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.
What President Obama was not intending to do is continue to reward failing education and failing public schools, but putting more money in alternative (and proven) education models that will produce results for our children. Single-gender schools, or Black male academies, was one such model. Obama, by the way, put more money in alternative education than any other president. I know you don’t want to hear it, but it’s true.
When California applied for the Race to the Top money, do you know who was the first in line?
Big, dysfunctional-ass LAUSD looking to use Race to the Top money to supplement school budgets. The Public School Choice Initiative that the people voted for has been a joke. The Latino community has gotten five (or six) charter schools to model success in their communities (largely the east side). How much money do you think the Black community has gotten? Take a wild guess. That’s right–zero. Now back to the accountability conversation, you should roll your cameras up to LAUSD School Board President Monica Garcia’s office and put her on blast like you put Obama on blast. You’d have legitimate reason.
Former LAUSD Superintendent, David Brewer, left a whole plan for Black males that has not been implemented. After his buyout, I met with Garcia, along with Urban League President, Blair Taylor and National NAACP board member, Willis Edwards, to ask that the Brewer plan be implemented. Her response to us was, “What’s the Brewer plan?” Once we informed her, she promised to get back to in two weeks. That’s been more than two years ago.
The sentiment is high for Black male schools now. School board member Marguerite LaMotte is now for it. I heard even deputy superintendent George McKenna might be for it now. These are the folk who need to be held accountable to make it happen.
Even the shadow governor of the Los Angeles School Board, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, participated in a recent panel discussion on Black males, to which Toldson also presented data. The time is right to get a Black male academy in Los Angeles. Even though the Public School Choice Initiative is still feeding failing schools in South Los Angeles to the “big box” profiteers (Green Dot, Edison Learning), a huge spotlight on this disingenuous process is just what L.A. needs.
So, I welcome Tavis Smiley to the state-of-the-Black-male conversation. I believe the best way to effectuate this issue is to start in your own backyard. While we don’t have your back on Obama, we’d definitely have your back on this. That is, if you are indeed sincere about the issue, not just promoting the documentary on PBS. Young Black males do need your voice … and your advocacy for “accountable government.”
Let’s see how we can move forward. Hopefully it’s more than just a pivot move.
Anthony Asadullah Samad, Ph.D., is a national columnist, managing director of the Urban Issues Forum and author of the upcoming book, “Real Eyez: Race, Reality and Politics in 21st Century Popular Culture.” He can be reached at www.AnthonySamad.com or on Twitter at @dranthonysamad.
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