Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

Leadership from the Inside Out

Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

Leadership from the Inside Out

Article excerpt

Leadership is not a person or a position. It is a complex moral relationship between people, based on trust, obligation, commitment, emotion, and a shared vision of the good. (Cuilla, xv) 

Educating black and brown students in urban centers continues to be a challenge for educational leaders in the United States. For the past 50 years, research in the field has shed light on the injustices and inequities that plague educational structures, the training of educational professionals and the lack of community partnerships, as just a few of the ills that educators have not been able to overcome. Demographically, the population in US schools has shifted (and continues to do so), while the number of educators of color continues to lag far behind that of white educators (Lomotey, 2015). Research shows that it is increasingly hard to recruit African Americans, in particular, into the teaching profession. White teachers often find that they have not been adequately prepared to work in urban school districts. Leadership is not much better. Educational leaders continue to search for the magical silver bullets that solve testing issues, school choice dilemmas, discipline challenges, and generational poverty. In the introduction to African American Perspectives on Leadership in Schools, Foster and Tilman (2009) remind us that "African American school leadership is an under-researched, underdeveloped, and undervalued topic in the discourse on school administration and leadership" (p. 1). One could argue the same is true for leadership in community organizations that serve schools during in and out of school time (Gallagher et. al., 2012).

This work highlights DeVon (Von) Madden, the founder and leader behind Shadow Student Athletes, a non-profit in a city that has succeeded where many other post-industrial cities have floundered. The work is rendered in a stream of consciousness and is, at its core, a story of a community centric leader who uses football as the entryway into urban schools. Von tells his leadership story to Gretchen Givens Generett, a university professor and partner, by identifying the barriers he has overcome, the passion he has that fuels his leadership, and the love he has for the young people in his community. Finally, this work is a story about an African American man who returned to his home community and uses his brand of leadership and community engagement to reach, teach, and support urban youth.

The Context: The Organization in the most "Livable City"

Shadow Student Athletes (SSA) is a character coaching non-profit that works in schools to support the behaviors of young people in their learning environments. SSA works with students in grades 5-12 who have either self-referred or were selected by their administrators for mediations, interventions, mentoring, or group sessions. Mediations are sessions involving two or more students where the goal is to settle a conflict through verbal means. Interventions are sessions where the goal is to solve an immediate behavioral problem through dialogue with a "character coach" or SSA staff member. Mentoring is a regularly scheduled, one-on-one session between a student and his or her assigned character coach where the student's behavior and future goals are discussed. Finally, groups are sessions involving multiple students where a coach presents a lesson of their choice depending on the groups' needs. The main objective of SA is to effect transformative change in students by changing the way students think, feel, and act in a positive way. SSA serves 500 students and has eight employees.

SSA is located in a mid-western city that is high on the list of "Comeback Cities. " It is ranked high on the list of "Comeback Cities" because of its institutions of higher education, healthcare, and technology (Bruner, 2012). It is also highly ranked as a "smart" city, where the number of "universities and libraries per person, education level, museums and media per person, and public school rankings" have potential to advantage the populace and better prepare them for 21st century, post-industrial employment (PM Staff, 2013). …

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