August 5, 2011 The Oakland Post ran this article:
By Pendarvis Harshaw
(After that minor photo snafu… here is my article)
One pilot class-first time experiment and one fresh Howard graduate take on a shaky school system in the midst of a Black male genocide happening in Oakland, Ca. This past school year the Oakland Unified School District introduced the Nation’s first African American Male Achievement Initiative, which is spearheaded by Chris Chatmon. Three of Oakland’s six public high schools were selected to be a part of this pilot program. The outline to this African American Male Achievement Initiative consisted of seven primary goals: Increasing attendance rates, increasing graduation rates, intensifying middle school holding power, a 4th grade literacy rate goal, to cut incarceration rates in half, to cut suspension rates in half and to decrease the achievement gap. I had 15 weeks to change 15 years of deterioration of the spirit. Before the academia could begin we had to first address the issues that would have inhibited their learning process such as discipline issues, confidence issues, and emotional issues. I brought in a copy of the Oakland Post to the first class I taught. I showed the front-page article that I wrote about Bill Russell meeting President Obama. Accompanying the article was a picture of two of the most well respected Black men on Earth, a powerful image to show a group of disgruntled Black Youth. That same day I asked them: who are you and where do you want to go? These were the questions we as a class searched to answer from there on out. Sure we touched on college, academics, and how to use school as a tool to get out of your current predicament. But nothing got them going like open-ended critical thinking questions. I once asked them, “If you could step out of the door and go anywhere, where would it be and why?” The answers where to heaven, to a videogame, to Canada, to go shopping, to a girl’s house, to Africa to see where my people are from, to sleep, and a young man merely wrote “to a safe place”. The majority of them simply wanted a safe place; and that’s what the “Lion’s lair” classroom was. I am now a proud big brother to 21 young men. Just because classes ended doesn’t mean that the lessons in the classroom stopped. The class is a part of an ongoing process of developing a generation of young men in Oakland, young men with knowledge of self, composure of emotion, and the ability to critically think for themselves. At the end of the day, this was simply about taking young men who are constantly surrounded by death and giving them skills and the inspiration to thrive.
(*Backstory: Joel is my homie from Howard. He was in downtown Oakland the day I went to get the story published. When the people at the Oakland Post found out the Joel was a Howard Grad looking to get into education- they figured they’d do a story on him at a later date, and took a photo of him for good measure…. and they accidentally put his photo with my story. nice. Glad they fixed it tho. Thanks Oakland Post!)