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Education

Leading the Charge: Equipping our Black* Youth with Knowledge of Self

*** In February 2018, during the Curriculum Summit in Pennsylvania, Brother Sam will tout the benefits of a culturally strong education that affirms Blackness in Black children that lack knowledge of self. This hour-long presentation will look at the struggle for quality education in that context, making the case for the African-centered education model that spiritually feeds Our youth. More information to come about this event. For now, read Sam’s article about this perspective as originally posted online.*** 

Even with post-secondary gains made among Black people in the more than 60 years after Brown v. Board of Education, Black children in the United States, particularly those in urban school systems, lag behind their counterparts when it comes to high school completion and, more importantly, the grasping of concepts that better allow them compete in a globalized society.

This means that upon high school graduation, Black students are of little, if any, use to employers and, more importantly, their resource-starved communities. Situations like this are common and often increase the likelihood of incarceration, unemployment or underemployment, and a permanent underclass status among members of this group. Without a generation of fully educated, socially and racially conscious young people, the global Black community, as a collective, will forever look to the nonprofit industrial complex and mainstream political parties with racist histories for panaceas — including monetary aid, food drives, and housing vouchers — cloaked as real solutions.

 The Awakening

Unbeknownst to a good number of young Black people, there are racially motivated historical, political and economic factors that have set the stage for what’s considered a virtually hopeless situation. The maintenance of this “New World” by former colonizers and slaveowners pushes those classified as “Black” to forget that their ancestors led fruitful,independent lives in their villages, reservations, cities and towns long before they were called slaves and treated as such.

Just as the proponents of African-centered cultural nationalism attempted to do in the 1970s, Black educators and parents must demand and create opportunities for Black children to learn their true history and affirm the African legacy stolen from their ancestors through Maafa, also known as the Middle Passage or African Holocaust.

Without a wholistic, race-conscious education, Black children will continue to imagine themselves as the former enslaved and colonized, rather than the self-determined beings who birthed civilization. That means they’ll go into the world unable to avoid the pitfalls of predatory lending, wage theft, gentrification, and police brutality. Without knowledge of self, Black children also won’t effectively organize in their communities just as other race-conscious, culturally centered groups have done and continue to do with tangible results.

 Helping Students Find Knowledge of Self through Literature

The salvation of Black children in American school systems requires an overhaul of curricula designed as a tool of forced integration into mainstream American society. Though they have American citizenship, the so-called African American hasn’t enjoyed the rights exclusively guaranteed to white male landowners in the U.S. Constitution. Under what some might consider a radical pedagogy, Black students, and other students in American schools for that matter, must be exposed to African-centered historical and contemporary texts that affirm their African heritage and alert them to the true nature of Black people’s relationship with the United States, and other duplicitous Western powers for that matter.

Literature, whether it be memoirs, speeches, or biographies, open a window of opportunity to explore the historical context of those works and redefine the authors as socially and culturally conscious freedom fighters, not victims begging their oppressor to affirm their humanity.

In Malcolm X’s Ballot or the Bullet speech, for example, the speaker’s call to Black people to move beyond religious and political divides to consolidate their vote during the 1964 presidential election can pave the way for discussions about voting rights, effective lobbying, and grassroots organizing. The same applies with Sojourner Truth’s Ain’t I a Woman speech, a work with which Black male students explored intersectionality and came to grips with the ways they perpetuate misogyny toward their female counterparts.

More relevant to the overall point of this post, students, when using these types of texts, can still learn to correctly interpret main idea and how it develops, build their vocabulary, and analyze elements of storytelling and figurative language — all while closely reading and annotating texts, writing argumentative paragraphs, and speaking about the text in Socratic seminars. This method places cultural nationalism and the Black identity at the foundation of curriculum design and goes further in making the whole Black child, who by the completion of this program will proudly identify as an African — an homage of sorts to the birthplace of civilization and the land from which all human life originated. For that student, Black will no longer be a mark of shame but a sign of solidarity with oppressed around the world.

Implementing a redesign of this nature would require Black and non-Black educators to take a greater interest in global Black history and culture so that their knowledge of Black people goes beyond the trauma porn that’s chattel slavery and colonization. Additionally, educators, especially those who are white, must confront how white supremacy has always and currently permeates every facet of the education system. In doing so, they, and eventually their students, will understand and appreciate the regality of Africans — Mansa Musa of present-day Mali for example — before the arrival of the European.

Ultimately students, after being exposed to the truth about their history and the Western World and its history as it relates to Black people, will see themselves in a new light: no longer as the oppressed, but as agents of change and descendants of the world’s first human beings fighting to reclaim the glory stolen from their ancestors long ago. In the long term, it’ll affect their decisions, such as their choice in an undergraduate major, or which political party to join.

A State of Emergency in the Global Black Community

Some educators might question the need of the paradigm shift of this nature, arguing that students must be exposed to the “classics” that’ll equip them for college and conversations in educated circles. From this vantage point, it’s clear that those detractors don’t have an intimate understanding of the collective Black community’s current state, which arguably has remained stagnant for the most part despite political and social gains made in recent decades. Regardless of class, location, sexual orientation, and whatever else, Black people globally are in a state of emergency.

