There’s so much I didn’t know growing up. There were things my mom didn’t know and therefore couldn’t teach me. Things my teachers may have known, but couldn’t tell me because they’d potentially lose their jobs. For some reason, I thought growing up black and poor meant I had been through something that would, in turn, make me GREAT – make me successful. I wanted to be the opposite of my upbringing, but adversity with no insight or depth can be a dangerous thing.
And now, as an adult, and with a greater frame of reference, I now question and think differently about holidays; they just aren’t the same to me anymore. For most New Orleans families, I believe it’s in our nature to long for opportunities to celebrate. With so many citywide events and festivals that invite people from all over the country, it’s ingrained in us. It’s our culture. But for me, this July 4th seems different. A strange feeling passes when I get that “Happy 4th of July!” text message. I don’t respond. Even seeing the American flag waving, or the idea of dressing my son in a t-shirt of its liking feels questionable. While I enjoy the great food, time spent with family and friends, and the happiness that radiates from those who are free from their jobs on this day, I can’t help but sulk in the struggle of my people and our ongoing fight for liberty and justice, the hallmarks of this country’s human rights.
I mean, I don’t want to be an extremist and sweat out my hair by wearing black leather to the family barbecue, but I do think it is important to acknowledge that this is a holiday met with unsettling feelings for many blacks in America. The uneasy race relations and strife that linger within our country at this very moment don’t make it any better. A lot of feelings that resonated then, still resonate now as I reflect on Frederick Douglass’ depiction of his experiences during his speech “The Meaning of Fourth of July for the Negro” on July 5, 1852:
Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.
Conceivably, as a maturing black woman who is more conscious than I’ve ever been, the mother of a black male, and one who stands in front of a generation of black high school students each day as a professional, I’ve succumbed to drowning in my own thoughts and feelings of inequality and inequity, and the feeling for me is a real one, a haunting one, but nevertheless, a real one. The conflicting messages I witness about this July 4th only add to my racing thoughts.
Is this really a day worth celebrating?
Should I celebrate?
Should we celebrate?
And celebrate what exactly?
We surely can’t celebrate our brothers, sons, and fathers being murdered by white officers with no one being held accountable. We can’t celebrate blacks making up only 13.3% of the country’s population yet 37.7% of the country’s prison population. Nor can we celebrate black and brown students being shuffled through an educational system that has failed us since we were first allowed to enter its doors. These harsh facts leave no room for celebration.
So for now, let’s celebrate ourselves.
Celebrate our families.
Celebrate our communities.
And not just on July 4th, but every day forward. All the while, never forgetting how far we have to go, but remaining hopeful that what we’ve endured gives us the strength to keep fighting.
To read Frederick Douglass’ speech in its entirety, click here.
by Shawnta S. Barnes
Without fail, when certain U.S. federal holidays come around each year, the debate begins about whether or not the holiday should be celebrated especially by minorities. Franchesca Ramsey, host of MTV Decoded, details in two videos, “Everything You Know about Thanksgiving is Wrong” and “Columbus was a Genocidal Rapist” some of the reasons we should think about what we are truly celebrating. This debate isn’t new. On July 5, 1852 Frederick Douglass delivered a speech referred to as either “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro” or “What, to a Slave, is Your 4th of July?” in Corinthian Hall in Rochester N.Y.
At the end of June before Independence Day, I find myself rereading the unabridged (not shortened) version of Douglass’ speech and I reflect upon his words. He begins his speech praising Americans for their courage to break free from the British and gain their independence, but reminds them, “I remember, also, that, as a people, Americans are remarkably familiar with all facts which make in their own favor. This is esteemed by some as a national trait — perhaps a national weakness.” Today, I think about this weakness. Some Americans choose to overlook the injustices happening today because they are not being affected and are not suffering. Last year, I had a poem published in Words Dance reflecting those thoughts:
is a blindfold
the dead bodies
Yes, we are not shackled and picking cotton, but as Douglass stated in his speech way back in 1852, “The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth of July is yours, not mine” is still relevant today because stripes are still coming down on black bodies and we are still dying daily.
