Aya Academy of Excellence

How to Reach Black Boys: Scribe vs Champion

20/20 Tapestry Curriculum  African American History

20/20 Tapestry Curriculum
African American History

On Tuesday evenings, there is an intriguing Twitter chat centered on the education of today’s youth. The discussion is similar to those populated by many educator driven online dialogues – achievement, parent engagement and school resources – have been given a spotlight. However, these chats are slightly different because they are committed to unraveling the challenges which have been griping the urban communities. How does street violence, the influence of media and incarceration impact the social maturation and academic development of the African American learner? Digging deeper, how do we reach black Boys who are growing up in a culture that can on one hand emasculate them and then at the same time hyper-sexualize them? The messages within the music and movies they watch are heavily imbued with symbols of machismo…aka sawgger. When reared in single family homes, they are appointed ‘the man of the house’ at very young ages. And yet, as they engage in society outside of their familial and peer spheres, such as schools and other public places, they are ‘boys.’

How Do We Reach Black Boys?

Stephanie Hunte and her first middle school class.

Several years ago, I heard a radio news announcement in which a former student was being sought for attempted rape. I froze. I knew this young man when he was no older than 12 years of age and now at the age of 17, his life was spiraling out of control. Or was it? Perhaps, that trajectory started long before that news announcement and had been occurring when he sat in our sixth grade class. As a classroom educator, what is our role in connecting our black boys to their best selves and to ensure that their future paths are not relegated to attaining the most swagger and continuing a cycle of poverty and crime? I believe that if we continue to believe that schools serve the purpose of just training our children academically, we will continue to lose the fight. Our young black men are seeking to find self-validation and purpose and we have the ability to do that if look beyond just teaching to the test and checking off the standards on our list. By imparting culturally relevant curriculum, our young men have touch points to assist in their development.

My question, if our young men have to choose, which theme would they identify with most – The Champion, an athlete dedicated to sports; or The Scribe, a writer who uses words and lyrics to express their thoughts? We are looking for people to weigh in on social media. Leave a comment on our Facebook page and share your thoughts.


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  1. With all due respect, I believe black boys have aspirations beyond the sports champion or the academic scribe. I understand those are two categories set up for the purpose of this discussion. But I want to extend my response beyond those landscapes. I am formerly one of those black boys with a significant amount of experience with thousands of other black boys.

    I was once lost, abandoned, disillusioned, fearful and angry. I know millions of black boys today feel the same way I felt.

    In my day, back in the 60s and 70s, I despised the community of grownups around my poverty-stricken community. I hated the environment they produced in which I was ridiculed and taunted for “talking like a white boy.” I hated having to learn to fight and then exercise those skills repeatedly throughout my K-12 education because grown folks established an environment of social combatants and left us to a sick Darwinian survival of the fittest experiment.

    I despised so many grown folks it seemed I hated the whole world. I didn’t. I just hated those adults who had leadership and influence over me and my peers who seemed to be clueless. From the clueless teachers and principals that managed the plantation a.k.a. “high-poverty” public schools, to the clueless clergy, to the clueless business owners, to the clueless elected officials … to the clueless parents. I was angry at the whole lot.

    And with good reason.

    None of them had enough comprehensive information and resources to teach me, train me and help me compete in a knowledge-based, tech-driven, globally competitive innovation economy. My two summers at a math and science institute far across town taught me more than i learned in my entire four years of high school. And in those two summers, for which i was one of a handful of fortunate “gifted” poor black kids who got to ride the little yellow bus (and who paid for that privilege with multiple battles after coming home to my neighborhood), i also learned that white kids were being taught at a pace and on a level that wasn’t even offered at my local public school. In other words, I got a clear understanding that i was being set up to fail.I would not be able to compete with these kids who were getting year-round what i was fortunate enough to be exposed to for a few weeks during a couple of summers.

    Those trips opened my eyes to the cluelessness pervasive in my community, school, church and home. Every influential part of my environment was either clueless or teaching me crap that didn’t make sense or match up with the real world. I considered dropping out of school to stop wasting my time. But that would’ve killed my mother.She was the only sane person in my universe. And even she had a limited understanding of the innovation ecosystem that surrounded our poverty-stricken community.

    None of the grownups in my environment, collectively or individually, knew enough about high-growth entrepreneurship, job growth and wealth creation to envelope me in an environment that fostered ideas, solutions to big problems, critical-thinking processes and nurturing of my talents, skills and interests.

    At age 17, I was pissed off that I would graduate high school with a worthless certificate and stand on the conveyor belt to another debt-riddled certificate from another “institution of higher education” that would then dump me into a society where the unemployment rate for blacks has been consistently double that of whites since before I was born in 1962.

    I was angry that I had no idea how to CREATE jobs, net worth and generational wealth. And nobody in my sphere did either. The stupid drug dealers knew how to make money. But i was smart enough to know risk assessment. And I was unwilling to take those enormous risks for such a paltry payout over a very limited time.