Though they live in more of a diverse society and are exposed to more opportunities than their elders, Black youth, as is the case with Black adults and Black society at large, haven’t embraced an identity outside that which has been created in the U.S. — a land built on the genocide and intergenerational exploitation of non-white people. Long after the end of slavery and Jim Crow, societal slights including gentrification, mass incarceration, colonialism, and neoliberal foreign policy in the form of proxy wars in third world countries continue to influence Black migration — local, nationally, and internationally — and dictate Black families’ choices in where they live, sleep and eat, often to the detriment of a Black child yearning for stability.

Black politicians, without a race consciousness and beholden to mainstream power brokers instead of their people, carry out most of the damage and help perpetuate the false narrative that we live in a post-racial society. WIthout a solid cultural identity, Black children — including those who come from abroad and fight for a chance to integrate into American society — embrace a definition of Blackness that American society manufactured millennia ago as a means to legitimize its harsh mistreatment of Black people. Just as many Black children fall on the sword of that definition, the youth who ascend educationally will work to escape Blackness, as defined by the U.S., by any means, even if it hurts their own.

A false Black identity, as currently parroted in popular culture and the paradigm through which we teach the disciplines in American schools, is rooted in criminality, sexual promiscuity, dysfunction, lack of industry, perpetual victimhood, economic immobility, and a persistent sense of “otherness” that not even the election of the nation’s first Black president could eliminate. It’s fallacious to think that Black children can thrive in a system that endorses this outdated and inherently racist definition of Blackness. It’s even more dangerous to think that educators can ignore its effects on the youth’s psyche.

Final Thoughts

Obliterating a mindset of oppression among Black youth through the model outlined in this post will not only prepare Black children for critical thinking that the real world requires, it will allow them to act independently and make decisions in the spirit of self-determination and unity that has often paved the way for economic and political success in other communities. One could argue that this outcome wouldn’t benefit the U.S., a capitalistic society in need of mindless laborers. The author of this post agrees, as the denial of African children of their heritage has become the means through which they’re controlled and packaged into whatever mold the American system needs them to fit.

However, this is the season for change as many have see on televisions and online newspapers. Now’s not the time to embrace a false narrative of the U.S.’ current situation. No, Americans, especially educators, must confront the truth and work so that children are fully aware and able to fight against injustice, even if doing so makes said educator uncomfortable.

May all teachers, administrators, and parents alike take these words into consideration as they weigh choices about how to mold their students’ educational experience in Babylon.

——-

*This post explores Blackness in an international context that allows the so-called African-American child to affirm their African identity and stand in solidarity with the international community, especially people of African descent of various phenotypes across the globe who suffer from societal ills engineered by white supremacy, including but not limited to: economic inequity, police brutality, corporate exploitation, and political marginalization.

 In this post-racial society, people of African descent, whether they’re classified as Black, Latino, or continental African, have varying degrees of leeway with which they can escape the societal scar of Blackness, including exploitation of other Black people. However, Blackness is inescapable. Once one recognizes this and embraces their Blackness with knowledge of self, they would be able to fight for their community using the tools at their disposal.

 Though it has developed throughout millennia, this school of thought came out of post-1960 liberation movements in the U.S. and around the world that furthered Pan-African philosophy touted by the Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey and often freedom fighters.

 

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Mama Hasinatu Tribute Promotes Kwanzaa Spirit

The spirit of Mama Hasinatu Camara was alive and well in Sankofa Video Books & Cafe on the night of Ujamma, the Kiswahili word for cooperative economics from which the fourth day of Kwanzaa gets its name. In the last years of her long and storied life, Mama Hasinatu practiced group economics when she patronized the gathering place of conscious minds, even hosting a tribute to her late comrade Kwame Ture there for two consecutive years.

Mama Hasinatu’s impact on D.C.’s African-centered community goes even further, as shown through the youth she taught at Bridges Academy, the now defunct Booker T. Washington High School, Nation House and other culturally driven educational institutions for children of African descent. Those who knew her considered her youthful disposition to be one of a kind. Even as old age crept up on her, Mama Hasinatu continued reasoning with the young people and imparting words of wisdom.

Thus were the words, and more, said about The Black Power Enforcer on the night of Friday, Dec. 29th at Sankofa, based on Georgia Avenue. The three-hour program, standing room only, attracted people of various ages, and ideologies and spiritual systems falling under the Black Power umbrella. Alma Negra Set, brainchild of Falani Spivey, a young person who grew up under Mama Hasinatu’s wing, hosted this function along with AllEyesOnDC, the monthly program on which Mama Hasinatu appeared and where she sometimes found herself along with D.C’s young people on the third Friday of the month.

Mama Hasinatu, a native Washingtonian, spent her early years on 8th and H Streets in Northeast. As a member and key organizer of the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party, Mama Hasinatu touted the benefits of scientific socialism as it relates to African liberation, while here in the United States and on her travels with Ture, the Pan-African organizer formerly known as Stokely Carmichael, in Guinea. In her role, she organized African Liberation Day celebrations throughout the 1970s and 1980s while speaking about Zionist imposition in international affairs at the expense of oppressed, melanated people. Mama Hasinatu’s activities as a then newly awaken African woman would set the stage for greater opportunities and other roles as The Black Power Enforcer until she transitioned in mid- December of last year.

For much of the night, guests poured libation, sang, played music, and reflected on the goodness of Mama Hasinatu’s time in this realm. Speakers included Mama Luci Murphy, Baba Senghor Jawara Baye, Baba Tarik Oduno, and Haile Gerima, co-owner of Sankofa Bookstore and director of the famed Sankofa film, in which Mama Hasinatu played a valuable role. Members of Mama Hasinatu’s family, sitting in the very front of the space, also counted among those in attendance that evening. Though they might of not been a part of her widespread “ideological family” as Mama Hasinatu always called her comrades, they too had valuable memories, adding photos to one of two collages erected on Sankofa’s stage. Kevin Orlando Miller, Mama Hasinatu’s eldest son and saxophonist for the Proverbs Reggae Band, entranced the audience with a short number.

