After a year of social unrest centered particularly around the killings of Black men and boys across this country, I find myself pondering what role, if any, Black male educational leaders play in preparing Black boys for what is happening to them and for what they are doing to each other? These questions came to light for me after the unrest in Baltimore, which appeared to hit a high when the youths of Baltimore expressed their dissatisfaction with the murder of Freddie Gray by setting the community ablaze.
First, I wondered: where were the Black male educational leaders in Baltimore when the unrest was occurring? What strategies, if any, did they implement to address the unrest with the children? If they took specific actions, might it be helpful for other communities to know what they did? We know from media accounts that grassroots individuals, parents, politicians, and clergy took to the streets to quiet the storm.
What happened when the children returned to school? Were teachers trained to lead discussions about the conditions that led to the unrest? Was there a curriculum provided to teachers to plan appropriate lessons? Did the teachers believe they were ready and able to discuss race vis-à-vis murder and unrest?
Looking at Ferguson, Chicago, Milwaukee, Brooklyn, Staten Island, Phoenix, North Charleston, and Cleveland made me think about Black male leadership in education in New York State (NYS) and New York City (NYC). I know from personal experience as a twenty-five-year urban school educator in NYC that educators are not prepared or trained to discuss race, riots, or unrest related to killings of Black men and boys.
Are Black male educational leaders in NYS and NYC, if they exist to any significant degree, responsible for initiating training for teachers’ vis-à-vis writing curriculums and leading discussions that center on race and poverty? Would Black male educational leaders be prepared to engage with urban youths if the unrest experienced in Baltimore occurred in any major city in New York? Does it matter whether Black men are involved in the highest level of educational leadership in NYS and NYC?
Where is Black male leadership in NYS and NYC public education? Does any evidence exist that having Black men at the table matters when public education is discussed and when policies, standards, curriculums and assessments are written, particularly related to racial and social conditions that may lead to organized and unorganized protests?
Does it matter whether Black men are involved at the highest levels of public education in New York? Does it matter to the governor of New York, the mayor of NYC, or the chancellor of NYC’s public schools? Does it matter to you?
Do any Black men currently sit on NYS Governor Andrew Cuomo’s education leadership team? I believe NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio has one on his school leadership team. Does NYC Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina have any? Does it matter?
What difference, if any, does it make having Black men engaged at the highest levels of leadership in public education? Should Black men have a role in writing education policy and curriculums? Should Black men be involved in the school-choice debate in New York? Should Black men have a role in deciding how to spend billions of dollars on education in New York? Should Black men decide which community-based organizations are given contracts to work with children and families, particularly related to social conditions that lead to violence? Does it matter?
Does the absence of Black men at the highest levels of education leadership affect the quality of education for Black boys, in particular? What message, if any, does the absence of Black men send to Black boys about their futures? This rang loudly for me as I watched the media accounts of the unrest in Baltimore.
As we undergo another round of education reform at the state and local levels in NYS and NYC education, perhaps the new state commissioner of education will determine whether Black men have a role at her table. Perhaps, the schools chancellor of NYC will be asked to address the presence of Black male leadership on her leadership team.
At a NYS learning summit convened by the NYS Regents (May 2015), six panels weighed in on teacher-evaluation policy. Not one Black man participated on any of the panels. Why not? Does it matter?
At the city level, the chancellor of NYC Schools apparently has decided that Black men do not have a seat at her central leadership table. Nor do they have a seat as a director at the newly formed Borough Field Support Centers. Of the seven centers, none of the directors are Black men. Why not? Does it matter?
Does it matter whether state and city urban school agendas include Black men to any significant degree? If they were present, what role, if any, would they play in educating the public, particularly our youths, about the role that race and poverty play in the killing of Black men and boys?
As the killings, whether through gun violence or through police action, continue throughout the United States, I recommend that the governor of NYS, the mayor of NYC, and the chancellor of NYC public schools engage in public discussion and action to answer the question of whether having Black men involved at the highest levels of public education in New York matters? If it matters, they should take appropriate action to demonstrate its significance and not wait for the next killing.
I recommend that the clergy, the community, and elected officials engage in significant action to determine whether Black men matter in urban public school leadership. If it matters, they should advocate and act accordingly.
I pray that we not wait for the next series of killings to determine whether Black men in educational leadership have a specific and significant role to play in working to prevent the violence that is likely to surface as a direct result of our failure to educate our children and our community.
Based on the deafening silence about the absence of Black men in urban school leadership, one might easily conclude that having Black men in educational leadership does not matter.