Chris Fleming, Black Male Achievement Coordinator at Henry explained the urgency for linking 310 of the school’s Black male students to 112 Black male professionals at the annual seminar on college, career and life readiness, 100 Black Men Strong, on January 13. Fleming said, “The Netflix documentary 13th shows that African Americans make up 6.5 percent of the U.S. population, but 44 percent of the prison population. That means one out of three African American men are serving time at some point in their lives.”
Henry Principal Yusuf Abdullah sees the enduring strength of this union of youth and caring adults as a spark. He said, “Our Black young men are telling us what they need—our Black men need to feel that sense of purpose in delivering on whatever is necessary to address those needs. The spark also draws our students into International Baccalaureate and college readiness courses, and other opportunities for success in the community.”
Abdullah has organized responses/strategies offered by students, for schools and communities to end the ‘School to Prison Pipeline’, a theme of one of the day’s five sessions. Abdullah specifically read out loud student statements directed to readers of the Camden News and the overall Northside community:
*look out for each other and treat each child as your own
*support students of color from harsh punishments
*encourage and support engaged fatherhood
*spark older kids and adults as teachers
*provide more recreation centers
*help students with home problems
*keep Black youth in positive groups and not in gangs and avoid police brutality
*show the world that we can do it!
Other session topics included: Black on Black Crime, Criminal Justice System/Prison Pipeline, Relationships, and Stereotypes of Hip Hop/Black Families. Abdullah believes teachers will resonate with the insightful responses of students to session discussions and strengthen teaming efforts to reduce the school’s own achievement inequities.
One of the 112 Black Men Strong was Henry alum, Malik Day, class of 2013. He is currently enrolled in the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota. This past summer he completed an internship on Wall Street. He will graduate in 2018 and plans a career in investment banking.
Day’s high school experience began with fights, lots of them, and brief enrollments at two other schools before settling in at Henry. “I hated school and I hated homework,” Day told the entire assembly of students and men, “But an English teacher here named Ms. Lockhart opened up my mind, and other staff like Quinton Bonds, Henry’s School Family and Community Engagement Coordinator, gave me direction on where I could go with my future.”
Day began working 35 hours per week with two different jobs. He started each day at 4:30 a.m. by doing homework until he left for school and then often worked the 4-11 shift after school. Day’s efforts resulted in a 3.6 grade point average and a full ride to the University of Minnesota. Day explained to students, “We have the ambition, but we don’t have direction.” He added that direction could best be found by: talking to teachers; increasing grade point average; engaging in community service; and staying on the straight and narrow.
James Cole Jr., Deputy Secretary of U.S. Department of Education and My Brother’s Keeper Initiative, proudly announced in his keynote address, “There are 1,000,000 more African American and Latinos enrolled in colleges and universities since President Obama took office. Don’t be afraid to dream!” Cole’s tenure at the Department of Education will end soon after the President Elect is inaugurated, one of a fleet of Washington staff that are victims of political patronage. He also reiterated the message of Malik Day, stressing, “Relationships matter!”
The event’s activities ended with photographs, and T-shirts and backpacks for each student. The Northside Achievement Zone sponsored the T-shirts and the Minneapolis Public Schools Department of Career and College sponsored backpacks. All participants also left with the rationale for the event and continued such events in the words of spoken word artist Alex Leonard, also a Dean of Students at Henry and Equity Lead Teacher. In his original rendition of I Am the Future! he stated, “In the absence of guidance, sometimes you get violence.”