What, to this slave descendant, is your 4th of July? It is a day to spend with my family. Because the 4th of July is a federal holiday, it is one of the few times we all can gather together. My twin sons, who are now six, have learned all of our people didn’t gain freedom from slavery until the slaves in Texas were informed on June 19, 1865 slavery had ended. This was almost two years after President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. For the last few years, I have taken them to a Juneteenth celebration which celebrates our freedom and the date when the slaves in Texas learned about the Emancipation Proclamation. I want them to know our story which is weaved into all aspects of our American history. Not only do I want my children to know, I also want my students to know what our plight was even if it means being reported.
When I was teaching 8th grade middle school English, our department decided we would teach our English standards using either a historical text or a historical fiction text. Everyone in my department decided to teach Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not knocking this text. Instead, I decided to use the historical fiction text Chains, part of The Seeds of America Trilogy, by Laurie Halse Anderson. My students had learned about the American Revolution in history class which meant they had background knowledge I didn’t have to teach. This story followed Isabel, a slave, who was trying to figure out which side she should support during the American Revolution in hopes she would gain her freedom. Spoiler alert: Neither side cared about her freedom. My classes were majority minority and I believed this was a good text to use. Although I was reported for not using the same text as my colleagues, I was still allowed to use this novel.
The 4th of July is a time to enjoy my family. My parents were married on July 6, 1985 so we always celebrate their wedding anniversary; my parents will be married for 32 years this year and that’s remarkable. That’s my focus – love and the strength of my family. It is also a time to reflect on where we were as a people and how far we have to go for all of us to truly enjoy freedom. No, I do not believe we should condemn minorities for celebrating this holiday, but they need to be well informed about our history and not deceived about the injustices we are still fighting today.
By Kyla Thomas
“What if I fail? Oh, but what if you soar?” No matter what generation you were born into, we all have a common denominator, the fear of failure. Albert Einstein once said, “It takes seven positive influences to overcome one negative.” Due to the social media craze, negative headlines are at our fingertips every second of the day. Our future leaders, our youth are being victimized daily. It is hard to offset the negative with positive when frequent Black Lives Matter hashtags display the harsh reality; we are still being judged by the color of our skin rather than the content of our character.
It is critical for me to instill in my kids the paradigm in which I want them exposed. We cannot sit back and expect the media to make positive influences available and widespread to our youth. We must rise together to create the influences we want ingrained in their minds. We must redefine the norm in our culture. Perception is reality and therefore it is imperative that our next generation of leaders: our kids, grandkids, nephews, and nieces are exposed to headlines that portray black excellence. For these reasons, I make it a priority to attend, along with my sons, high school and college graduations. Graduations are a clear expression and a vivid reminder of the sacrifices our ancestors made to allow us the privilege to become educated. Graduations for me are synonymous with Black Excellence.
One of the most recent college graduations I attended was for Destini Goodly, a 22-year-old New Orleans native who represents black excellence. Her mother has a Masters in Social Work and father has a Masters in Criminal Justice. Destini made wise academic choices, just as her parents, as early as middle school. From the selection of her friends, to the high school she would attend, to the activities she allowed to consume her time; they all aligned with her priorities and family values. It is imperative our youth understand early on their character is composed of the people and things they spend the most time with. Bad company corrupts good character. Sir Isaac Newton once said, “If I have seen further, it is only from standing on the shoulders of giants.” It is extremely important to ensure our youth are surrounded with giants and people who resembles how they envision their future.
Destini has a strong desire and passion for dance. She danced for 12 years outside of school activities. From tap, ballet, pointe, jazz and hip hop; she cultivated her love of dance. In parallel to her long-term career in dance, Destini attended Benjamin Franklin High School, one of New Orleans most distinguished schools known for its exceptional scholars. She was inducted into the National Honor Society and graduated Summa Cum Laude in 2013. Destini took her academics and love of dance seriously.
