advanced placement courses African American boys Brooklyn education

Not Genetic, It’s Systemic

In talking about the fact that more black boys receive GED’s from prison than graduate from college, educational consultant and author Jawanzaa Kunjufu says, “It’s not genetic, its systemic.”

Consider this: One predominantly African American high school in Brooklyn has managed to get 85% of its graduating class on the track for college. The principal of this school is an African American male educator with deep ties to the community. He and his staff are frequently still at school at 8:00 PM in the evenings — working to create the kind of school community where all kids are recognized, affirmed, challenged and given a solid education. We know that one of the best indicators that a black male will go to college and do well is whether he has had Advanced Placement courses in high school. This school had 10 such classes for its students.

Because of recent education budget cuts, this school also had to cut its Advanced Placement classes.

In the same community, we have “suspension programs” where students who have been suspended from school go during the course of their suspension. Teachers who lead these programs are often frustrated because a student can come in on the first day of the school year, the 30th day, the 50th day — any day. In fact students trickle into the class throughout the year. How is this “class” to be taught? How effective are suspension programs in getting students back into the classrooms where they can best be taught? Is that even one of the goals of the program?

I have many questions about whether we are serving the best interests of our children in suspension programs. Many, many questions. Are they receiving counseling? Are their families receiving support? Is there a plan for their future? Is there even a plan to get them back into the classroom successfully?

Our system will guarantee funding for a suspension program with all of its inherent questions. Our system will not guarantee funding for an Advanced Placement program in poor black communities, even though it answers one of the most pressing questions of our time: how do we prepare more African American boys for college?

Kunjufu is right. It’s not genetic, it’s systemic.

African American boys, Latino boys, poor children — they are the collatoral damage of budget cutting exercises. At the end of the day, a dollar is saved. Yet, another child loses. We lose. The future loses.

Proverbs 22:6 (KJV) says, “train up a child in the way he should go; when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Eugene Peterson’s The Message Translation of Proverbs 22:6 says, “point your kids kids in the right direction – when they are old, they won’t be lost. What our systems are doing (unintentionally and blindly) is training and pointing children toward prison. Is that where we want them to go?

To educate yourself about this issue — go to the Children’s Defense Fund’s website and read about the Children’s Defense Fund’s Cradle to Prison Pipeline(R) Campaign.

health sexuality education teen girls

We Need Some Body Sense

Published: March 12, 2008
Rates are particularly high among young African-Americans, according to new federal data.

Here are three things we must do right now:

1. Insist on that young people receive age-appropriate but comprehensive health and sexuality education. The abstinence only education movement has failed miserably and our children are paying high prices.

2. Pull our heads out of the sand. Our children live in an incredibly sexualized culture. If we don’t help them to discern what is going on, help them to navigate through the quagmire, and help them to learn to think before they act, they MAY figure it out on their own, but it also MAY be too late. And they will certainly and rightfully never trust those of us who could have spoken truth to them ever again.

3. Refuse to allow right wing people and left wing people to — and middle-of-the-road-don’t-know-what-they-think-people determine whether our children will learn what they need to learn about keeping their bodies healthy and avoiding unnecessary risks. Stop waiting for permission to teach the young people in your life the clinical facts about reproduction, sexually transmitted diseases, bodily functions, etc.

Finally, maybe black girls are at risk because black women are still at risk? Until Black women become proactive about their own health — and prepare and assign themselves to be the primary sexuality educator for the girls in their lives, our girls will continue to show up on the front pages of newspapers as statistical headlines.

Come on sisters, do you know how to prevent yourself from contracting a sexually transmitted disease?

child abuse children God

My God, My God, Why…..?

A friend sent a newspaper clipping to me last week and it utterly bowled me over. An 11 year old girl in the midwest has given birth to a baby. Apparently, she has been raped by her mother’s “boyfriend.” Family and friends knew of the abuse…and when the police did the DNA testing and determined who the father of the baby was, they did not have far to look: he was still in the mother’s house.

Incredible abandonment.

Incredible cruelty.


I have not yet been able to move from “My God, my God, why….” to “now that this has happened, here is what we shall do.” I’m working on that — but I’m not there yet.

My prayer is an old on…”Lord, I believe…help my unbelief.”

Anything I would write now would be driven by my doubts, my despair over what I read. My prayer is to be a help to people who will be called to walk with this little girl. Pray for those who must step into the gap for her — we all need to move through this moment but first — let’s just face the facts.

Incredible abandonment.

Incredible cruelty.

And it happens everyday to thousands of children in our own midst who often give up on the adults around them, give up on hoping that we will be adults and protect them from the edges.
We have given our children so many reasons to never trust us again. That they do is amazing and a gift from God.

Today — intentionally look into the faces of the children around you.

Look for the signs.

Look into their eyes.

Look at them.

And fix your face so that they will not be afraid to look at you, come to you, trust in you, tell you what’s going on.

My, God, my God….of course, God does know all about this. His own child hung on a cross screaming these exact same words.

The hope for this child, the hope for all of us is that we will come to know that these are not the last words. Despair does not have the last word. Because of what God’s child did on the cross, the last word has to be a word of word of triumph and hope.


Black women God Rachel youth

What are We Doing?

A few years ago, I recieved an invitation to preach for a women’s retreat. I love ministering to women. I love the church. And I appreciate any and every opportunity I get to gather with sisters and “get away.” But there was something about this invitation that just really turned my stomach.

Maybe it was because the invitation came to me about 6 weeks after Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana and the Gulf Coast.

Maybe it was because I just couldn’t get the pictures of those children, our children, so incredibly abandoned by the richest country in the world out of my head.

Maybe it was because I knew that the very paper the invitation was printed on cost so much more than what many are willing to give to make a difference in our communities.

I don’t know. That invitation sickened me like none other. And then it hit me: one of the things that structural evil depends on is for women of faith to be preparing for retreats, spa days, getaways and the like. While we are “retreating” our children are being incredibly abandoned. Our retreats don’t even have to be like the much criticized “mega-fest” conferences of which hopefully, many people are sick and tired and done with.

We retreat in little ways every day.

  • Refusing to speak up when a child is being mistreated because “that’s not my child” and “I’m tired.”
  • Refusing to speak up when resources for after school programs, child care, pre-K are scare in our communities.
  • Refusing to speak up and hold our own community institutions accountable for quality and thoughtfulness, not just just cultural competence.
  • Refusing to step in when a young woman is obviously over-tired and overwhelmed and dangerously on the edge of abusing her child.

We have retreated, gone off to focus on “our own.”

Don’t get me wrong. I believe in the power of the retreat. Jesus retreated often. He took a day here, a morning there to get away from the press of the crowd. But his getting away was not about forgetting. He retreated to commune with God and came back with power for the people. When many of us come back from these retreats and conferences, we come back with empty wallets and purses, disembodied praise DVD’s — and no power to do anything that will make the difference for people who are still hungry for a word from God.

So, I did something with that invitation to preach at that women’s retreat that I rarely do if I can help it: I declined. I did my own hair and nails and bought a new pair of pantyhose. And then I spent the weekend just being “present” with the children in my church — affirming those who needed encouragement, buying new toiletries to give to growing young women, providing an ear and a shoulder and transportation home for a grandmother who is raising her children’s children. I also started doing research about how the children and families in my church’s neighborhood experienced life in that neighborhood.

You can’t change what you don’t know…and I want to know.


A Voice in Ramah…not bought; not satisfied and not consoled until all of God’s children, Rachel’s children (Matthew 2:18), my children see abundant, God-filled life.