The three-hour program, in its entirety, can be watched in these three videos, the longest of which is more than 1 hour, 40 minutes. Check it out and relish in Mama Hasinatu’s memory. Information about Mama Hasinatu’s homegoing services are below.

Mama Hasinatu’s Homegoing Memorial Service
Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018
10am to 5pm
Northeastern Presbyterian Church
2112 Varnum Street NE

Looking Back: AllEyesOnDC Does It for the Watoto

The June 16th edition of the AllEyesOnDC Show, filmed live in Sankofa Video Books and Café, proved to be one of a kind, specifically because those featured that evening became the youngest AllEyesOnDC guests in all the grassroots media platform’s existence. This installment of AllEyesOnDC, themed “For the Watoto,” aired on Facebook Live on the International Day of the African Child, the African Union’s annual commemoration of the 1976 Soweto Uprising.

The 1976 Soweto Uprising, for those who don’t know, popped off on the morning of June 16 that year when thousands of indigenous South African youth, fed up with the European-dominated education system’s marginalization of their native tongue, skipped school and led a series of street protests. South African police officers responded to these outcries with brutal violence, killing more than 700 young protesters and jailing many more. The 1976 Soweto Uprising, which inspired several other youth-led anti-apartheid campaigns, has since been depicted on the big screen and stage.

More than 50 years later, a new generation of Black youth in the D.C. metropolitan area has taken the mantle in the fight against global white supremacy and all that manifests from it. Four of these young people graced the AllEyesOnDC stage on June 16th, sharing their stories and showcasing how they use the arts to feed their minds and enlighten the masses.

These young people – youth motivational speaker and activist Elijah Coles-Brown and three young ladies from the Mass Emphasis Children’s History & Theatre Company – kept the audience laughing, awing, and thinking hard about the future holds for Black liberation. Elijah, the first guest, spoke about his activism and causes he’s furthering through his speaking tours throughout the country. Later, he returned as caricature of Frederick Douglass, decked out in a three-piece suit and gray hair, to recite one of the abolitionist’s 1865 speeches.

That evening, the three young ladies of the Mass Emphasis Children’s History & Theatre Company spoke about their roles in “The Sisters Who Fought with Their Pens,” an on-stage tribute to Phyllis Wheatley, Ida B. Wells, and other Black women who used the written word to advance the cause of Black liberation. The trio, scheduled to appear in a play about Kwame Ture and Colin Powell in July, also spoke about how the arts have raised their consciousness and prepared them for a world in which Black children aren’t protected. That evening, the young ladies also sang, recited lines from “The Sisters Who Fought with Their Pens” and even said the names of the 54 African countries, in alphabetical order.

This video captures the entirety of the June 16th AllEyesOnDC Show at Sankofa Video Books & Café. Check it out and mark your calendars for the July 21st edition where we’ll discuss African spiritual systems.

AllEyesOnDC: The “No Culture without Agriculture” Edition

No saying speaks more to Black people’s need to get back our indigenous ways than “There’s no culture without agriculture.” In the spirit of Earth Day, AllEyesOnDC wanted to focus on Our lost connection to the Earth and usher a call for getting back to our roots.

At Sankofa Video Books & Café on the night of April 21st, people in attendance, including this host, saw parallels between agriculture, genealogy, health and fitness, metaphysics, economics, and politics during a two-hour program that included interviews with Sherice, Sr., master urban farmer and leader of the Hippee Chic urban gardening/sustainability movement and Xavier Brown of Soilful City.

Baba Tarik Oduno, a fixture in the D.C. community and pioneer of “There’s no culture without agriculture,” broke down the meaning of that saying, reminding audience members that we must always honor our mothers and fathers and understand our history. After all, Baba Oduno said, “genius is in our genealogy.” Note that this segment was less of an interview, and more of a lecture, all to the audience’s benefit.

Wrapping up the evening was a demonstration by Christina Cook, a Teaching Artist Institute fellow, of how rhythm could boost communication for people on the spectrum (autism, ADHD, etc.). During this segment, five audience members, including Baba Oduno, beat on drums and learned how to create the perfect combination of rhythms – all without speaking a word to one another.

Check out this video and get a great look at what community and self-determination, as it relates to food production, looks like in the District of Columbia.

Black Liberals, Their Use of “Hotep” and “Ankh-Right,” and a Denial of Nation Building’s Merits

PHOTO: A necklace of the ankh, a Kemetic hieroglyph meaning eternal life. The word ankh has recently become a new tool in insults levied against Black people seeking African consciousness./ Courtesy 

Earlier this week, the third day of Kwanzaa, named for the principle of Ujima, a Kiswahili word meaning collective work and responsibility in the African community, turned into somewhat of a nightmare – and ultimately a re-awakening for this author – when Dr. Umar Johnson, an electrifying, yet polarizing figure in the Pan-African community, released a 45-minute video diatribe aimed at his rival General Sera Suten Seti, a Detroit-based speaker with whom he has had problems for some time.

