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Belief Gap

Black organizations and philanthropists are secretly meeting to create a plan for radically changing public schools

Theodore Roosevelt famously said: “Do what you can, with what you’ve got, where you are.”

According to a message I just received, some of our most prominent black leaders are about to put that saying into action on behalf of America’s 8 million black public school children.

A few minutes ago a wealthy African American (no, I can’t name names) invited me to attend a gathering of leaders from over 150 black organizations to construct an education agenda that all participants will support with their budgets, memberships, and infrastructure.

As a blogger in the north woods, this is the golden invitation for me.

I’m told the meeting will include black educators’ organizations, fraternities, sororities, civil rights groups, elected officials, and many of our wealthiest African Americans who have promised the group that if they devise a solid plan for improving the systems that educate black children money will not be a problem.

Hot damn, we’ve got ourselves a real movement.

I don’t know all of the folks in the coalition, but The National Urban League, Thurgood Marshall College Fund, NAACP, UNCF, National Alliance of Black School Educators, Jack and Jill, National Coalition of 100 Black Men, and the Education Trust will co-sponsor this private and unprecedented agenda-setting meeting scheduled for this coming fall.

Many of these groups have independently weighed in on education before, but, perhaps, egos and budgetary turfism have stopped them from being a united and credible threat to business-as-usual in K-12 public education.

UNCF has put out a series of excellent, informative reports calling attention to the educational needs of black communities.

The Urban League reports annually through an index in the State of Black America that includes multiple indicators of educational progress.

And, the NAACP, mostly known in the past two years for a union-funded campaign to hobble charter school growth, sues education leaders constantly in pursuit of educational equity.

Sadly, many other black organizations only exist as sputtering impotent satellites revolving around those three suns who themselves are on three different educational axes.

I say that about the black organizations that can be bothered to have anything coherent in their grant-driven agendas concerning the education of black children at all.

But, behold, after far too long, the vast universe of black organizations will be taking the first steps toward real black power by marshaling their assets, knowledge bases, and infrastructure to use one voice in demanding better educational outcomes.

This is huge news for those of us who have said for years that African Americans need not be beggers because more than any other time in our history we are gifted with all we need to address the crisis in black education.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking about all the things we lack. Is realistic to call us “gifted” with resources?

It depends.

Just three of the organizations attending (UNCF, Urban League, and NAACP) have combined budgets of over $300 million.

That’s not exactly broke where I come from.

Robert Smith, whose Colorado Ranch will host the gathering, has a net worth of $4 billion, and his co-hosts Melody Hobson, Oprah Winfrey, and Michael Jordan (what???) boast a few dollars themselves.

And, in truth, many of y’all have grown folk money too.

We hear often that black people have a combined $1 trillion spending power and that if black Americans were a nation, we’d be 44th on a list of the International Monetary Fund’s 189 countries.

We spend over $810 million on bottled water alone. Based upon my cocktail napkin math skills, as produced by a failed public school miseducation, that’s enough to staff 128 averaged sized school districts with new teachers.

Tap water has never looked so good.

According to the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education: “At the time of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s, about 10,000 American blacks — one in 1,000 — were college educated.”

Today, about 23% of us have a college degree and black college enrollment is breaking records.

While our situation isn’t perfect, collectively we own some things, we know some things, and we’re going some places.

So, how many years will we retell the story of States where fewer than 1 in 4 black fourth graders are reading proficiently as if someone in power is going to say “let’s move heaven and Earth to change that?”

By heaven and Earth, I mean pensions and people.

Geoffry Canada told you a long time ago, Superman ain’t coming. Perhaps it’s time we stop telling the wrong story and cease with the nihilistic awfulization that puts our people into a hopelessly pornographic loop as if trauma-informed appeals to emotion will shock a movable public into exhibiting a new level of care for us.

That train isn’t coming. Maybe we should walk. Fast.

We can and should pray three times a day to God for salvation, but I assume His response would be “what did you do with all those tools and resources I gave you.”

All those organizations, budgets, fancy hotel conferences, suits, ties, degrees, car leases, grants, contracts, jobs in the system, mega-churches, bougie networks, and so on?

Our answer?

“See, God, what had happened was….”

Admit it, even in a time where lazy talk of trauma and inequality and gaps has created consulting syndicates for the academy-born siblings of Captain Obvious, black Americans are neither too broke nor too ignorant to author white-free solutions to the most debilitating black challenges.

Among those solutions must be new schools, new pedagogy, new practices, and new systems of power and control. This is not a time to rethink, redesign, reconstruct, replicate or reform. Creating the next beta version of oppression is a rather stupid waste of our potential, so let’s use what we have and what we know to step outside of the past paradigm that has hold of us like a noose and invent our way to freedom.

Not only can we develop our own educational capital, we must. There is no hope or justice in turning our kids over to systems that are so indifferent to their success that it borders on hate.

