Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

"I Walk a Bit Bigger Now": Lessons from Students in an African-Centered after School Program

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

"I Walk a Bit Bigger Now": Lessons from Students in an African-Centered after School Program

Article excerpt

African (i.e., all people of African descent regardless of ethnicity) students enter school with the same or greater capabilities (Walton & Spencer, 2009) as their counterparts; however, a widely disproportionate number leave disadvantaged and unable to master even basic academic skills and tasks (Wilson, 1992). This failure to attain an adequate education has created a problem of crisis proportions within the African community that carries with it the social and economic wellbeing of the community itself and threatens the very existence of Africans as a people. Conventional reforms are simply inadequate (Gay, 2010); this issue requires more than a "quick fix" and needs urgent attention.

In the Jim Crow South, which extended from the 19th to the end of the 20th centuries, the laws mandated "separate and unequal." The education of African students was not a priority; in fact, many considered Blacks innately inferior to Whites (Bullock, 1967). Understandably, the African community wanted equal opportunities and comparable facilities. They wanted their children to have equal access as citizens in a country that promised the right to liberty, justice, and the pursuit of happiness (Fairclough, 2000). Africans have long considered education as an empowerment tool (Hilliard, 1995, 1999), and every African community in the South predesegregation boasted an educational institution.

One obvious solution lies within the educational system. The traditional Eurocentric education system in the United States has always been problematic for African children. There is an attainable solution: namely, African-centered education, which, simply put, is "viewing the world through the eyes of the African experience" (Carol Lee, personal communication, 2009). This pedagogy uses a holistic approach, grounded in the cultural and historic worldview of Africans as subjects, not objects (Asante, 2003), and its curriculum succeeds in connecting students to the educational process in more viable ways.

Any examination of African people must regard the whole self as the African ethos (Ani, 2006) that speaks to the notion that when considering a person, we must think of them as a whole being (Akbar, 2007). This article introduces an educational framework entitled the Kamili Approach, an African-centered, and holistic method. Here, the whole self is defined as the spiritual, ancestral, mental, physical, and social (interpersonal) self. The study is of a year-long after school program designed for and with urban youth of African descent. Particular focus is paid to the ancestral self and what occurs for a group of students when educators explicitly include Africans as subjects in the development of humanity and history (Browder, 1994; Clark, 1999).

Africa is the most ancient of all land, yet the story of African people often begins in 1619 on a plantation in Virginia. It goes without saying that if Africans only learn about Europe, her philosophies, history, and religious orders, they will "develop an inordinate regard for the selfinterest of European-Americans and inadequate or no regard for themselves to their own self-interest" (Akbar, 2008, p. 35). Modern-day conditions such as mistreatment, dehumanization, and oppression and the onslaught of social, economic, and political injustices are challenging to eradicate when Africans and other races begin the African's story as a story of the desolate "slave" and not a story of the mothers and fathers of humanity, as science (Gibbons, 1994) and history has already proven.


Deconstruction: The Systemic Mis-education of African Children

The global dominance of Western European culture continues through the subconscious and conscious thoughts and behaviors of racial supremacy. Racism has permeated every sphere of life in American society, including education (Bell, 1992, 2001; Crenshaw et al., 1996; LadsonBillings, 1998; Welsing, 1991). Understanding racism in this context helps one to better understand the social and political systems-including education-that serve to continue the status quo of White domination (Marks & Tonso, 2006; Shujaa, 1994; Woodson, 1933). …

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