Helping Black Males Win the Education War

St. Louis Symposium to Highlight Strategies and Shine Light on Successes

Saturday, November 6 – Busch Student Center St. Louis University – 9:00 – 11:30 AM

The “Breaking Barriers” seminar is free, however, space is limited. Priority will be given to educators, community workers/advocates, parents and students who reply by e-mail: twn4justice@yahoo.com or by calling (314) 997-6500 before Friday, October 29. For more information, visit www.eec4justice.com.

If nationally known researcher, author and educator  – Dr. Ivory Toldson – were to give the nation a pop quiz about black males, he might ask for a true or false response to the following:  there are more African American males in prison than in college; and black college educated men are least likely to choose teaching as a profession.  The answers to both questions are false.

Toldson, associate professor at Howard University and senior research analyst for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, is the featured speaker at a free education seminar sponsored by Educational Equity Consultants in St. Louis. The symposium is from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Saturday, November 6 at the Busch Student Center/Wool Ballroom at Saint Louis University.  Parking is free at the Laclede Street Garage. The topic of the Partners for Justice Speakers Series is taken from Toldson’s nationally acclaimed report – “Breaking Barriers:  Plotting the Path to Academic Success for School Age African American Males.”  Other noted and distinguished panelists on program include:          Dr. Howard Rambsy, English, Language and Literature associate professor at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE), Ian Buchanan, principal at Gateway Middle School in          St. Louis, MO; H. Eric Clark, president and principal of Loyola Academy in St. Louis, MO; and Robert Evans, principal at Christ the King Jesuit College Prep in Chicago, IL.

Toldson will discuss various factors attributed to academic success for black males including:  personal, emotional, social and environmental. “Negative perceptions and attitudes affect academic outcomes for students of color,” said Toldson, who is also editor-in-chief of the oldest continuous black publication in the country, The Journal of Negro Education. “Providing instruction that is culturally relevant and meaningful to African American students is vital to helping students accomplish important academic milestones.”

Quoting from his series, “Breaking Barriers,” which was commissioned by the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Toldson gives a profile of a teacher who would be effective in developing academic growth among African American males. That educator would be interested in the student as a person, would treat the student fairly, allow for self expression and would provide extra help.

Empowerment and expectations are two key tools that Eric Clark says are needed for  educational success among African American males. “I tell my students to shoot for the moon, and if they miss, grab a star!” Loyola Academy is a Jesuit middle school for boys who have the potential for college preparatory work and is 98 percent black.

Likewise, a recipe of danger for black boys is those educators who hold out no hope or ambition for them, said Robert Evans. “Most people gave up on me,” he said. “If it were not only for a couple of people I could have easily become a member of the criminal justice system. There was only one teacher in elementary school and one in secondary school who took an interest in me.” Christ the King Jesuit College Prep is a school on the Westside of Chicago with about 300 students from grades 9-11 and a black population of about 98 percent.

However, Rambsy, who was raised in Jackson, Tenn., was surrounded by support from his family, community and educational opportunities. “My experiences navigating educational systems have been relatively positive,” Rambsy said. “But it has been troubling that so few of my black male peers have not received the necessary support and opportunities to move forward.”

Ian Buchanan also considers himself privileged to have had strong family, community and school support as he went through the educational system in East St. Louis, Ill. “For me it wasn’t a dichotomy to be smart and cool, well-read and popular,” Buchanan said. His uncle, John Bailey Jr., was a principal at East St. Louis Lincoln Senior High School. His “second” father, Ralph Muhammad, and his six other siblings (the Collins family) all received college degrees from SIUE.  And in Buchanan’s family there are approximately 30 people with college degrees.

“I had a lot of positive black male role models in my life,” Buchanan said. “My passion is to connect the Hip Hop generation to literacy. I would love for my students to fall in love with reading and learn how to change their world through literacy.”  Gateway Middle School is a school with about 465 students from grades 6-8 and a black population of about 82 percent.

Buchanan’s desire is not an unrealistic goal, by any means, Toldson said. “Anyone in a position of authority should set the goal at 100 percent success for their sphere of influence,” he said. “For example, it is not unrealistic for a principal to have a 100 percent graduation goal for her/his school.”

Helping black males achieve broad educational success is a worthy mission and one that will take deliberation, said Anthony Neal, president/CEO of Educational Equity Consultants.

Toldson noted that there is work to be done in the Bi-State Area. He referenced statistics from the Schott 50 State Report on Public Education and Black Male: In Missouri, the high school graduation rate is 54 percent for black males compared to 79 percent for white males. Black male students were admitted to district Gifted and/or Talented programs at less than half the rate of white male students, while more than twice as many were classified as mentally challenged. St. Louis numbers for 2007-2008 showed that black males (38 percent) and white males (47 percent) graduated at lower rates than the state and national averages.

But there are numbers regarding African American males that show things are not as dismissal as some would think, Toldson added.  Concerning black men in prison, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, an estimated 791,000 black men were in jail and prison in the year 2000. However, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 816,000 black men were in college in the same year. Toldson pointed out that the prison figure includes all males regardless of age.   “If we only looked at black males age 18-24, those in college would outnumber those in jail by 4-to-1,”  the researcher said.

Also, when looking at the professional commitments of college educated black men, they are far more likely to become a teacher or work in other “helping professions,” compared to white men with college degrees, Toldson said.  However, he concluded, there is much work to be done as it relates to helping all black males thrive in the educational system.

“We must move toward action in regards of developing an agenda for increasing the achievement rate of black males,” Neal said, “and then help them become conduits of their own success.”

The “Breaking Barriers” seminar is free, however, space is limited. Priority will be given to educators, community workers/advocates, parents and students who reply by e-mail: twn4justice@yahoo.com or by calling (314) 997-6500 before Friday, October 29. For more information, visit www.eec4justice.com.

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