Johnson’s curse word-laden tirade, filmed in a Florida hotel room, caused quite a stir on social media throughout much of Wednesday and Thursday, especially among Black liberal academics and social commentators who spoke of a “Hotep Civil War.” While most in the “conscious community” chose not to give the squabble much credence, several self-proclaimed Pan-Africanists and leftist Blacks quickly condemned the actions of the self-proclaimed “Prince of Pan-Africanism,” saying he made a fool of himself.

For a few seconds, it appeared that the ilk of Black people in whom the good doctor had found fans and liberal Blacks, many of whom have used “Hotep” and more recently “ankh-right” in their descriptions of folks with Pan-African leanings, could agree on at least one thing — the cult of leadership that inflated Dr. Umar Johnson and General Seti’s egos – and has often led to the impotency of several local and national Black movements in recent decades – definitely impedes our fight for liberation.

Unfortunately, this is the furthest the relationship between those with Pan African leanings and liberal Blacks will ever go if the latter continues to tarnishes Hotep – the Kemetic greeting for peace – and the ankh, the Kemetic hieroglyphic that signifies eternal life, in their dismissive statements about Black people yearning to get in touch with their African roots.

Such a choice of words shows a disregard for an ancient history taken away from African people. Yes, even continental Africans lost modern-day Egypt when the U.S. Adm. Alfred Thayer Mahan and other Western leaders created the “Middle East” in the early 20th century. Thousands of years earlier, the Romans and Greeks ransacked Kemet and took many of her possessions. Today, Hollywood warps history, whitening the ancient Black people responsible for mathematics, science, and medicine.

Of course, those of us who consider ourselves somewhat conscious know that we don’t have a direct lineage to Egypt. We also know that American slavery is not the non-melanated people’s first time murdering and stealing from melanated people. Linking the institution of slavery to colonialism on the African continent and Kemet’s fall, helps us find a common oppressor while aiding in the spiritual journey that’s Knowledge of Self.

Many of us who study Egypt, even if for a second, develop an intellectual understanding of the Abrahamic religions that I would respectfully argue goes well beyond that of a good number of Afrikan pastors. Additionally, they are often more accepting of other spiritual systems, including the Yoruba, Akan, Dogon, Voudon, and others.

It’s my hope that Black liberals, and any other group of Black people that has disdain for proponents of African-centered culture, get to embrace their African heritage. Knowledge of Self is a personal process that opens the door to more spiritually fulfilling professional opportunities and connectivity to African people that every Black person should have, even if they don’t feel like attending every study circle or healing circle in the world. In many cases, it also makes one more independently minded.

To the credit of those who critique Pan-Africanism, globalization doesn’t quite afford Black people the privilege of separating from the rest of the world, especially because we don’t control any major resources. In the United States, the racial and ethnic make-up of U.S. residents, particularly those of African descent, has drastically changed since the wave of African independence in the 1950s and 60s. Today, African and Caribbean immigrants and their children count among a significant segment of the Black population in the U.S. Their ties to their home nation and its distinctive culture might not make Pan-Africanism, a call for the collective to unite under one banner, alluring.

For the so-called African American, the United States has somewhat of a misleading position as a stable and developed country. Albeit the signs that all that might be coming to an end within a generation, many descendants of the enslaved Africans who toiled this land feel like they’ve earned a place here. While somewhat noble, this mindset has in part conflicted with the gains that African-centered institutions made in the post-Civil Rights era to create an African identity in the U.S. that combats the poisonous caricature of Black man and womanhood inflicted on our children daily.

Our reverence for our ancestors’ sacrifices on American soil shouldn’t negate our need to connect and organize with our brothers and sisters across the globe. Just as young people are fighting police forces in the U.S., young men and women across the Diaspora are going toe to toe with their elected officials, some of whom have U.S. backing. I’m not afraid, nor have I ever been afraid, to admit that Dr. Umar made me privy to these connections somewhat.

However, that doesn’t mean that he, the men, and sometimes women, who Black liberals, including the authors of the widely popular Very Smart Brothas blog, call “Hoteps” aren’t without fault. Their need to boast about their “wokeness” speaks to this.

However, they don’t represent the entire African-centered community. In the interest of preventing the cult of leadership mentioned earlier, people who consider themselves conscious must hold the usual suspects – misogynists, the historically inaccurate, and the often hypocritical – responsible for their actions.

As far as African-centered organizing and nation building in the 21st century is concerned, many of us shouldn’t be close minded to some of what the present day offers. We should also understand, and embrace, nuance in our scholarship so that we don’t create a narrow-minded definition of a truly African-centered lifestyle. Many an organization have crumbled by turning off well-meaning Black people trying to find themselves in this twisted society.

No fellow Africans, I’m not asking us to hide who we are as a people. I’m not telling our people to put down to the RBG flag, to cease all mention of our ancestors or practice of African spiritual activity. I’m arguing that the dearth of intellectual gymnastics among members of the Youtube generation and a disregard for fresh discussions about various aspects of this liberation movement will hinder us.

If we’re to ever realize Nguzo Saba and become a global African nation, organization must be scientific and inclusive of all all aspects – including financial, agricultural, health, and education. It’s time to move beyond the smoke and mirror of social media conscious stardom. Doing so requires using the confidence that comes with that knowledge to launch long-term projects that move us closer to self-determination. It also requires us to be good representatives of the so-called conscious community in the way we spread our message. Not everyone will like us but they should never have to say that we’re disrespectful.

