“Black Youth Rises From the Ashes”

August 5, 2011 The Oakland Post ran this article:

(http://content.postnewsgroup.com/?p=14170 )

By Pendarvis Harshaw

Joel. Not me.  
Joel. Not me.



Me. Not Joel.
Me. Not Joel.

(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!)

The Corner Stoe & The School.

I had to ask the question: “what is the healthiest, most fulfilling meal you can find at a corner stoe?”

The conversation that ensued: dietary habits and how they influence behavior… might be the focal point in understanding how to teach these young men and women in the classroom.

I was at the “Elev8 Family Engagement” event, a round table discussion where matters of mental and physical health were the topics on the table.  The meeting was held in a classroom at Roots Middle school, one of five schools on Havenscourt’s campus on 66th and E. 14th in East Oakland.

The Lockers in Roots Middle School are all sprayed with graffiti.

My question came at the tail end of a presentation by Michael E. Shaw, Director of the Urban Male Health Initiative.  And just prior to a presentation by Christopher P. Chatmon, Executive Director of the African-American Male Initiative at Oakland Unified School District.

There were about 20 people in the room that afternoon; the attendees: single mothers, their children, two presenters, the event host, and myself.

My question, which was initially posed to Mr. Michael Shaw, the expert on urban health, was quickly rerouted to address the entire room. Host, Gaylon Logan took my question, and asked the youth in the room, what they thought was the healthiest, most fulfilling item in a corner stoe. “Water”, one juvenile remarked.

After a laugh, I told the room that I eat trail mix, peanuts, and orange juice from the corner stoe.

The room laughed again.

Then, loud enough for the room to hear, but still under his breath,  one of the youth remarked “we don’t have trail mix where im from”.

Another laugh erupted.

I changed my question: “If you only had $3.00 to spend, and you had to buy something fulfilling from the corner stoe, what would it be?”

“chocolate. chocolate. and chocolate”, said one girl, halfway joking, halfway serious.

“Chips, soda, and candy.”, said a younger boy… others in the room agreed.

And then the conversation halted. No laughing this time, the event’s host took the reigns of the convo, and simply asked the mothers: “do you go to these corner stoe’s ? did you know that this is what they are spending their money on?”

“no’s” and head shakes confirming the “no’s” ran rampant through the room.

Mr. Logan, made light of this finding and suggested that the parents investigate the corner stoe in their community and the type of food it serves…

However, my question has yet to be answered: what is healthiest thing you can find at a corner stoe? is there anything that will fill you up for $3.00 ?