On July 11-13, over 100 Black men met in Atlanta to talk about their role in education reform. This reflection comes from Ahmed H. Ahmed, a Metro Atlanta staff member who helped to plan the event.
Head down. Eyes closed. Disinterested. Disengaged.
Anyone who has spent any time in the classroom has experienced this phenomenon with children. It is hard not to interpret these actions as representative of the students' feelings about education—an interpretation that admittedly led me to infer some dangerous ‘truths’ about my classes of all-Black children. “Truths” that they were incapable, unwilling and didn’t care about their futures. The funny thing about accepting something as a truth is that once you do, you begin to actively collect evidence to reinforce it. This new truth becomes a narrative and soon that narrative takes on a life of its own. Any child whose actions coincided with the evidence of disengagement I collected further altered the lens through which I saw those students. The greatest irony lies in the fact that I assumed the same deficit-oriented lens through which society perceived me my entire life. This lens is also the same lens through which society views Black men as a collective.
This was my experience as a Black man in this work. Whenever I looked at the state of our role in this movement, it was hard not to internalize that hopelessness. It shames me to admit that despite the occasional glimpses of hope I had difficulty seeing beyond the statistics into the potential that lived beneath the narrative of disinterest and disengagement. Injections of hope to counter this narrative were so few and far between that I reached a point where I had all but given up on the far-fetched notion of “profound additional impact”. I know that many of my fellow Black male colleagues felt similarly. Subconsciously, I wrote off the role of Black men in this work in much the same way that I wrote off some of the children in my classroom.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that in doing so, I also wrote myself off.
Then The Convening happened. On July 11-13 in Atlanta, over 100 Black male corps members, staff, and alumni gathered to discuss our collective work in this movement. We discussed our leadership, engaged with the problems we faced, and committed ourselves to pursuing solutions. Dr. Howard Fuller, Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu, and Dr. Roy Jones—Black male pioneers in education reform—challenged us to embrace our roles and solidify our collective charge. There were moments of tension, controversy, and frustration that challenged us; moments of realization, moments of obligation, and moments of pride that united us.
Photo provided by Ahmed Ahmed