These days, the stakes are higher for African people in the United States, especially now that even some Blacks with Pan-African leanings have, jokingly, used “hotep” and “ankh right” to deride Johnson and others. This proves dangerous at a time when Pan-Africanism is under attack, not only from outside forces, but from those who consider themselves Black.

Shortly after Donald J. Trump’s ascent to the White House, a couple Black thought leaders spouted messages with xenophobic undertones like that in the president-elect’s campaign speeches. For example, Yvette Carnell of Breaking Brown remixed a conservative talking point about immigrants taking low-paying jobs, telling African Americans that to succeed as a group, they need to ignore a bloc that includes continental Africans, Carribbean people, Afro-Latinos, and other Black immigrants. In a later Facebook post, she mocked Pan-Africanism as a relic of the past that has no significance today.

But how can that be the case when Africans across the globe suffer just as badly, if not worse in some cases, as our ancestors in our interactions with the oppressor? Just like we share a common lineage, we have a common enemy in racism, capitalism, neocolonialism, war, and any other tool used to keep our people under siege globally. Kujichagulia, the Kiswahili word for self-determination and second principle of Kwanzaa, speaks to African people breaking free of those chains and controlling their own economies, governments, and schools without any exploitative influence from outside actors.

Personally, I don’t take most critiques of Pan-Africanism or Black Nationalism negatively these days. Rather, maybe because of a fervently curious mind that has taken me many places, I take those opportunities to develop my craft as a journalist and educator so that the concept of Pan-Africanism becomes clearer for my people and works even more wonders in my life and organizing work. That’s all AllEyesOnDC has been: a tour of my ever-evolving millennial mind.

In closing, I say to those brothers and sisters who continue to use “hotep” and “ankh-right” in their talks about African-centered Black people, understand that yes, we hear you, but you’re still losing out on an opportunity to deepen your community work and advocacy on behalf of Black people. Please learn to see those men you call “hotep” as just flawed people, not representatives of an entire movement. Shoot, just gain some international context for what’s going on in the U.S. and I guarantee you’ll see Knowledge of Self much differently.

At least I hope so.

Young Women Criticize EMOC Initiative during Town Hall

Photo: Young Black girls embracing each other. (Taken from https://yeyeolade.wordpress.com/2011/05/27/black-rites-of-passage-for-young-black-girls-from-assatashakur-com/)

Native Washingtonian and community organizer Samantha Master knows firsthand the punitive nature of the D.C. metropolitan area’s school systems, especially when it comes to young Black women who break rules in a desperate attempt to escape life-threatening situations.

More than a decade ago, Master received a two-week suspension after administrators found a knife in her backpack. Then 13 years old, Master said she had to protect herself against an abusive boyfriend. Her story and pleas for leniency however, fell on deaf ears, jumpstarting a period of depression and disdain for school.

Though Master had the fortune of meeting an elder who helped her complete high school and enter college, she stressed that an untold number of young girls of color with similar experiences rarely escape the perils of a violent home life, particularly because school officials overlook their cries for help.

“It’s important that we understand that gender-based violence makes you fear for your safety in your community. As Black women, we have to speak our truth,” said Master, now 28, during the second of three town halls hosted by the D.C. chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on the evening of Aug. 3rd at Watha T. Daniel-Shaw Library in Northwest.

The event, themed “Leaving Girls Behind,” shared the moniker of a May ACLU report that criticized the D.C. Public Schools’ Empowering Males of Color (EMOC) initiative for ignoring the plight of Black and Brown schoolgirls. During the two-hour discussion, more than 20 Black and Latino women, many of whom represent advocacy, community, and legal organizations, watched a short film featuring Master and a bevy of Black girls who explained how their schools failed to address their mental and sexual trauma.

Shortly after, participants discussed what they considered the best means of connecting young women of color to resources that can aid them in safely navigating the school system and having a healthy coming of age. Topics included mentorship opportunities, methods of youth engagement, difficulties in empowering young women in the D.C. public school system, and how to force policy change.

“I’m always grateful to share my experiences but disheartened that they’re so common,” said Master, a member of Black Youth Project 100, an activist member organization comprised of millennials who want to secure justice and freedom for all Black people. “There are deep flaws in the Engaging Males of Color initiative and I’m interested in how divestment from it and investment in opportunities for young, Black people look,” said Master, a Capitol Heights, Maryland resident.

EMOC, the proposal in question, aims to improve the academic performance of boys of color through $5.5 million in funding for school-based and community engagement programs that focus on academic, social, and emotional support. Other plans in the works include the opening of an all-male high school housed within the former Ron Brown Middle School in Southeast and literacy-focused mentorship.

But some people say those moves won’t suffice if it leaves out Black and Brown girls. In its 39-page report, the ACLU concludes that DCPS cannot overlook the need to serve girls of color, citing persistent disparities between them and their white counterparts. Another criticism centered on the notion that single-sex schooling reinforces harmful stereotypes about young women. This document also determined that the D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, despite the prodding of local advocacy organizations and D.C. Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), hasn’t considered providing those resources for girls of color.

“We wanted to amplify the need for resources for girls of color. The Empowering Males of Color initiative didn’t address that. It was a missed opportunity; they did all this research about gaps between students of color and whites just to address a segment of that population,” said Kristina Jacobs, ACLU intern and key organizer of the town hall.

“We wanted to hear from our community members, specifically young women of color who’ve been enrolled in DCPS so that we can push an agenda that’s of the community. Our guests brought them full selves and showed how those experiences affected their identities,” Jacobs added.