Destini’s work ethic and academic achievements landed her a full ride (free tuition, housing, meal plan, and book voucher) to Howard University, a historically black university (HBCU), in Washington, D.C. While at Howard aka “the mecca,” Destini continued to soar academically and socially. She was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa, the oldest and most prestigious honor society in the nation. She was also a two-time recipient of Howard’s YAALI (Young African American Leadership Initiative) which allowed her the honor and privilege to travel outside the country to Ghana in May 2016 and South Africa in December 2016. Destini gained awareness of the historical, linguistic, political, social and economic issues countries in Africa face. Exposure to travel and learning different cultures is one of the most impactful forms of education.
As I headed to Destini Goodly graduation, there was a family of 20+ people deep waiting to board my flight. Curious as to where such a large party would be flying, I asked one lady, “So are you guys headed to a family reunion?” The lady responded with enthusiasm as if she was headed to see Michelle Obama. “No, we are going to HOWARD UNIVERSITY to see my nephew Terrance graduate. He is a pre-med major!” I took a look at the entire family once more and noticed they had representation from what seemed to be the youngest to oldest member of their family. I smiled deeply inside as if I knew Terrence and said with the same enthusiasm as the lady, “I’m going to see my godchild graduate from Howard and she too is a pre-med major. Her name is Destini Goodly. Make sure you yell for her and I will do the same for Terrence.” Fighting back the tears that wanted to drop from my eyes, this lady and I bonded over the same love and admiration of black excellence.
Destini graduated Summa Cum Laude and landed yet another full ride; this time to medical school. Destini studied consistently long hard hours aside from her school curriculum for the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test). The highest possible score one can earn on the MCAT is a 528; Destini scored an astonishing 514. Destini can attest there is no substitute for consistency combined with diligence and hard work. In the words of Denzel Washington, “Without commitment, you will never start; without consistency, you will never finish.”
Unsurprisingly, Destini was presented with a number of acceptance letters to medical schools across the United States. She chose Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia. When asked how she made her decision, her answer was simple. “I want to continue my Howard experience.” She went on to say Howard instilled self-worth and confidence in her through their rigorous, African-American focused curriculum and by simply being surrounded by successful black people. “Howard provided an environment which was supportive of my goals and dreams and that helped with my achievements. It also made me more comfortable with being myself and expressing my individuality. I am a lot more comfortable with wearing my natural hair and the clothes I want to wear regardless of social stigmas.”
As parents and educators we sometime question whether HBCUs shelter our youth from the “real” world experiences. Destini can attest firsthand that she gained something far more valuable than what the “real” world can ever provide. She acquired self discovery. Aside from self-worth and awareness, she gained a profound knowledge of our culture, history, as well as a global perspective of organizational and governmental structure and its impact to the black race.
In closing, I would like to share snippets from the Valedictorian’s speech at Howard 2017 graduation. This exceptional young man’s words resonated deep within me as he told his classmates, “This degree is a receipt, a record of the investment made in you by the hundreds that came before you…when you leave the mecca you leave with something more, something inevitable. You leave with a swagger, an unmistakable sense of self, an entrenched understanding of your value and identity rooted in an appreciation for the meaning of an institution that intentionally creates black excellence…this degree is for the 15 million children living in poverty across the country and the billions living in destitution across the world….this degree is for all those who never had the opportunity to receive a Howard education because they were failed by their education system, failed by their political system, failed by their economic systems and lapped up by their criminal justice systems…this degree is for all those who have been and will be victimized by this and any future presidential administration.”
His words were powerful and true. Destini departs “the mecca” with the humility to serve. As she continues her journey, she plans to be a change agent dealing directly with the disparities minorities face. I say to anyone striving towards black excellence, do not let fear keep you from reaching your full potential. Step outside of your comfort zone. Obtaining success is no mystery. Success leaves clues. Learn from and follow the patterns and clues that successful people leave behind.
