A “Black Paper” Presented at the University of Cincinnati
When I was a child growing up in the Washington Courts projects in Utica, New York, all the stores that served our neighborhood were owned and operated by Jews. We often played with Jewish children when we shopped at their parents’ stores after school. However, I noticed that none of those Jewish children attended school with the rest of us. When I asked a Jewish playmate why this was so, he explained that all Jewish children in their community attended “Hillel Day School.” As best he could explain it, Hillel Day Schools were necessary for Jewish children to be assured an education rooted in their religion and history. In later years I discovered that to the maximum extent possible in a given time and location, Jewish people did not allow their children to attend non-Jewish schools until after they completed eighth (8th) grade. This coincided with reaching the age of thirteen or fourteen when Jewish children received their right-of-passage known as “Bar-Mitzvah” for boys, and “Bat-Mitzvah” for girls. Jews felt comfortable that after completing eight years of intensive JEWISH education, their children will have been sufficiently “immunized” against whatever negative influences they might encounter when they were exposed to outside or “alien” influences upon entering public high schools.
In junior high school and high school I competed in organized sports against boys in Catholic schools. Their explanation as to why they attended Catholic religious schools rather than regular public schools was similar to the reason Jews gave for attending Jewish schools: Their education had to be first and foremost grounded in knowledge and understanding of their RELIGION. They had to be good Catholics in order to be good human beings. The power, wealth, and influence of both the Jewish community and Catholic Church today, domestically and internationally, attest to the wisdom of the insistence by those two groups that their children be educated to serve and advance the best interests of their GROUP.
Contrary to what is claimed by opponents of African-centered education, no one suggested that Jewish or Catholic children would receive an inferior education because they went to school with only those of their own group, or that they would be ill equipped to function in a multi-religious society as a result of having been “isolated” in their own schools. Indeed, Jewish children were presumed to be “smarter” than non-Jewish children, and education received in a Catholic school was second in quality only to that received by Jews. As a result, even Black folks who wanted the best education for their children, and could afford the tuition, preferred to send their children to Catholic schools. In those days non-Jews could not attend Jewish schools, so that was not an option for Black parents seeking quality education for their children.
Only in the South, and before Brown vs. Board made integration an imperative for Black folks to pursue, did Black children receive an education grounded in knowledge of and commitment to the uplift of their own race. Unlike in the North, the very purpose for educating Blacks in the South was to prepare them to be “a credit to their race.” It should also be noted that in spite of inadequate funding, the quality of education Black students received in segregated southern schools was vastly superior to that given White children. After “Brown,” acceptance into White society replaced racial uplift and advancement as the motivation for Blacks to secure an education. In the decades since “Brown,” education as a means of racial uplift has virtually disappeared from sight. Only the “cries-in-the-dark” from African-centered advocates and educators keeps the hope of racial uplift alive. Today, only Blacks in America have this debilitating, misplaced perception regarding the purpose of education; other ethnic, nationality, racial or religious groupings use education as a means by which they assure the protection and advancement of the interests of their own kind.
Even Integrationists/Assimilationists now acknowledge that education of Black children has deteriorated in the decades since “Brown.” Yet they continue to appeal to White folks to improve the quality of education provided our children. Do they not realize that if the White educational powers-that-be wanted Black children to be educated comparably to their own, they would have done so by now? When will they realize that the present crisis in Black public education was contrived and represents success for our oppressors? We are not down by chance, we have been put down by design.
When White folks promised a “white backlash” against Blacks in retaliation for the forced integration and “racial balancing” brought on by the Brown decision, and followed by insurrections in major American cities, we expected the backlash to take the form of outright violence. It is not the European’s way to react as his enemy expects him to, but rather, to counterattack in ways and places where the opponent least expects him to, or does not recognize as a counterattack. No direct violence the White Supremacists could have directed at Blacks would have been as effective as the subtlety they used in destroying several generations of Black Americans through the public education system. To add insult to injury, they used the very demand we made for integration and racial balancing as the means by which to accomplish their victory. We willingly and aggressively collaborated in our own defeat! We insisted that the White folks take our children under their educational wings, and train them up in the way that they should go; what did we expect to get in return, equality?
Black folks voluntarily abandoned our children to the vagaries and vicissitudes of our known oppressor; even “dumb” animals know better than to do that! Would a Zebra insist that a pride of lions teach young Zebras how to survive and prosper? No! Lions EAT Zebras, and young Zebras are the easiest targets for a meal. Accordingly, racist America devours Black folks, and our youth are most vulnerable to their gluttony. By Nature’s design, adults of any species are responsible for the protection, training, and development of their young; what Black adults did through forced busing and racial balancing was against Nature, and an abomination. As a result, we Black adults owe our own children reparations! How then do we repair the grievous damage done to our children on our watch and within our view? I thought you’d never ask!