Students who will attend the new all-male academy are in the midst of a two-week orientation taking place before the school’s Aug 22nd start date. Even so, the ACLU’s collection of data and crafting of a plan will continue, with some consideration of throwing support behind legislation that’s pending in the D.C. Council.

Though she didn’t matriculate through the D.C. public school system, Temi Bennett, a D.C.-based realtor, recounted barriers she encountered as a young woman at an African-centered school in Chicago. She said that though administrators meant well, they provided more enriching activities for the males while relegating the young women to classes that reinforced gender stereotypes. For her, those experiences highlighted institutional inequities at a young age.

“While we didn’t get into strategy, I enjoyed hearing these diverse stories. It’s a great first step and I’m excited to see what happens next,” Bennett said. “The main thing we pointed out was the need for outreach to Black and Brown girls. I think the participation here speaks to that. The main thing is mentoring. Our girls need mentors that look just like them.”

Regional Book Contest Enters Fifth Cycle

PHOTO: Critically acclaimed author and native Washingtonian Jason Reynolds is scheduled to present the winners of the “A Book that Shaped Me” Summer Writing Contest at the 16th annual Library of Congress National Book Festival at the Washington Convention Center in Northwest./ Courtesy 

With the advent of an annual writing contest, parents and educators living along the East Coast can lay to rest their fears that their young ones won’t have many opportunities to read and write now the school year has ended.

For the fifth consecutive year, the U.S. Library of Congress, in conjunction with a bevy of public and school libraries in the Mid-Atlantic region, is hosting a summer essay writing contest that allows rising fifth and sixth graders to reflect on books that made an impact in their lives.

“I’ve been fascinated by the diversity and imagination in these stories. I want to see how young people are stretching their minds,” said Jason Reynolds, a critically acclaimed author and native Washingtonian who’s scheduled to present the winners of this competition, touted as “A Book that Shaped Me” Summer Writing Contest, at the 16th annual Library of Congress National Book Festival at the Washington Convention Center in Northwest on September 24th. The submission deadline passed earlier this week.

Since its 2012 inception, the “A Book that Shaped Me” Summer Writing Contest has attracted more than 1,000 entries from students in the D.C. metropolitan area, West Virginia, Delaware, and Pennsylvania. Each year, a panel consisting of members of the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) selects 30 finalists. From there, a group of educators and children’s book authors choose three overall grand prize winners.

Reynolds, who has served as a judge in years past, explained the qualities he seeks in an ideal entry, stressing that students must be committed to doing their best, even if they don’t win a prize.

“I’m looking for excellence. The barometer is subjective but I need to know that students put in that work. Anyone who takes time to work on their essay should take pride in completing this one thing. Hopefully that will push them to complete other things,” said Reynolds, a Northeast resident.

The “A Book that Shaped Me” Summer Writing Contest comes amid a technological shift that has changed the way children absorb information and posed new opportunities to engage tomorrow’s leaders. More than half of pre-teens in the U.S. have accessed social media sites meant for adult use, according to information collected by Statista, a domestic statistics company. Studies have also shown that when used strategically, the internet can become a valuable research tool for young people.

Many public and school libraries across the country have caught on, creating spaces focusing on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics). Some of the librarians involved in the essay writing contest acknowledged these changes, saying they’re embracing the new while adhering to tradition.

“Today’s librarians are needed more than ever. They are leaders in the area of digital literacy,” said Audrey Church, AASL president. “There’s more information that people need to figure out and students need to develop critical thinking skills as they reflect on the importance of their book. This contest provides a wonderful opportunity for every child participating to think more fully about a book that he or she read. I hope that they reflect on experiences that are meaningful for them,” said Church, also associate professor and graduate school coordinator at Longwood University in Farmville, Va.

Myla Agyin, a 2012 finalist and student at BASIS Charter School in Northwest, said she can attest to value of introspection as it relates to the writing contest. Myla’s prize- winning essay centered on how Ben Carson’s “Gifted Hands” inspired her to pursue a career in the medical field. Since that pivotal moment, has excelled in her studies and become more vocal in conversations about current events.

“That contest was a great opportunity to express how I felt and showing how reading this book impacted me,” Myla, an aspiring pathologist, said. “These days I feel like my views get taken seriously. I’ve become more open. I feel like I can express myself. People need to see the truth ad get a better understanding of the world. I have future plans to write a book. I’m not sure what it will be about but it will be something that I find interesting,” added Myla, now 14.

Markus Batchelor Eyes State Board of Education Seat

PHOTO: Markus Batchelor, lifelong Ward 8 resident, community staple, and candidate for the Ward 8 seat on the D.C. State Board of Education./ Photo courtesy of Jamal Holtz 

At the age of 23, Markus Batchelor is far from a political novice. Since taking on the mantle of leadership in his adolescence, he has risen in prominence as president of the Ward 8 Democrats, ANC Commissioner for Single Member District 8C04, and most recently Ward 8 liaison in the D.C. Mayor’s Office of Community Affairs (MOCA).

As he gears up to challenge Tierra Jolly for the Ward 8 representative seat on the D.C. State Board of Education (SBOE), Batchelor reflects heavily on the experiences, elders and community programs that have enriched his short but fruitful life, pledging to do his part in creating a similar environment for thousands of youth if elected in November.

“Making sure children are successful is a community effort,” Batchelor, now the family and community liaison at the Far Southeast Collaborative, told AllEyesOnDC.