Kyla Thomas has a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering, MBA in Telecommunications Management, and recently completed Harvard Business School Executive Core Program in 2016 . She currently holds a Vice President title at Citigroup as a Global Solutions Engineer and technology strategic leader. Aside from her professional accolades, Kyla is wife, mother of two boys, and a huge advocate for women and education. She enjoys running for meaningful charities, gardening, and reading books in her spare time. Kyla just recently ran her first half marathon in support of She’s the First, which is a non-profit organization providing scholarships to girls in low-income countries who will be the first in their family to graduate from high school.
By: Dana Henry
As a parent of two public schools students in NOLA, I am one of the fortunate ones. My children tested into a high-performing pre-K program because I could afford to pay the fees. The school isn’t in OneApp yet, it’s walking distance from my home, and the likelihood of them attending a high-performing public high school is extremely high. Citywide, those coveted quality seats are few in number and high in demand. So let’s compare my situation to others and see why tension, anger, and frustration exists with so many other parents in NOLA.
OneApp –If a seat at your preferred school isn’t available, OneApp assigns you to your next choice, if it’s available. If not, you could end up with a seat at your fifth choice.
Transportation – If the only quality school that fits your child’s needs is two blocks away but filled before your child is given a seat, the next available seat could be in Algiers. And, if you live in the East, transportation becomes more of a burden and less of a privilege very quickly.
High demand and low supply produce tension for many parents because they know that access to a quality school from Pre-K to 12th grade could be the difference between prison or a career. So when they’re told that the quality school that fits their child’s need isn’t available, they get angry!! But, can you blame them?
“I know our teachers and staff members will maintain their laser-like focus to ensure all of our kids graduate college and career ready.”
Read more here
What’s in a School Mission? A Look into New Orleans’ Collegiate Academies Promise of College Success to its Students and Families
The mission: CA builds world-class public schools that prepare all students for college success and lives of unlimited opportunity.
“College isn’t for everyone!”
Or is it?
No matter which side you stand on, the promise of preparation for college is one that Ben Marcovitz, CEO of Collegiate Academies, and his school leaders and staff plan to keep to the students and families they serve within the city of New Orleans.
Within the network of Collegiate Academies are its four schools: Abramson Sci Academy, Carver Collegiate, Livingston Collegiate, and the newly founded, Baton Rouge Collegiate(currently enrolling for its Fall 2017 opening).
Additionally, Opportunities Academy is the network’s post-secondary full day program for scholars with moderate to significant disabilities with a focus on supporting each student in achieving his or her highest level of independence in pursuit of meaningful and fulfilling personal and professional outcomes in the areas of independent living, community access, and career readiness.
When this image blared across the projector during Marcovitz’s presentation to his school staff during the network’s retreat, I couldn’t help but become consumed with emotion.
This could have been because of his strategic pairing of the image and mission with a story of a former student who despite struggling significantly(evidenced by a series of documents and reports) to excel both academically and behavioral, is a 2017 graduate of Grambling State University and is currently in the process of applying for employment with the network’s CA Next program(designed to provide support throughout CA graduates’ college career to promote college persistence) to assist students with barriers that mirror his own so that they too can successfully complete college.
Or too, because this was a particularly difficult school year for myself as a school staff member, and despite how desperately my colleagues and I want our kids to persevere, see past their barriers and become successful, the truth is that it takes more than our passion to get the job done.
And while passion is definitely a prerequisite, more than this, after seeing the CA’s revamped mission statement, I’m beginning to realize that it takes our promise.
I feel compelled to repeat this during each blog post I write, but this work is hard.
And with hard work, there are measurable outcomes that not only funding sources but educators too, look forward to in order to identify that the work we do is worthwhile.
Is it worth the sacrifice? Worth all the stress?
And what about the students themselves? What about their parents and families?
