ROCKFORD, Ill.—Known locally as the “empowerment couple,” Brother Henry X and his wife, Sister Keishonda X, both proprietors of the city’s first Black-owned beauty supply store, have redefined community service from that of creating jobs to that of instilling the “do-for-self” work ethic through Kikifer’s Entrepreneurial Academy (KEA), now approaching its fourth year of operations as an accredited K-12 school.
Brother Henry stated that the Eternal Leader of the Nation of Islam, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, called not only for Black communities to control their own education, but he also produced a model to emulate across the country (Muhammad University of Islam). Bro. Henry explained that solutions must come from within and that leading by example is the launching-pad for real change.
“Rockford is a city that had, according to Forbes (magazine), the third worst educational system in the country. It’s almost a civic duty to provide something different; the children here are suffering from improper education,” Brother Henry said. “Many of the problems that we face are because we have been mis-educated. True education should lift you not (to) just a higher level of understanding, but also to a higher level of application,” he said.
Sister Keishonda said their unique approach to communication, in-house culture, standards of excellence, and personal accountability all contribute to an atmosphere of positive tension.
“One thing I’ve noticed is that they were all behind academically, so our key areas of focus are reading and math. The students who started with us and are still with us, they are excelling, and they are the top students,” she said of the younger children whose exposure to the local public schools was limited prior to enrollment.
Regarding the curriculum, electives and character-building aspects of what teachers and staff see as the Kikifer experience, Sis. Keishonda explained: “We start every day with our morning pledge that starts off with four of the ‘I ams’ that include: ‘I am successful,’ ‘I am a warrior,’ ‘I am driven,’ ‘I am a god.’ This starts at least the process of beginning to change their mindsets, and you see a Black man and someone that looks like you that’s wearing a suit and tie and he’s the principal of the school.”
“It’s like that ‘Obama Effect’ that shows that if this Black man can open a school, and run a school, and be professional, but he looks like me, and wears a doo rag at 7:45 in the morning to get his waves right, they can relate to that; or by telling the young girls how their braids look cute or if they have their edges laid down and look nice,” she jokingly stated. “Now I want you to work on this math problem. …”
The pandemic and the virtual option
Ms. Dexi Vaught, or Sister Dex as she prefers to be called, is the mother of two boys, aged 11 and 16, who attend KEA as distance learners from Texas. She found Bro. Henry and Sis. Keishonda’s school through “Every Black,” a podcast network and coalition of Black entrepreneurs and business owners “leveraging technology and a strategy of global networking,” in order to create wealth.
“Independent education is important for me and my boys because I do not feel the public school system teaches our students, especially our brown boys, their proper history and the ability to excel as a young man,” Sister Dex told The Final Call in a telephone interview. “I don’t believe they equip them with the proper knowledge, the proper education, the proper tools.
I actually feel in a lot of instances, the education in the public school system is geared to water down the excellence of our children,” she insisted. “It doesn’t teach you to be a strong, independent thinker to create jobs; it just teaches you to get a job from someone else.”
The Covid-19 pandemic and government restrictions required KEA to use modern technology to transition from the close quarters of a local community center to one educating a wider group of students through cyberspace.
After learning of Kikifer’s Academy through Joshua Muhammad’s popular and widely viewed “People’s Podcast” show, California resident Akili Shabazz enrolled his six-year-old daughter. He and his wife withdrew their child from public school, not only because of Covid, but also for the academy’s education. He said after hearing Sis. Keishonda on Bro. Joshua’s show, they were sold on the idea.
“It was in the time of the pandemic about six months ago and we were looking for alternatives,” Mr. Shabazz said. KEA’s PACE curriculum allowed his first-grade aged daughter to place at the second grade and advance to nearly the fourth grade over a matter of months, he said.
“One of the things that struck a chord with me is that each year, their students must write and publish a book which gets them into the do-for-self mentality at an early age,” he continued.
Although Kikifer’s Academy returned to in-person learning after the school moved to a larger location, it maintains the protocols of social distancing and the wearing of appropriate face masks. The virtual option is still available to prospective children and their parents, however.
Ms. Anita Weiland, grandmother of a 16-year-old KEA student, said she feels the school’s academics is an appropriate fit for her grandchild’s needs. “She’s eager to learn more, especially when the guest speakers come in. It makes her feel like she’s more in control of how her life is going to go, as far as her book and her business (are concerned),” Ms. Weiland told The Final Call.
“She still wants to go to college, (and) she would like to become a therapist and a journalist. She started a newsletter here at the school and she’s the editor, and it’s been up and running for about two months.”
Granddaughter Rhianna Blake, 16, said she likes the challenge of competing with herself to pursue excellence and to overcome life’s obstacles. Writing a book allows her to express her opinions and beliefs as she chooses.
“I can see myself doing great things to help other people with entrepreneurship in the future,” Ms. Blake said.
Other students agreed that the KEA experience has been positive and to their benefit. Devon McDonald, 16, Michael Bray, 14, and Joshua Donelson were all firm in their agreement that learning how to become owners and producers and rooted in a strong knowledge and belief in self is the beginning into securing future rewards.
Rockford’s Nation of Islam student minister and study group coordinator, Bro. Yahcolyah Muhammad, said the Honorable Elijah Muhammad’s 1965 book, “Message to The Blackman in America,” offers wise counsel and guidance as explained during countless hours of public messages by the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan over the decades.
“How many of us can pool our resources and build the clothing shops, the schools, and the businesses that will provide a needed service for our people?” Student Minister Muhammad asked. “We must definitely consider the time and what must be done regarding the survival of our community.”
For more information, visit Kikifer’s Entrepreneurial Academy online at www.kikifersacademy.org