Great pivot, Tavis! Welcome to the education of young Black males

Ph.D. | 9/14/2011, 5 p.m.

My friend, Tavis Smiley, has a new documentary out on the plight of the Black male in America.

It's a subject that has been part of the intellectual and academic discourse for the past decade. For the last five years, it has been the No. 1 issue in public education. For the past four years, it has been a subject of intense debate in Los Angeles, which has the worst large school district in the nation, right here in Tavis' own backyard.

We certainly would welcome a voice like Smiley's to this discussion. Hopefully, it's not just his "documentary of the quarter" subject, as a convenient pivot away from the sorer subject of his perpetual Obama-bashing. Even if it is, it's a great pivot. Certainly, no one can accuse Tavis of "public-education-hatin'." We're all on that tip.

Nor can he be accused of making issue where there is none. The failure of Black boys and the intentional funneling of Black boys into the criminal justice system are legitimate issues that are only getting worse. In fact, it has been an issue I've been intimately involved in for ... hmmm, about 10 years.

I've written more than a dozen commentaries on it. I've hosted four Urban Issues Forums on it over the past five years. I've visited three cities where single-gender schools for Black males are succeeding and raised more than $200,000 for a local male mentoring program that should be an all-male academy, within walking distance of Tavis' office.

I've also come the closest to opening a Black male academy. We (100 Black Men) thought we had one this year, until Dick Riordan fired Caprice Young over at ICEF. So, this is an issue that we could probably work together on. Here's why:
Black male academies are a roughly 10-year-old phenomenon that has succeeded in nearly every urban city that has given it a chance--New York, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Dallas and Memphis. Where Black academies have been given a chance, Black males have succeeded in both their high school graduation rates and their college admission attrition. We know the model works and can be replicated. The data supports it, due to landmark studies on Black male education success for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation.

We presented Dr. Ivory Toldson and his studies three years ago and many in attendance were LAUSD employees and administrators. He's hot now and is considered one of the foremost scholars on Black male education. The point here is that for five years, we have been trying to introduce this concept into Los Angeles. To no avail. Maybe you can get Los Angeles to do something about its Black school-age males, Tavis.

I know "accountability" is your thing, so let me help you understand who's accountable for Los Angeles not having a single-gender school for Black males.

Before I do, let me help educate you for a minute on the Race to the Top initiative that the Obama administration started (that you took a dig at, but you ain't anti-Obama). Race to the Top replaced No Child Left Behind as the national education initiative. No Child Left Behind put accountability--your favorite word--on schools to raise national test scores. Instead of teaching our children, they taught to the test. Students who couldn't pass the test just dropped out of school. So they were in fact left behind. Do you know who was the most left behind? You got it, Black males.