Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Afrocentric Education in Supplementary Schools: Paradigm and Practice at the Mary McLeod Bethune Institute

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Afrocentric Education in Supplementary Schools: Paradigm and Practice at the Mary McLeod Bethune Institute

Article excerpt

This article examines the history, philosophy, curriculum, methodology, and operations of the Mary McLeod Bethune Institute (MMBI), an Afrocentric supplementary school located in Los Angeles, California. Qualitative data focusing on MMBI students, parents, and staff, and on the school's relationship with its students' public schools and communities are presented. Based on these data, the author posits that Afrocentric supplementary schools play a critical role in the process of developing socially active, conscious, and capable African American youth. Further, these institutions are shown to be essential for the cultural development and academic support of public- and private-school African American students.


In the late 1960s and early 1970s, community groups in African American neighborhoods across the United States asserted their right to define and establish educational standards for their children. Some groups, such as those in New York City, chose to struggle for community control within public schools (Foster, 1992). Others worked to establish independent institutions outside of public structures (Lomotey, 1992; Ratteray & Shujaa, 1987). These institutions defined educational standards as the achievement of academic excellence exclusively or they stressed both academic excellence and culturally relevant curriculum. In 1989, according to the Institute for Independent Education (IIE) (1990), the 284 independent schools located in predominantly African American neighborhoods throughout the nation were serving approximately 53,000 African American students, or 7.9% of the total African American public school enrollment of 6.7 million.

The progenitors of the independent Afrocentric community schools movement of the 1960s and 1970s argued that two elements were central to the creation and sustenance of these schools: institutional autonomy and an Afrocentric perspective. Institutional autonomy was seen as a means of ensuring the development of a liberatory pedagogy within African American communities (King, 1994; Lee, 1994; Ratteray & Shujaa, 1987). Accordingly, the schools' founders and finances were to come from the communities in which they were located. Moreover, autonomy was to be represented in these institutions' oppositional stances to dominant Eurocentric ideology and their ability to offer an alternative value system that is responsive and responding to the cultural and spiritual ethos of people of African ancestry. This emphasis on Afrocentrism was based on the premise that such a world view would offer a "method of thought and practice rooted in the cultural image and human interests of African people" (Karenga, 1995, p. 45).

Six such independent Afrocentric community schools were established in African American communities in California during this period: the Nairobi Day School, founded in East Palo Alto in 1966; the Afro-American School of Culture, founded in Los Angeles in 1967; Omowale Ujamaa of Pasadena, founded in 1973; the Winnie Mandela Children's Learning Village, established in Compton in 1973; the Marcus Garvey School of Los Angeles, founded in 1975; and Uhuru Shule, founded in Los Angeles in 1978 (Council of Independent Black Institutions [CIBI], 1996). Of these six, only four remain in operation today. The Nairobi Day School operated as a supplementary school from 1966 through 1969, when it expanded its program to a full-time school until closing in 1984 (Hoover, 1992). The Afro-American School of Culture also underwent numerous transformations, beginning as a supplementary school in 1967 and later expanding to a full-time format in 1971 under the name of Kawaida Educational and Development Center (Kifano, 1992). Four years later, Kawaida closed, only to reemerge as a independent Afrocentric supplementary school under the name of the Mary McLeod Bethune Institute (MMBI).

As the experience of these and other schools bears out, the costs of establishing and sustaining full-time independent schools are great (Dixon, 1994; IIE, 1988, 1991; Kifano, 1992). …

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