Cultural center will help educate black students


Published: Thursday, January 31, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 30, 2008 at 4:17 p.m.

Recently, I was invited to be a part of a "charrette," an intensive planning session where citizens and other groups collaborate on a vision for improvement/development.

This charrette focused on education. A panel of participants talked about the best practices in education as it pertained to African-American children.

Many ideas were exchanged on how we can close the achievement gap with our children. The session produced a collection of questions to the panel about the role of Alachua County Public Schools and the infusion of African-American History.

Dr. Charles Hall, director of Title 1 and dropout prevention, presented the graduation rate, or the lack of African-American students completing high school. Beverly Finley, supervisor of instructional personnel, talked about recruitment issues and what is being done to attract minority teachers.

However, the overall discussion seemed to be centered on reinforcement for our children in the schools. In my assessment of the district's involvement, I think we are doing a very good job of providing the most qualified teachers to educate our children.

The opportunities for children to excel are there and available to all children. We recognize that we are not perfect, but there continues to be self-assessments to improve what we are doing.

Is it enough? You decide.

As I mentioned during the charrette, I believe the efforts must be a team approach and that parents, community and schools must be involved to close the achievement gap for our students.

In my comments, I see that much can be done from the community aspect. I mentioned that the African-American community needs an ‘‘African American Culture Center.’’

As we look around other communities in this city, as well as other cities, ethnic groups have these centers for the purpose of training their children and educating them beyond the school setting to learn more about their culture. The cultural center would serve as an extension of what once was, what is, and what is in the future.

These centers seem to provide a sense of belonging and sense of community. It is a place of refuge, advance enlightenment, an appreciation of the history of its people, and it is a place to explore new territory beyond our sites.

In other words, this could be a place of cultural anthropology, where language, laws, politics, the arts and technology are discussed to improve a group or oneself.

The old African proverb that says "It takes a village to raise a child" is a reality that constitutes action on the part of its own citizens within their community. In order to understand one's roots and gain an appreciation for the historical and cultural awareness in which we desire to pass on to our youth, there must be a proper environment and setting for such experiences to be shared.

Our elders as village counselors, political leaders, ministers and guardians of our youth owe it to our children to provide a hub for connecting our children to their heritage. The concept of a cultural center is not a newfound idea; it has been rooted and established throughout American culture as part of our melting pot framework.

As we envision such a place, I can see great benefits for the next generation of African Americans in Alachua County. For school-aged children, such a center could serve as a place to study African-American history. Learning about people of color who have made contributions to this city, state and country is a must.

It is my belief that we should hold ourselves accountable for educating our children of the history we desire to pass on.

The schools provide a textbook approach to the history being taught to our children, but there are lessons in history that we should teach our children ourselves through shared experiences. The cultural center will provide the proper setting for such history to be taught and enjoyed.

My parents always taught me that if you put your mind to something, you can really achieve any task you desire to complete. I believe that African Americans can accomplish goals that we set for ourselves just like all other groups in America.

A challenge for this community would be to embrace the idea of an ‘‘African American Cultural Center.’’ This project would be an investment that will have huge returns.

As I think through some of the logistics of such a venture, many questions come to my mind. Am I thinking of a new structure? Yes! How do we get the funds for such a project? Private donations in the form of pledges from all of the African-American churches with a minimum contribution of $20,000 in a two-year period.

And who would govern the center? A board of directors made up of community leaders and friends of the center. Who would be responsible for the management and operations of the center? The citizens of this community will be the primary persons responsible.

The questions are ongoing in my mind, but with the right resources, this is a real attainable goal for us. Certainly, there are many issues and concerns about the operation of such a center, but there should not be any question about the function of such a place.

The overall benefits for African Americans in this community have been outlined. I hope the readers will romance this vision for our children and community and understand that this place can be a viable place to host exhibits, feel and touch cultural artifacts, produce small recitals and engage in community theater.

The cultural center is the missing link that we have so desperately needed in our lives. The center would be a small investment for a lifetime of learning. It is time we assume self-responsibility for a very worthy endeavor.

The ball is in our court. How are we going to respond?

Philoron Wright is assistant to the superintendent of community and schools for Alachua County Public Schools.

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