“My mother read to me at night and made sure to be involved at school. But she didn’t do it on her own. I had a neighbor who gave me chapter books to read. I had a deacon who took kids to vacation bible school for four weeks and that’s how he enriched the community. There was always someone on every block who looked out for me,” added Batchelor, a lifelong resident of Congress Heights in Southeast and an alumnus of the Marion Barry Youth Leadership Institute (MBYLI).

Earlier this year, Batchelor declared his candidacy for the Ward 8 State Board of Education seat, resigning from MOCA nearly 13 months into D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s term. Since then, it has been business as usual for the young politico who’s often found out and about at community gatherings, including ANC meetings and graduations.

During the D.C. Democratic primaries, he, along with members of his small campaign team, combed the main corridors, side streets, meeting spaces, and polling stations of Ward 8 with large blue, yellow and white signs in hand. Along the way, Batchelor cleared up any confusion about him running against D.C. Council member LaRuby May (D) and Trayon White for the Ward 8 Council seat. He also listened as parents and students vented about unresponsive administrators, culturally incompetent teachers, and unengaging school curricula.

For Batchelor, all aforementioned problems speak to what he described as the sitting Ward 8 representative’s lack of visibility and engagement with constituents.

This week, Batchelor started collecting signatures needed to place his name on the November general election ballot, affirming his commitment to challenging the status quo and getting parents more involved in shaping school policy. Plans if elected include restoring confidence in Ward 8 D.C. public schools, spurring parental grassroots organizing, pushing for allocation of additional resources, and the transformation of schools to centers that provide wrap-around services for families.

“I want to push for more PTAs and parent involvement. We need to empower both students and parents to advocate for themselves,” Batchelor said. “The State Board of Education members have to play that role as advocates for students and parents and galvanize them. No one is engaging our community. Our school board members have to get back to the basics and be community organizers, showing people that they have power. The schools don’t belong to the system or government. They belong to the community,” he added.

With the highest concentration of people under the age of 18, improving the quality of education in Ward 8 could cause a ripple effect for other facets of life for thousands of residents. The effects of high unemployment, a dearth of full-service grocery stores and amenities, drug abuse, mental illness, spikes in violent crime often follow youth into school, impeding learning and making parents feel powerless. Even worse, punitive measures taken against students maintain the school-to-prison pipeline.

Overall, D.C. Public Schools have a graduation rate of 58 percent, with the rates of Anacostia and Ballou High Schools, the only two of their kind in Ward 8, falling below 50 percent. Such conditions have compelled Ward 8 parents to look outside of the D.C. public school system, a trend that keeps Anacostia and Ballou underenrolled. Additionally, charter schools and private institutions outnumber public schools in Ward 8, a tell-tale sign of a national school privatization movement that has gained traction in recent years.

While some education experts have extolled these changes, some Ward 8 parents said they’re getting locked out of important conversations about their children’s education. For instance, Latiya Loring, a mother of two, said administrators at the D.C. Prep Benning Elementary Campus, formerly D.C. public school, don’t take her concerns about the Common Core standards and draconian disciplinary rules seriously.

“There are folks [in these schools] who are teaching just to pay their student loans. They go into poverty-stricken neighborhoods not knowing what these kids go through,” Loring told AllEyesOnDC, citing examples of when teachers punished her daughters for absences related to her bodily changes. “The kids get suspended for small things that could’ve gotten handled differently. It’s hard enough getting them through the door and we can’t keep discouraging them.”

Loring, an MBYLI alumna, said while she has never spoken to Batchelor extensively, she feels confident that he could bring a fresh perspective in the SBOE and ensure that administrators understand the complexities of life in Ward 8. “I’ve had a chance to see [Markus] in action and be that voice that gives us insight on the conversations young people are having. He sees what’s going on out there and he has access to certain areas because of his age.”

Jamal Holtz, a student who considers Batchelor his mentor, said he can attest to the young community leader’s ability to connect with residents and put his life on the line for D.C. youngsters. Since meeting Batchelor in MBYLI, Holtz has followed him around the city, learning the tricks of the trade and growing in his love for public service.

“I think Markus would make a great representative. He has been in the community his entire life,” said Holtz, a Bellevue resident and recent graduate of Friendship Collegiate Academy Public Charter School in Northeast.

“Long before he launched this campaign, he had visibility, going to graduations and talking to parents. He goes out in front of schools after hours. I know he’ll be very connected to parents and getting them involved. My entire family knows Markus. They look at him as a son and my mother [considers him] her son,” said Holtz, who’ll attend the University of Rochester on the POSSE Scholarship.

In late April, Batchelor took his outreach a step further when he accompanied a group of D.C. students to Flint, Michigan on their mission to supply those affected by the lead crisis with fresh bottles of water and connect with community leaders. The trip, organized by Black Millennials 4 Flint, a grassroots environmental justice movement, allowed the youngsters to better understand the effects of lead poisoning – and see Batchelor’s leadership firsthand.

“We didn’t have a lot of men present and the work we did was pretty tedious, requiring a lot of brawn to get things accomplished so we were grateful to have him,” Tricey Adams, founder of Black Millennials 4 Flint, told AllEyesOnDC. “He really encouraged some of the students on trip to be an intern for his campaign. It was powerful that all of the kids on the trip were from Ward 8. He inspired one of the young ladies on the trip to apply. That’s a testament to his commitment to the community and youth.”

Batchelor, who said he’s eager to revive elements of the Ward 8 community-oriented culture he knew as a child, admits that demographic changes and adult adverseness to interacting with rowdy youth impede that goal. However, he remains confident that he can do his part in helping parents and students to take charge of their school and communities.

