Every day in the United States the high number of African-American males who drop out of high school casts a deep shadow across the country's education system.
Educators are desperately seeking answers and approaches before the country loses a generation of young people to a future of poverty, gangs, drugs and violence. The Boys & Girls Club hosted Principal Baruti Kafele, a Milken National Educator and author, Tuesday night at Paul Harding Middle School in a free pubic presentation. A former high school and middle school principal, Kafele shared his approach for turning the system around. He was able to transform four of the roughest gang- and drug-infested neighborhood schools of Newark and East Orange School districts in News Jersey.
He used techniques of engaging and transforming the students by connecting with them from Day One with a motivational lecture about their origins. Instead of laying down a lot of hard-line rules, he talked about their African ancestors' history, starting with the ancient civilizations, showing them their ancestors' accomplishments, long before the slave trade brought their ancestors to the New World.
He told them of the civil rights era and laid out for them what the leaders and followers did to shape this country and their future, and he gave them a choice. They could either be men or they could be the “N” word, because to be man, he told them, they couldn't be both. Overwhelmingly the students chose to be men. Lo and behold the dropout rate declined, as the students chose education so they could be a success in the future.
That's not to say from that moment on they could do it on their own. He made his teachers become leaders and mentors for the students; he transformed the school mission by adding parent involvement as one of the priorities. He made the teachers responsible for contacting the parents and soliciting their support. Because, Kafele said, what the students were learning at school had to be reinforced at home. He created dress-up Monday where all male students were expected to wear a tie and a button-down shirt. If they could not afford it he was able to get money to supply them with the clothing.
In 2011 Kafele quit his job as principal and began to tour the nation to share his methods for motivating black males to achieve in school and in life. Kafele said any doubts he had about leaving a full-time paying job were quickly dispelled; he has been traveling nearly nonstop ever since. His techniques are in demand across the United States.
Young men can be their own worst enemies, Kafele said, noting the 30-second stare-downs in the hallways. Kafele said the students must learn how to talk to one another; they are not enemies. “We are brothers,” Kafele said.