Black folks need to take back responsibility for the education and development of our own children, and in so doing, forfeit the pleasure of being able to always blame White folks for doing our children harm. I know that won’t be easy for most of us because old habits are hard to break. It’s also easier to be the critic than the one who has to perform under the critic’s stare. Only Black Nationalists are in a position to rectify the situation, in large part because we have no investment in the status quo. Integrationists/Assimilationists demanded the current situation, so they can only seek reform; Nationalist can seek the total dismantling of the system. But we must be willing and able to replace it with one that can work! Without a doubt, African-centered scholars are the most brilliant thinkers and analysts on the planet. They have produced volumes of material with which an African-centered system of education can be developed. What have been missing are practitioners who are equal to the task at hand. We have a number who qualify, but we are scattered around the country and do not know of each other’s existence or the work each is doing. This must change, and the change must begin here in Cincinnati this week-end. Nationalists who operate African-centered schools must come together and form a network as was advocated by Dr. Chancellor Williams. Nationalist practitioners must then form an alliance with Afrocentric scholars and work together functionally.
The movement by certain elements among White educators to bring about charter schools and vouchers presents opportunities for Nationalist educators to take advantage of; however, we must develop the ability to distinguish the forest from the trees. Anything and everything must be analyzed from the point of view of its potential benefit or harm to Black children and the Black Collective, no matter who initiated the idea. The operative question should be: Will it help or hinder the proper development of our children and the Black Collective? If the considered answer is yes, we go with it; if the answer is no, we pass. It’s that simple.
I advocate that Nationalists make a planned, deliberate, and concerted effort to take over the charter school movement in America as it pertains to Black children, and that we put forth a unified effort to support vouchers for public education. To the extent we can monopolize charters to operate public schools that serve Black children, and get vouchers for the per capita share due our children for their education, to that extent can we rectify the current travesty. This is not to suggest it would be easy, nothing worth doing is; however, the degree of difficulty can be mitigated by the correspondent degree of our commitment to bringing about solutions. Are we men and women, or are we boys and girls? With adequate financial resources Nationalist educators can regain the success our people enjoyed in the South before Brown vs. Board, and build upon that legacy to heights not achieved by our people since the great Nile Valley civilizations!
We also need to consider the economic and business potential of charter schools and vouchers. I have often stated that as Headmaster of the charter school I founded, I experienced the greatest satisfaction every two weeks on payday, when approximately twenty-five (25) families received the livelihood that enabled them to provide food, clothing, and shelter for their loved-ones. Too few Nationalist have succeeded in becoming job-providers, too few of us are employers. As small as our school is, we employ a larger number of Black folk than any other Black employer in Palm Beach County! That should not be the case. In addition, we spread the wealth by using Black vendors to provide needed services whenever and wherever we can. By so doing, we extend the economic impact of our school’s revenue by causing the dollars to turn over several times within our community before leaving. My friend and Brother Taki Raton does an even greater job of this through his Blyden-Delaney Academy in Milwaukee. A charter to operate a public school has the potential to be more valuable than a McDonald’s or Burger King franchise if secured and used wisely, and vouchers represent a potential windfall of revenue for African-centered schools run by private or religious organizations. The potential benefits both educationally and economically of such a network as I propose astounds the imagination! We should be about this business with all deliberate speed.
As Nationalist practitioners develop this proposed network of K-12 schools, our Afrocentric scholars should be collaborating to develop an African-centered university. They need to have a conclave with Black millionaires (and now, Billionaires) to discuss funding such a university and establishing a formidable endowment for it. Our Afrocentric scholars should all be able to devote their efforts exclusively to the education of our own people, and they should not have to play the “academia games” attendant to White institutions of higher learning where most ply their trade presently. We have enough Black millionaires now that it is possible to underwrite the cost of operating such an institution in perpetuity, and our scholars who administer and teach there need never worry about earning an adequate livelihood for themselves and their families.
I call upon Dr. Eric Abercrumbie to use his good offices to call for and facilitate such a conclave. He could compile some preliminary research about how wealthy European and Asian individuals and families of an earlier epoch, provided patronage for intellectually gifted, but financially poor “thinkers” of their day, to develop theories about progress and development. This relationship between wealthy patrons and brilliant thinkers (and artists) accounts for much of the rather rapid rise by Europeans from the bottom to the top of the pyramid of humanity. Let’s match up the Oprahs, Bob Johnsons, Bill Cosbys, Shaquille O’Neals, Puffy Combs, etc., with the Maulana Karengas, Asa Hilliards, Jim Clingmans, Eric Abercrumbies, Molefi Asantes, and Na-im Akbars to name a few, and get on with the business of proving our worth and value as thinking, productive human beings. Let’s do today, the equivalent of what our ancestors did in days of yore. They built the Pyramids, the Sphinx, and Great Zimbabwe; what will we build, and when will we build it? At the very least, let’s start working on it today!
If we cannot do this or are unwilling even to try, then we all need to shut our mouths, pack up our tents, and go home to exist as modern day slaves doing the White masters’ bidding!