    I was angry at my absent father, and my mother for choosing him. I was mad at having to assume so much responsibility and leadership at such an early age to guide my brothers, even when I had no idea where I was going or how to get there.

    I was angry that I had to learn everything the hard way because no infrastructure was available then, or now, to teach me how to COMPETE in a new economic environment called the innovation economy. I wanted to compete. I wanted to apply whatever I learned and see the outcome. I LOVED traveling across town on that tiny yellow bus where for a brief moment in time I was taught something in the classroom and IMMEDIATELY shown how to apply it in the real world. I loved going on the field trips and actively engaging in problem-solving of real problems at an oil refinery … which meant learning how the plant worked and understanding the many systems within. I loved problem-solving, critical thinking and group dynamics.

    I hated going home.

    I was mad then, and to some degree still am, at black leadership. It is this landscape of fragmented folks who simply refuse to invest in developing the infrastructure black boys need to understand the economic game and compete in it. It is this landscape of leadership that has power to convene but will not, even when the president specifically requests they do so. It is this landscape of leadership that remains willingly clueless about local innovation ecosystems, innovation clusters, innovation districts and the ongoing competitive innovation paradigm that envelopes around ELEMENTARY kids in white schools, exposing them to hackathons, pitch competitions, meetups, TED talks, etc., while black boys (and girls) remain stuck in some 20th century mantra of “college to career.”

    I hate that K-12 doesn’t teach black boys innovation and entrepreneurship, despite the fact that the fastest growth rate of any racial demographic in entrepreneurship are black entrepreneurs at 60% growth, more than triple the national average (18%). We don’t teach black boys entrepreneurship, even though the vast majority who drop out of the “high-poverty” K-12 schools will choose entrepreneurship and find themselves on the conveyor belt of school-to-prison pipeline versus the pipeline-to-productivity channel that black educators have yet to build because, as many have told me directly, they hate capitalism and they willingly divorce themselves from the innovation ecosystem (despite holding the keys to the innovation ecosystem pipeline for black youth).

    I understand black boys. They are eager to learn. Eager to compete. Eager to excel. Eager to be respected by their peers. Eager to commit themselves to something worthwhile.

    I understand them. But I don’t understand black adults. I don’t understand why we teach black boys only the games they can play with balls but fail to teach them how they can play and succeed in the game of economics and innovation.

    We hold up heroes like John Thompson, the former basketball coach of Georgetown while ignoring John Thompson, the former CEO of Symantec (a $6B global tech giant) who was the ONLY black man in America leading a major tech company at the turn of the century and just recently was appointed Chairman of the Board of Microsoft in replacement of … wait for it … Bill Gates!

    I understand the anger, disappointment and utter futility black boys feel.

    And I’ve been working to do something about it. But I’m stuck in the same loop as black boys. I can’t seem to get educators to hear me or invite me to speak to their students. I can’t get politicians to hear me at all (except white ones).

    I can’t get black business owners and leaders to listen, despite the fact that ALL black-owned businesses produce LESS than 1% GDP … and that’s the BEST we’ve done since slavery! I can’t get pastors and preachers to open their doors to me. I can’t get parents to show up to hear what I have to say. I can’t get schools K-12, community colleges and higher education to collaborate despite the fact they are ALL failing to graduate a majority of their black boys.

    Perhaps someone in this forum will hear me?


    | Reply Posted 4 years, 5 months ago
  2. * ayaacademy says:

    Mike, – I apologize for the delayed response. I typed up a semi lengthy response back but it did not post.

    Essentially, I wrote in a pretty long-winded circuitous fashion that I agree with you. Our black men, and people as a whole, are not monolithic and therefore, it’s impossible for us to box in our likes and predilections into a few scant categories. It was my hope to just prick people’s thoughts with this post – it was an effort to start a conversation.

    Like you, as a young student I observed the inequities of the education system and could not understand the have and have not academic culture. As an adult, I have challenged these inequities, including the worthless and irrelevant academic practices and content imparted in P12. My daughters attend a ‘have’ school. The parents, mostly affluent white and Asian, are the drivers of what occurs in the school and classroom. As you wrote, black and brown families are at times completely unaware and often complacent about what is and is not taught to their children. I also believe that one cannot teach what one does not know nor value. Therefore, wealth creation and not end user consumerism will be taught in communities which understand the power of that learning.

    I conducted a lesson called The Desktop Dealership with my 8th graders several years ago. Each student worked as a sole proprietor or partnered with other students to sell goods or services. This activity walked them through the process of developing a start-up. On Market Day, we raised over $900 selling everything from cookies to hair braiding services. I had to fight administration tooth and nail to be allowed to have my students engage in this learning. Personal finance and entrepreneurship are key to breaking black communities out of poverty and debt.

    Again, I thank you for sharing your personal journey. I believe the inequities you cited need to be discussed in order for our schools and communities to change. I appreciate you!

    | Reply Posted 4 years, 4 months ago

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