No amount is enough

Jul 12, 2017 at 11:22 am
Males of Color Academy

I knew that economic inequality is at the heart of America’s institutional racism. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. knew it, too, which is why he marched and fought for civil rights and economic equality. Yet, admittedly, I did not understand the full scope of this inequality until I saw the Raoul Peck documentary, “I Am Not Your Negro” and Rev. Dr. Kevin Cosby speak after. Only then did I realize that no amount of money could make up for generations of economic suppression of black Americans.

Jefferson County Public Schools is going to spend $5.8 million over the next three years to create a Males of Color Academy.

The exact dollar amount doesn’t matter. The most important thing is that JCPS is focusing on its biggest failure.

This plan is not without concerns: Questions remain about resegregation, how and which students will be admitted, and if the academy would syphon resources from other schools.

But one overriding fact usurps such potential problems: We must help black and brown boys of this community and across the nation.

JCPS has my support.

I’ll be damn proud to pay my property taxes knowing it’s going to a school system committed to serving the people who need it the most.

Under the plan, approved by a vote of 6-1, the academy will open in 2018, enrolling 150 middle-school (with the ability to expand to 450), male students into a program that approaches history and culture from a multicultural perspective. It will use teaching strategies that are most effective for their student body — as one report called it, “culturally responsive teaching and learning strategies.”

There are a few absolutes when it comes to educational success. For instance, class size can help determine student success. Similarly, early-childhood education and parent involvement can have enormous impacts on a child’s success. For black students, data shows that having a black teacher can lead to better outcomes in the classroom. Of course, good teachers of any complexion are better than bad teachers. But studies show that students learn better when their educational experience is culturally resonant — they perform better when they can identify with the curriculum.

Students of any race or background need their learning experiences to be relevant. This academy is designed to provide just that. As described in the JCPS proposal: “Culturally responsive teaching, and creating a learning environment of high expectations can yield desired results of improved scores, lower discipline and suspensions, and increased graduation rates with graduates being college- and career-ready.”

JCPS could finally be on the right track to serving their multicultural students’ needs.

And supporting this should have nothing to do with white guilt. Data shows that young, nonwhite men need (and deserve) extra attention, support and hand-up more than any other demographic of society.

Why do we continue to overlook the biggest failure of American education? In what other area of life do we just ignore our biggest failures? The failure is ours as a society… not theirs.

Investing in this population — primarily, making sure they graduate high school — is one of the best investments society can make. Graduating kids from high school puts them on a path to being contributing members of society — productive, tax-paying Americans. Every student who drops out of high school will cost society nearly $300,000 over a lifetime of lost earnings, productivity, taxes and costs associated with incarceration — that’s $300,000 per dropout, per year, according to a study by Northeastern University researchers.

Investing in these kids will provide economic and social returns to society. We owe it to generations — 200 years and more — of nonwhite men whom America has cheated and suppressed.

No amount is enough.