I’m so happy about the promise of this upcoming meeting to develop a blueprint that will save our children from schools that have too little of everything we need, including expertise, strong curriculum, effective teaching, cultural competence, historical relevance, and commitment to black success.

One last word on this amazing upcoming meeting: I won’t be attending.

Not because I don’t want to attend, but because the meeting is a figment of my imagination. It isn’t happening in reality.

Shame on us.






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  1. Nanette Bergman

    August 14, 2018 at 12:51 am

    I wanted to be a part of this, if the group would let me… I am white.

    • Maggie

      August 15, 2018 at 8:42 am

      Hey, Nanette! I felt similarly to you, a little left out because of my skin color (I’m also White), but then I remembered that White people have been really messing up even as well-intentioned allies for about as long as Black people have been trying to liberate themselves from White supremacy. Maybe our part in this is to support from the sidelines and follow the lead of Black folks.

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Belief Gap

Teachers see black children as angry when they aren’t

Black children aren't angry

From right to left, the story for why black children aren’t reaching their potential lives within the child. Or, their family. Their culutre. Their community.

If only they had two parents, better jobs, more time to read at home. It wouldn’t hurt if they had middle-class social benefits. Put those things together and there wouldn’t be a racialized gap in student achievement.

Ok. I won’t argue there. But lets set aside the condition of the child for a moment and consider this new study that finds teachers are less likely to accurately read the facial expression of black students. This only adds to the research I won’t stop talking about that shows black children are seen as less innocent, less capable, and older than they actually are.

When we talk about inequities in education, why don’t we talk about these things?

Eventually, we have to ask the question: “regardless of the condition of the child, aren’t their too many problems in the system that need fixing before blaming children for their own maltreatment?”

Read this from the study:

Prospective teachers are more likely to perceive Black than White elementary and middle-school students as angry, even when they’re not, according to new research published in Emotion. The findings suggest that Black children face a racialized anger bias in school.

“We know a lot about emotion and emotion expression, and we wanted to use our skills toward a question that really mattered and specifically, mattered for social justice,” said study author Shevaun D. Neupert, a professor at North Carolina State University and director of The Daily Well Being in Adulthood Lab.

For the study, 178 prospective teachers from three training programs in the Southeast were shown 72 short video clips of child actors’ facial expressions, and were asked to identify the emotion being displayed. The video clips included both Black and White students and male and female students.

“We hired child actors to display six different emotions and we had professionals who could make all six facial expressions on demand to work with the children until they were able to do so,” Neupert explained. “Then we took short video clips and we made sure that each expression was showing the desired emotion and only that emotion.”

Those emotions included happiness, sadness, anger, fear, surprise or disgust.

Overall, the researchers found that teachers were more accurate at identifying the facial expressions of girls than boys. The teachers’ emotional evaluations also tended to be more accurate for White girls than Black girls, while being more accurate for Black boys than for White boys.

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Belief Gap

We’re in trouble when a $4 sandwich matters more than a Black life

We know something has gone terribly wrong in our world when a $4 sandwich is worth more than a black life.

On April 23, 2009 scientists observed a gamma ray burst for 10 seconds which is “the most distant object of any kind and also the oldest known object in the universe.”

But let’s get to the important stuff. On that same day there was a near riot at Minnesota’s one Popeye’s Chicken franchise. The company had advertised an 8-piece meal for $4.99, but the local store was not honoring the deal. Cars backed up in the drive-thru, customers became angry inside the restaurant, and the police were called to stop a melee.

The great chicken riot of Minneapolis made the news.

See here:

A local reporter talking about the hubbub said “I haven’t seen people this passionate about something in a very long time.”

I made fun of this incident for years. Mostly because it conflicted with a truism I hear in community meetings all the time about how we aren’t showing up for school meetings or city planning meetings or policy debates because we’re busy working two jobs.

Yet, Popeye’s.

Marketing folks seem to generate a ton of passion in our communities when a dollar is involved. In this case chicken skirmishes have become such a mainstay that it’s created a genre of YouTube videos.

Enough to have videos titled “The Best of Popeye’s Chicken Sandwich Fights.”

The “best of,” really?

For a while I’ve thought these fights were funny. Seriously funny. Like Friday or Next Friday funny. Like Pootie Tang or Booty Call or Madea funny.

Lowbrow, but funny. I grew up on Popeye’s chicken. Loved it as a fat kid in New Orleans does. It took a long time (and some health concerns) to figure out it ain’t food as much as suicide.

Today, what was funny has turned serious. It popped up in my feed that a 28-year-old (the same age as my oldest son) was stabbed to death over a damn Popeye’s chicken sandwich.

Stabbed. To. Death.

Stories like this always make me think about how a person gets to the point in their life where they explode with anger over something trivial and then commit an act that irreversibly ruins their life and the lives of others.

What happened when that person was a teenager, a middle-schooler, or a baby?

There must be a story there. A traumatic one.

I can only imagine.

