LARRY MCDANIEL: Renew promise for young African-Americans


Published: Sunday, January 13, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 12, 2008 at 12:00 a.m.

On Jan. 19 at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center the African-American Accountability Alliance, Martin Luther King, Jr. Commission of Florida, and Focus On Leadership will conduct a community charette titled "MORE." It stands for Mastering Opportunities Recreating Education.

The charette is designed to work with the School Board and community on a strategic plan to address the underachievement of African-American students. We hope to create the initial stages of a community plan to recreate educational opportunities for African-American students.

The education of African-American children in our school system stands the greatest chance for enhancement through the strategic involvement of the African-American community. It is our duty and our responsibility to assure a quality education for our children. In our school system only 47 percent of African-American students end up earning a high school diploma (and even fewer African-American males). In a community that hosts the University of Florida, this is totally unacceptable.

There certainly is enough blame to pass around, but we as people of color have chosen to step up and be productive in resolving issues contributing to this crisis. There are storms brewing throughout our community, most recently involving the potential reassignment of students from the prestigious areas of Haile Plantation to schools located on the eastern fringes of our city. As citizens we are concerned about underachieving schools and students.

We often discuss the Plan East Gainesville Initiative to improve economic opportunity. But it will not be effective if potential homeowners do not have confidence in the schools their children will be attending. We must remove the perception that if a school is located past the 13th Street corridor it offers a subquality standard of education.

There is a perception within the education community that the primary concern of most African-American leaders is the teaching of African-American history. I would argue that if Johnny cannot read, it doesn't matter what curriculum base is used for teaching any kind of history.

However, to have a healthy sense of belonging one must have a sense of their past, including the failures and successes. As a people we realize most of the African-American experience has been marginalized by omission or commission by school systems across the country. Many scholars argue that students of our race benefit from knowing there is a place in our society besides the athletic arena and the music industry for the young, gifted and black.

One must consider, as we migrate to the neighborhood school concept, that schools inherently become more segregated. Segregation of schools can indirectly contribute to an unhealthy educational environment. The failure to recruit and obtain the most qualified faculty inhibits quality learning.

Many school boards provide additional incentives for faculty recruitment to under-achieving schools in predominately minority areas. The Alachua County school system has done an effective job of creating magnet programs to attract a more diverse cross section of the community to schools that normally have an extremely low ratio of non-African-American students.

We realize we must seize opportunities to recreate the educational environment for African-American students. We must overcome obstacles by creating a working agenda with the School Board. We must find ways to rewards our children for academic Excellence much as rewards are given for athletic achievement. Johnny may be rewarded for gaining 2,000 yards or scoring 1,000 points, but if his academics are not in order he will not be able to enter an institution for higher learning.

One of the presenters at the conference will discuss the national issue of race and gender specific education that is being conducted in the Memphis, Tenn. area. The issue is simple in concept and controversial in application. One of the primary premises is to create an environment that foster self esteem, recognition of African-Americans historical contributions to our country, and creation of a place in which it is totally acceptable to be young, gifted and black.

Join us in creating a strategic plan for enhancing the educational opportunities for African-American students and improving their academic performance.

Larry McDaniel is vice chair of the African-American Accountability Alliance of Alachua County. For more information or reservations contact him at lmcde8@yahoo.com. The workshop is limited to 150 participants.

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