By Charlene Muhammad CHARLENEM

‘We’ve got to take our children out of the hands of our enemy’

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LOS ANGELES – As school doors opened to welcome back millions of students across the country, experts and advocates talked about some of the challenges as well as solutions for successfully educating Black children. One singular point? Black folk must take responsibility for properly teaching their babies.

Many Black parents are turning to more independent alternatives because of longstanding problems experienced in traditional public schools, such as disproportionate suspensions and other disparate forms of punishment, noted Dr. Samori Camara, founder and director of Kamali Academy, an independent, African-centered school in New Orleans.

“The most powerful weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed,” Dr. Camara said.   He quoted South African anti-apartheid leader Stephen Biko to emphasize what he feels is the greatest problem facing Black students.  

That problem trumps all the talk of suspensions and over representation in special education classes, he said. “We’ve got to take our children out of the hands of our enemy and get back control of them if we want to see liberation of any kind,” Dr. Camara said.

He cited former President George W. Bush’s recent selfie with Black high school girls during the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans as one example of the problems with letting others teach Black children.  

Mr. Bush and his administration drew harsh international criticism as images of floating bodies, stranded Black families atop roofs and dying elderly were broadcast around the globe.

“Our children don’t know and will not know who their enemy is, so they’ll be smiling with a devil, thinking it’s cool if we don’t teach them,” Dr. Camara told The Final Call.

“That’s number one.   You could talk about the homosexual agenda as well. … You could talk about all that that’s coming through.   You could talk about how the education is of course still Eurocentric. You could talk about the classroom to prison pipeline. But number one, we’ve got to take our children back because those people are doing what they desire to do with our children,” he stated.

Dr. Camara doesn’t know what it’s going to take to get Blacks to come to that realization, but the answer is not to compromise. Get rid of the notion that America’s failing schools can be changed from within, he said.

“Nah! We’ve got to take them out! The Honorable Elijah Muhammad told us what?   We got to get the mosque, get the businesses, and then what?   We’ve got to get the schools,” Dr. Camara said.

Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu, noted psychologist and author, feels more attention must be paid to the dearth of Black male teachers and reducing the number of teachers who do not like, respect, bond with or appreciate the culture of Black students.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, nearly 82 percent of public school teachers in school year 2011-12 were White. And according to the Department of Education, only two percent of the nation’s nearly five million teachers–1 in 50 teachers–were Black males in 2011.

As for charter schools, Dr. Kunjufu said, there are more than 4,000 in Black communities and most have average success. Eagles Academy in New York and Urban Prep in Chicago are doing fantastic jobs, he said.   “They (charter schools) have hurt private schools because they have more options.   I fully support the 25 percent of charter schools that have their students in the top quartile,” Dr. Kunjufu stated.

Another problem is only 12 percent of Black males and 18 percent of Black females are proficient in 8th grade reading, he added.

Literacy ranks as the most important issue in education, according to Dr. Steve Perry, founder and principal of Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford, Conn. The impact of poor school performance because children have not been taught to read can’t be overstated, he said.

“Children who cannot read are far more likely to go to prison. As a result, 75 percent of juveniles incarcerated are functionally illiterate. That means that they could not read an article in The Final Call and recount what they read,” Dr. Perry said.

Once children can read, they are more likely to do well in math, science, history and English, but currently, Black children are doing poorly in America’s schools, said Dr. Perry.   He attributed the problem to a persistent and nasty achievement gap.

“In many states African-Americans graduate high school four grade levels behind their White counterparts which means that although our children are in the 12th grade, they are reading, writing and doing math at the ninth grade level,” he said.

Blacks must hold their schools, politicians and especially their religious organizations accountable, said Dr. Perry.   “It makes no sense for us to have large mosques and churches when we don’t have a community that has equally large schools. It is incumbent upon us to be leaders that our children need,” Dr. Perry told The Final Call.

He feels the Nation of Islam has a history of leading the Black community with an authenticity not often seen in many civil rights organizations, and believes that the fate of the Black community rests on its ability to engage groups such as the Nation of Islam in the fight for educational justice.

“Whether it’s the Nation of Islam or the Urban League, our organizations don’t have to send our kids to failed schools that have proven that they’re more interested in suspending or expelling our kids than they are in sending them to college,” Dr. Perry said.