What about the community? What do they want? What do they equate to success?
Is college the desired outcome?
Since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the proposition of college preparation for all kids is a blaring one among NOLA schools, and although possibly intimidating and/or seemingly unrealistic to some natives, given data such as a 2015 report from the National Student Clearinghouse that concluded that students from low-income high schools are less likely to attend four-year colleges compared to graduates from higher income high schools, regardless of location or minority enrollment, I don’t believe CA and other schools alike’s mission is to distract or deter young adults from seeking alternative routes for success; as Markovitz went on to acknowledge that there is a percentage(approx 15%) the network’s students that will need an alternative pathway, including career/technical avenues, etc, but a school and network that promises that its students will have a chance to attend college, if they choose, is a school that is determined to do the necessary pre-work to ensure this possibility is a tangible one.
And as New Orleans continues to rank among the highest in poverty rates across the country (In 2015, nearly 37 percent of children under 18 were living in poverty. For children under the age of 5, the number was bleaker: 44.2 percent were living in poverty.) it is no wonder why school leaders are placing so much emphasis on changing mindsets and creating opportunities to narrow achievement gaps to ensure our kids are able to maximize their chances for success.
The formula may not be a perfect one just yet.
But keeping the promise is the ownership we need as educators to put our best foot forward to get the job done for our future world leaders.
Click here to read more about Collegiate Academies and its four schools throughout the region.
Click here to read more about Baton Rouge Collegiate and explore enrollment options.
Click here to read more about Opportunities Academy as a post-secondary option for students with moderate to significant disabilities.
The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Collegiate Academies.
Many would argue that a great school, quality teachers, and a well-rounded curriculum are the most important factors to educating a black boy. They wouldn’t be wrong in arguing these points. All of which are important; however, one factor that seems always to be neglected from the argument is the role and the importance a father plays in the education of that black boy.
Many black boys grow up in a neighborhood and household where the father is not present. They grow up never seeing a father supporting them especially when it comes to school. Their father isn’t there to take them to school on the first day, they are not there to attend the parent-teacher conference, they are not there to come to their talent show, and they are not there to see them received their certificate for honor roll. Even worse the father is not there the day they accomplish a significant milestone like graduating high school and college.
Numerous studies suggest that a black boy who grows up in a household where the father is not present have the highest chances of being incarcerated at some point in their life. They also have the highest chances of having some behavioral issues in school and are more likely to be suspended. It is the Father’s role especially in a black boy’s life to provide guidance, structure, and the expectations. When those pieces are missing the boys seeks other avenues and very rarely does education become a priority.
Nationwide there are efforts to combat the issue of fatherless boys. Former President Barack Obama launched an initiative in 2014 entitled My Brother’s Keeper. The purpose was to create and expand opportunities for black boys with one of the focuses being on education. Across the country, there are many communities that are fortunate enough to have schools that help address the needs of fatherless black boys in education. In Ohio, there is Ginn Academy. In Chicago, they have the national recognized Urban Prep Academies In New York, there is Eagle Academy, and in Indianapolis, there is Tindley Preparatory Academy. These are all steps in the right directions, but things would be so much easier if there were fathers present to support the schools and their sons.
In his 2007 book Raising Black Boys author, Jawanza Kunjufu stated many black boys are suffering what is called “post-traumatic missing daddy disorder.” He also talked about that it is important that boys have a mentor, but there is no one a black boy wants more than to have his father in his life.
As we celebrate Father’s Day today. We cannot underestimate the importance of the impact a father has on a black boy’s education. We salute the Fathers who are present in the lives of their black boys. We encourage those that are not in their son’s life that it is not too late to step up and get in their child’s lives. More importantly, we must focus on raising our black boys up that we can reverse the statistics of black boys growing up fatherless that we raise our black boys to be men that will be in the lives of their black boys.