My guess is that when a child receives endless messages telling him he has little value, he comes to believe it. When he is told that his mind is immaterial, he either responds with anger because he knows it isn’t true (and that it is massive injustice to say it is), or he absorbs the critique and lives it out.

When he’s told he can’t read, he doesn’t. When he’s told he isn’t beautiful, he hates beauty. When he’s told injustice is equity and crooked is straight, as our society so often does to the people it wants to gaslight into a life of subservience, he becomes a violent truth that pays us back for our mannered delusions.

Our children know when the world has pushed them into an unjust corner. They are smart even when the tests they take in school doubt it.

Even as those of us in education activism harp on the idea that our kids aren’t learning, the truth is they are learning every day, but they are learning from our absenteeism and negligence and dedication to mass-consumerism rather than our values and love.

It doesn’t let us of the hook. Chicken fights, social absurdities, and moral laxity are explainable by our history and social conditions, and by our lack of access to the precursors to healthy development (such as home resources, healthcare, and education), but we are not the revolutionaries we think we are if we aren’t calling out and defeating the self-destructive behaviors endemic to our communities.

Every child is born with unsurpassable worth afforded to them by a mighty God. We fall short of our faith if we allow friends, families, or the broader society to rob our kids of that worth.

If they’re ever in a Popeye’s Chicken injuring others over a heart-attack, hypertension, and diabetes inducing sandwich, the trail of their tears leads back to us.

How are the children?

ACT NOW: What does this blog post mean? I could just be me making sense of the needless suffering in our world. It may not be profound. Yet, if forced to think of an action to take that would make this post more than a meaningless buffet of words, I’d ask you to…

commit to a course of action today that changes our culture of neglect of children. Affirm every child you come into contact with by telling them “you are so amazing, I know you are going to do great things in life” – or something like that.

Or, donate to groups who prepare and inform new leaders or educators in communities that need both (here, here, here, here).

Or, as always, pray (here).

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Belief Gap

A short note about Kamala Harris’s integration opportunism

No one should discount the possibility that a little black girl or boy might succeed in life without bathing in whiteness.

Earlier this summer Kamala Harris and Joe Biden had a terse exchange about integration and public school busing.

An article in The Atlantic described it this way:

There was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day,” Harris told the former vice president, her voice quaking. “That little girl was me.” It was the defining line of the debate, inspiring the creation of a T-shirt Harris’s campaign is now selling for $29.99. The point Harris was highlighting was clear: When busing would have mattered most as a method of desegregating schools, in the 1970s, Biden didn’t enthusiastically support it.

Powerful stuff.

We love a good come-up story, especially when it invokes the morally superior virtues that define a beloved community.

I can almost feel the warmth of Harris’ torch for the power of white acceptance, and the disdain for Biden’s blue dog resistance.

And, I could tell you a very different story (that won’t sell T-shirts) about a little black boy who was once bussed three hours a day, away from neighborhood friends and familiar surroundings, to a white school in the hills where moneyed white students and their teachers dislike school busses and students invading “their” school.

That little boy was me.

I turned out ok. Even grew up to have children, who are multiracial like Harris, proving I ardently support integration.

But, I am here to constantly challenge the incessant and dangerous romantization of simple integration stories. While most people called the Harris/Biden tussle in favor of Harris, I still call her rehearsed passion play phony baloney.

Which is why I appreciate this Washington Post article that goes a long way to add context to the oversimplified “I was bussed therefore I am” claptrap that intoxicates the best of audiences.

Especially this part…

Kamala Harris wanted to go to a black school. That’s what black folks called Howard University in the early 1980s when Harris was a teenager considering her future.

Harris, she would say later, was seeking an experience wholly different from what she had long known. She’d attended majority-white schools her entire life — from elementary school in Berkeley, Calif., to high school in Montreal. Her parents’ professional lives and their personal story were bound up in majority-white institutions. Her father, an economist from Jamaica, was teaching at Stanford University. Her mother, a cancer researcher from India, had done her graduate work at the University of California at Berkeley, where the couple had met and fallen in love. And Harris’s younger sister would eventually enroll at Stanford.

Harris wanted to be surrounded by black students, black culture and black traditions at the crown jewel of historically black colleges and universities.

In this we see something curious, but not uncommon, which is how sending children of color off to majority white schools can cause dissonance in the face of microagressions and culture stripping.

Maybe Harris wouldn’t admit that, but she wouldn’t be the first to see an HBCU as cultural finishing school for proper black people.

Indeed, the stories of black integrationists who are celebrated by white media are often punctuated by the fact that they only discovered their blackness in college and now they overemphasize it as the false currency they use in minstrel fashion to Afrocentricize white progressive ideals.

I name no names. I just admit what I’ve seen.

No one should discount the possibility that a little black girl or boy might succeed in life without bathing in whiteness.

Maybe a bus saved Harris, the daughter of privileged middle-class professionals.

Or, maybe, it’s just a good story to gather votes from an electorate that loves simplicity.

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