For him, that’s the first of many steps in turning around a community that receives a bad rap for circumstances out of the control of those affected.

“We need someone on the school board who’s focused on quality of education and quality of life,” Batchelor said. “If they aren’t willing to talk about how poverty affects community and trauma and how home environment affects youth’s academic success, we’re doing them a disservice. Once young people get a better education, it’ll be easier for them to stand up for themselves. They can believe they can change things in their society,” he added.

MBYLI Wraps Up Another Year

PHOTO: Students lead a presentation during the closing ceremony for the Marion Barry Youth Leadership Institute on the evening of May 19th./ Photo courtesy of Jasmine Wilson/MYBLI 

A group of middle and high school students recently wowed an audience of their peers and family members with their problem-solving skills and reflections about their personal and professional journey during a gathering hosted by a District government agency.

During this event, the nearly 20 youngsters, a number of whom will attend the college of their choice this fall, celebrated the completion of another year in the Marion Barry Youth Leadership Institute (MBYLI), a youth development program housed within the D.C. Department of Employment Services (DOES). 

“Being in this program has been overwhelming [at times] but it helped me grow as a leader. I met lifelong friends, learned how to lead, network, and dress professionally,” Ebony Johnson, a youth mayor and a four-year MBYLI participant, told AllEyesOnDC during the Thursday, May 19th program, which fell on what would’ve been martyred activist Malcolm X’s 91st birthday.

Johnson counted among those who received honors during a two-hour program, themed “Malcolm to Marion: The Global Xperience,” at DOES headquarters in Northeast. Organizers named the event for Malcolm and late D.C. Mayor Marion S. Barry.

As one of two youth mayors, Johnson represented D.C.’s young people during public events, black-tie functions, and other gatherings, experiences she said pushed her into the spotlight. Hours before the start of the end-of-the-year program, Johnson finished her last day at Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School in Takoma Park, Maryland.

This fall, she’ll attend Bennett College in Greensboro, N.C. where she plans to take lessons she learned about Malcolm in her political science and Spanish studies.

“I enjoyed learning about Malcolm X because he [created] a legacy [about] being yourself and doing what you have to do even if people won’t like you for it.  Leaders go through so much but they succeed when they surround themselves around successful people,” Johnson eagerly mentioned.

Throughout the 2015-2016 school year, more than 125 youth involved with MBYLI engaged in personal development, civic engagement, and work readiness training. This summer, 300 high school students will sharpen their academic and professional skills on area college campuses including Catholic and Howard universities, located in Northeast and Northwest respectively. 

Some students have also become more globally aware in their involvement with MBYLI. Last year, the program sent 13 young people to South Africa as part of a partnership with Global Kids, a nonprofit that allows students in underserved communities to connect with their peers across the world.

“This program keeps the kids busy and involved in different activities. My son has become more comfortable with public speaking [since joining],” Yolanda Allen told AllEyesOnDC, referring to Anthony David, a freshman at Washington Latin Public Charter School in Northwest. 

Allen, a Southeast resident, said that since enrolling in MBYLI, David has has taken on leadership roles and grown more confident in a society that often limits the career opportunities of young Black men to athletics and entertainment.     

“I want him to be a productive citizen and make our race proud as a Black man,” Allen  added.”I’m not losing my young one to the block. He has to do what he has to do. I highly encourage parents to do the same. It’s about the community. These students come from all walks of life and get along so well.”

Last week’s program served as testament to the sense of community MBYLI fosters. Throughout much of the evening, students answered to greetings of “Hello winners!” Phillip Walker, MBYLI manager, gave opening remarks, reflecting on his experience as a participant and alumnus of the program.

Later, the young winners gave presentations about Malcolm X, the college application process, and their growth in the program. One group outlined a 10-point program modeled after that of the Black Panther Party that would counter spatial mismatching. Plans included a charter bus service that transporting students from McKinley Technology High School in Northeast to their Southeast neighborhoods.

Special guests included D.C. Deputy Mayor of Greater Economic Opportunity Courtney Snowden who briefly spoke to students and parents. Veteran developer Ibrahim Mumin gave the keynote address in which he highlighted Barry’s civil rights work and evoked Malcolm X’s nationalistic spirit.

“We should be about institution building. We can train people for years but if they don’t bring their skills back to the village. It doesn’t help the city,” Mumin told the audience. “We have to change the culture in D.C. We can’t be chumps and go along with people who do the illegal stuff. Let’s internationalize our struggle.”

The late Barry, often referred to as “Mayor for Life” during his storied career, launched MBYLI, then called the D.C. Summer Youth Employment Program, in the late 1970s. The program employed an untold number of young D.C. residents, many of whom went on to work in public service. MBYLI’s alumni association recently became a 501(c)3, a plan put in motion after Barry’s 2014 death.

“This program was nothing short of extraordinary for me. I’m using what I learned there and in college to give back to the young ones,” David Williams, 2011 MBYLI alumnus and current employee, told AllEyesOnDC. After graduating from the University of Maryland College Park in 2015, he took on the responsibility of training MBYLI students as an Omega leader.

Williams said such an opportunity allowed him to impart wisdom on those whose shoes he sat in at one point.

“We have to inspire these kids and impact them in a way that helps them grow. Our biggest challenge this year was finding resources. I used my personal finances to fund activities and it was rewarding to see how that affected them.”

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