Anthony Asadullah Samad
*My friend, Tavis Smiley, has a new documentary out the plight of the black male in America. It’s a subject that has been part of the intellectual and academic discourse for the past decade. For the last five years, it has been the number one issue in public education. For the past four years, it has been a subject of intense fight in Tavis’ own backyard, Los Angeles, who has the worst large school district in the nation. We certainly would welcome a voice like Tavis Smiley to this discussion.
Hopefully, it’s just not his “documentary of the quarter” subject, as a convenient pivot away from the more sore subject of his perpetual Obama-bashing. Even if it is, it’s a great pivot. No one can certainly accuse Tavis of “public education hatin’.” We’re all on that tip. Nor can he be accused of making issue where there is none. The failure of black boys and the intentional funneling of black boys into the criminal justice system are legitimate issues that are only getting worse. In fact, it has been an issue that I’ve been intimately involved in for…hmmm, about ten years. I’ve written over a dozen commentaries on it. I’ve hosted four Urban Issues Forums on it over the past five years. I’ve visited three cities where single gender school models for black males are succeeding and raised over $200,000 for a local male mentoring program within walking distance of Tavis’ office that should be all males academy. I’ve also come the closest to opening a black male academy. We (100 Black Men) thought we had one this year, until Dick Riordan fired Caprice Young over at ICEF. So, this is an issue that we could probably work together on. Here’s why;
Black male academies are a roughly ten year phenomenon that has succeeded in nearly every urban city that has given it a chance; New York, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Dallas, Memphis. Where black academies have been given a chance, black males have succeeded in both their high school graduation rates and their college admission attrition. We know the model works and can be replicated. The data supports it, due to landmark studies on black male education success for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. We presented Dr. Ivory Toldson and his studies three years ago and many in attendance were LAUSD employees and administrators. He’s hot now and is considered one of the foremost scholars on black male education. The point here is that for five years, we have been trying to introduce this concept into Los Angeles. To no avail. Maybe Tavis can get Los Angeles to do something about its black school aged males.
I know “accountability” is Tavis’ thing so let help him understand who’s accountable for Los Angeles not having a single gender school for black males. Before I do, let me help educate him a minute on the “Race To The Top” initiative that the Obama administration started (that he took a dig at—but he ain’t anti-Obama). “Race To The Top” replaced No Child Left Behind as the national education initiative. No Child Left Behind put accountability, Tavis’ favorite word, on schools to raise national test scores. Instead of teaching our children, they taught to the test. Students that couldn’t pass the test just dropped out of school. So they were in fact left behind. Do you know who was the most “left behind?” You got it, black males.
What President Obama was not going to do was continue to reward failing education and failing public schools, but he put more money in alternative (and proven) education models that will produce results for our children. Single gender schools, or black male academies, was one such model. Obama, by the way, put more money in alternative education than any other President—I know Tavis don’t want to hear it—but it’s true. When California applied for the Race To The Top Money, do you know who was the first in line? Big, dysfunctional ass LAUSD looking to use Race To The Top Money to supplement school budget shortfalls.
The Public School Choice Initiative that the people voted for has been a JOKE. The Latino community has gotten five (or six) charter schools to model success in their communities (largely the eastside). How money do you think the black community has gotten? Take a wild guess. That’s right…ZERO. Now back to the accountability conversation, Tavis should roll his cameras up to LAUSD School Board President, Monica Garcia’s office, and put her on blast like he put Obama on blast. He’d have legitimate reason.
The former LAUSD Superintendent, David Brewer, left a whole plan for black males that has NOT been implemented. After his buyout, I met with Garcia, along with Urban League President, Blair Taylor, and National NAACP Board member, Willis Edwards, to ask that the Brewer plan be implemented. Her response to us was, “What’s the Brewer plan?” Once we informed her, she promised to get back to in two weeks. That’s been more than two years ago.
The sentiment is high for black male schools now. School board member Marquarite LaMottte is now for it. I heard even deputy superintendent, George McKenna, might be for it now. These are the folk that need to be held accountable to make it happen. Even the shadow Governor of the Los Angeles School Board, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, participated in a recent panel discussion on black males, which Dr. Ivory Toldson also presented data. The time is right to get a black male academy in Los Angeles. Even though the public school choice initiative is still feeding failing schools in South Los Angeles to the “big box” profiteers (Green Dot, Edison Learning), a huge “spotlight” on this disingenuous process is just what L.A. needs.
So I welcome Tavis Smiley to the state of the black male conversation. I believe the best way to effectuate this issue is to start in your own backyard. Where we don’t have his back on his Obama criticisms, but we’d definitely have his back on this. If he are indeed sincere about the issue, not just promoting the documentary special on PBS. Young black males do no Tavis’ voice…and his advocacy for “accountable government.”
Let’s see how we can move forward. Hopefully it’s more than just a pivot move.
Anthony Asadullah Samad, Ph.D., is a national columnist, managing director of the Urban Issues Forum (www.urbanissuesforum.com) and author of the upcoming book, REAL EYEZ: Race, Reality and Politics in 21st Century Popular Culture. He can be reached at www.AnthonySamad.com or on Twitter at @dranthonysamad.