior Standards Policy, Truancy practices, and definitions of defiant behavior expectations used to confront oppositional behaviors from Black males.
Have you noticed that we rarely look to Restorative Justice practices when it comes to working with offenses conducted by our Black male students?
Are these the types of policies that will foster the next Professor Mahmoud El-Kati, Senator Jeff Hayden, Senator Bobby Joe Champion, Congressman Keith Ellison, Novelist James Baldwin, Commissioner of Human Rights Kevin Lindsey, Recording Artist Kendrick Lamar, Choreographer and Founder Alvin Ailey, Photographer, musician, writer and film director Gordon Parkers, Philosopher Cornel West, Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, Activist Bayard Rustin, and President Barack Obama? If we cannot answer yes then we need to create policies that would.
3. Look to the School Board and how we follow through on our Board priorities. This moment is an opportunity to demonstrate a relentless vision for Black male achievement. What policies has the Board offered to sustain the Office of Black Male Achievement? What commitments can be institutionalized to live beyond the rhetoric, discussions, and presentations?
4. Acknowledge and identify trauma and work with Black male students to heal and recover while meeting the high expectations, academic achievement, leadership development, and life skills expectations.
Keep in mind that the advocacy from other departments is essential based on the myriad of realities and diverse interests of our Black male students – Homeless and Highly Mobile Students, Out4Good (Creating safe and supportive schools for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender students, families, teachers and staff), Arts for Academic Achievement, Special Education, athletics, Home School, Talent Development and Advanced Learner Education, Title I, Contract Alternative Schools, Career and Technical Education, and Online Learning.
5. Align Black male achievement with Community and Family engagement, district initiatives, Fiscal Year budgets, Strategic Plans, Legislative Agendas, etc. We fund and follow through on what we value and those agreements that the public holds us accountable. This is an opportunity to “put our money where our mouth is” to address the needs of our Black male students and invest in their overall success.
6. Align, coordinate, and collaborate with City, County, and State Officials to address the criminalization of Black males. We need a movement across our city, state, region, and nation for our Black male students. High expectations require high support. And the expectations and support should be mutually shared among the adults involved with our students.
MPS cannot do this alone. We need to work with the Mayor’s Office, Park Board, City Council, Hennepin County Commissioners, Hennepin County Attorney, Youth Coordinating Board, Youth Violence Prevention, and other agencies and organizations that will champion Black male achievement. We need to partner with every area that intersect with the lives of our students to leave nothing to chance.
Dominica, my oldest daughter, left home late to take the city bus to Washburn High School, and shared an encounter with a Minneapolis police officer. Read about her experience from her mother’s perspective. [See attachment]
7. Develop a sustainable plan and long-term investment in 21st century comprehensive education that maintains relevance and excellence from Pre K – 12th grade for Black male students. Rather than the constant reminder via disparaging public data and criminal media depictions, we can envision a comprehension approach to Black male achievement that connects to healthcare, civic engagement, global connections, human rights advocacy, housing options, college, career and life planning, and financial planning. There are many policy implications!
8. Reach out to teachers, staff, schools, communities, and regional and national organizations to locate examples and resources working with Black males that are approved by Minneapolis Black males.
MPS Indian Education and Multilingual Departs are examples of effectiveness and efficiency for the students they serve. What policies and/or memorandum of agreements were established to institutionalize the vision of the department within MPS? How can we build what works to scale? What is the capacity of these departments? How can we build a coalition?
9. Create an implementation, evaluation, and problem-solving plan with a timeline to continuously demonstrate accountability and transparency to our Black male students, their families and broader communities. “What is the how that gives the work integrity” (Jelani Cobb, University of Connecticut)?
10. Keep in mind that the goal is to move together and holistically. Centering our attention on MPS Black males with the establishment of the Office of Black Male Achievement recognizes that past efforts have fallen short and our Black males have failed in the same schools where our other students have thrived. This is not ok and such a contradictory culture requires examination.
Equally important, the focus on Black boys is not conducted at the expense of our Black girls. Our Black girls deserve our immediate attention and they should never be left behind. This tension requires further conversations and attention to ensure we move forward together.
Tracine Asberry (left), Senators Hayden (back), Professor El-Kati (center) and Senator Champion (right)