Oakland Schools, Organizations Band Together To Help Black Males Graduate

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By the time they enter kindergarten, 1 out of 4 African-American boys in California expect to never be successful, according to last year’s findings by the state’s Assembly. In response, schools and various organizations in Oakland are focusing their energies to reverse the fortunes of young Black boys and men in the state.

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PBS NewsHour aired a special report on Tuesday focusing on the efforts of American Graduate Project group, which is working to reverse the trend of high school dropouts. As host Gwen Ifill opened the segment, the clip quickly opened with Sizwe Abakah, who teaches the manhood development class at Oakland’s Skyline High School. Abakah is one of a dozen teachers working to help the boys graduate.

“We’re trying to make transformations,” shares Abakah. “A lot of our brothers are failing disproportionately. Like, if we look at the statistics in Oakland, we’re the highest in everything we don’t need to be in.”

This sobering fact was backed up by Junious Williams, CEO of the Urban Strategies Council. “You will see higher rates of dropout, lower rates of graduation, higher rates of chronic absence, higher rates of suspension,” said Williams. Williams’ group joined forces with the Oakland School District, which later spawned the Office of African-American Male Achievement.

“One of the strategies with our manhood-development classes and just getting eye level with the youth is, how do we put kind of the swag back in education, in learning,” said Chris Chatmon, the Office of African-American Male Achievement CEO.

Watch PBSNewsHour’s segment on “Transforming School Experience for African-American Boys” here:

There is also heavy emphasis on working with the younger boys to avert the dropout crisis. The segment switched gears and profiled a charter school not far from Skyline High. The 100 Black Men of the Bay Area Community School’s 75 enrolled students are almost all African American. Dr. Mark Alexander, board chairman of the school, spoke about his devotion to the mission.

“I grew up in very, very tough situations. I used to fight a lot,” said Alexander. “I used to get suspended. And so I see a lot of myself in these boys. And I see the genius in a lot of these kids. I know that it only takes a few people to just give someone the encouragement that they need to really thrive.”

The Office of African-American Male Achievement said that while gains have been made in Oakland and across the state, there are further obstacles to overcome ahead.

Learn more about the American Graduate Project here.

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