The dozen African-American ninth-graders who clattered into a sun-infused classroom at Patrick Henry High School on a recent Monday afternoon divided themselves into two rough groups: a row of class clowns and one of angry faces.
Textbooks thudded loudly onto desks arrayed in a large rectangle. On the sullen side of the room, two students immediately put their heads down on crossed forearms. No one looked at the out-of-town visitor.
Executive Director of the Office of African American Male Achievement for Oakland Unified School District Chris Chatmon introduced himself and asked if anyone knew where Oakland is. In return, he got wary stares.
Chatmon was in town at the invitation of Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) to meet with the students and with teachers and district leaders who have committed to launching an effort modeled in part on the lauded California initiative to advocate in a new way for both districts’ most poorly served group. His visit was paid for by a local philanthropic group, the Doorstep Foundation.
The same group of MPS leaders who invited Chatmon to come describe Oakland’s work last week returned from a conference in Mississippi. There, they heard from the Council of Schools Educating Boys of Color and talked about President Barack Obama’s recently announced initiative, My Brother’s Keeper.
Overnight Obama’s announcement catapulted Chatmon to the forefront of a national movement that’s easier to depict than to describe. To wit:
One of the first things Chatmon did when he was tapped four years ago was to start interviewing students. In terms of the indicators, black boys were dead last on virtually every one, particularly literacy. Clearly, the Oakland Unified School District was failing them, but what was their experience? How did school feel to them?
Source: Minneapolis Post | Beth Hawkins