The story of a white supremacist principal in charge of a charter school whose student body is mostly African-American is the kind of horror story that sits with me. It’s the kind of story that requires some time and analysis to move through the layers of the question of how this happened. In the past few weeks, I’ve read through news stories and commentaries about Nicholas Dean, the principal of Crescent Leadership Academy who was fired after his participation at a pro-confederate monuments rally led to revelations of possible ties to white supremacist organizations. While his involvement in any organized effort at Nazism or white supremacy may be inconclusive, his ideology of white supremacy is certain. His participation on a “White Genocide” podcast alone is clarifying. And it’s scary. Thinking of him as an authority figure, a disciplinarian, perhaps even a role model to young students of color sends a shiver down my spine.
I’ve never met Nicholas Dean, but I’ve heard of him and knew of him simply because his school was flagged on my list of sixteen New Orleans schools that have excessively high suspension rates. Suspending 51% of the student population in 2014-2015 was beyond excessively high, as the state average is 14%. But some of my colleagues had assured me that the numbers were mitigated by the fact that his school, Crescent Leadership Academy, is an alternative school for at-risk students.
I’m not so sure now, and I regret not paying more attention to this red flag. But in all likelihood, no one would have listened anyway. No one has listened while many Black residents of New Orleans have been predicting this, or at least warning against this for years now. Go to any Monday night meeting with the local activist organization Justice and Beyond and someone likely will tell you she saw this coming. Some education activists have been questioning the cultural competency of the influx of White charters school administrators and teachers since it started—since the flood and the firing of 7,000 teachers, most of whom were Black. Since then, the percent of Black teachers has decreased from 71 to 49 percent. Young White newcomers with programs like Teach for America have replaced them.
Moreover, to understand the full context, one must look at the way education reform has been enacted. In meetings, conferences, blogs, and even casual conversations, someone will tell you that while just about everybody wanted improvements in schools prior to and after the flood, the charter school movement disenfranchised and disengaged the communities they purportedly sought to serve. Advocates have been expressing outrage that it was enacted without community leadership, engagement, or buy-in, and without respect for culture. One community activist likened the situation to colonialism.
While that may be an extreme view, the takeaway is the underlying concerns of implicit bias in education reform, including the concerns about administrators and teachers. In all likelihood, many of these White school leaders and educators have some degree of implicit bias in favor of whiteness. It might be helpful to remember that implicit bias affects our attitudes and behaviors unconsciously and involuntarily. They can override our conscious, stated beliefs and commitments, such as the good intention of helping in an underserved community. The Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity highlighted some studies that showed that implicit bias in education leads to disproportionate disciplining of students of color, perceptions that students of color and their parents are disconnected from the education process, and lower expectations of success.
Yet, when I’ve seen Black parents and advocates share these concerns at meetings, policymakers dismiss them as ‘using the race card.’ They don’t want them questioning the ethos of these institutions. Like most discussions about race, the conversation doesn’t go very far without feelings of defensiveness and anger shutting it down. The media is just as culpable. For the most part, only a narrative of the success of education reform is being spread throughout the country, without much attention to the most high-risk communities that have shown little to no improvement. The Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education found that “the New Orleans reforms have created a set of schools that are highly stratified by race, class, and educational advantage.” The cries and concerns of low-income and communities of color have gone mostly unheard by policymakers and the news media.
In contrast, a couple of weeks later after Dean was fired from his school, several media outlets published articles and video of him defending himself. As a woman of color, whose voice often goes ignored and unheard, this privilege did not go unnoticed. This felt like a slap in the face to the advocates, parents, teachers, and students of color who for years have been warning about the detrimental effects of racism and implicit bias in education reform. It was a disheartening reminder of how far we have to go in reaching equity. But I always look for a silver lining, and in this case, I believe it’s the opportunity to have an authentic conversation about race and the racial biases administrators and teachers bring into a classroom. Since the voices of so many advocates have not been enough, I’m hoping that the cautionary tale of Nicholas Dean will make us pay more attention.