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Panel highlights challenges of African-centered education

By Victor Walker
Special to The Michigan Citizen

Dr. Kefentse Chike

Dr. Kefentse Chike

Presented by the Community Research Institute, founded in 2008 by Dr. Kefentse Chike, the forum was held at the Shrine of the Black Madonna Bookstore Dec. 27.

The Community Research Institute bridges the gap between academia and the community and addresses how the Black community frequently fails to receive the benefits of conducted research.

“Sometimes the subjects of the research have no knowledge of the research,” Chike said. Chike believes research done on Black communities should be presented to the community for discourse, especially as it relates to African-centered education.

Chike facilitated the panel that highlighted some of the benefits and challenges associated with African-centered education as well as solutions toward strengthening the institution that struggles to stay relevant in the 21st century.

“The education we typically get is one imposed by people who want to uphold the status quo,” Chike said. “Detroit has a history of struggle as it relates to providing quality public education.”

The fight over education in Detroit continues in 2013 as the duly elected school board fights with the state for control of academics and use of funds. “There is a problem when you’re dealing with the same issues as your people 100 years ago,” Chike added.

Elizabeth Whittaker, executive director of Nsoroma Institute, said African-centered schools equip “children with the skills needed to challenge the status quo,” which she describes as “the antithesis of the public school system.”

Community activist Bonotchi Montgomery described public schools as “nigger factories.” “Our children are being miseducated and it’s a crime. We have to make the community aware of our situation,” Bonotchi said.

According to Malik Yakini, co-founder of Nsoroma Institute, “African-centered education is about personal transformation” that moves toward controlling one’s own destiny.

An African-centered education provides an experience that stabilizes students in the world so they can “stay grounded in a eurocentric experience,” Dr. Joyce Piert said. “Students experience African nation-building, principles of self advocacy, cultural knowledge and identity, and personhood,” Piert said.

Whittaker stressed the necessity of addressing the needs of the community, particularly the family because it affects the quality of education for the children who are going to be leading these institutions in 10 or more years.

“The state of the community is a major factor in sustaining Black institutions,” Yakini said. Yakini suggested that in order to understand the state of Black institutions the state of the community has to be understood.

African-centered schools grew out of Black nationalism and pan-Africanism “to build conscious soldiers,” and address white supremacy, Yakini said. However, Yakini said that in the realm of public education, African-centered education isn’t even discussed.

“We have isolated ourselves from the masses of our people. African-centered schools are on the sidelines while Black people are moving forward,” Yakini said.

How do African-centered schools remain independent yet compete with publicly funded schools to offer quality education amid severe budget cuts, low enrollment and lack of community involvement, Yakini asked.

One approach offered by Dr. Ebony Roberts is to provide professional development for teachers. Roberts pointed out that teachers must be properly trained and understand the value of African-centered education in order to be effective.

“Not enough dollars are put into professional development. Even if you disagree with African-centered education, you have to believe Black children deserve more than what they are getting,” Roberts said.

“An institution is only as strong as the community that supports it,” Whittaker said. “We all like the idea of African-centered schools, but are we willing to do what is necessary to sustain them?”

Dr. Jeffrey Robinson, administrator of the combined Paul Robeson and Malcolm X academies, said: “The community has got to play a bigger role. Some of the biggest blows have come from the lack of support from the community.” Dr. Robinson said that without support of parents and the community, we are defaulting on our future.

An opportunity for the Detroit community to help sustain at least one African-centered institution has presented itself. The independent Nsoroma Institute, founded in 1989, remains one of a number of African-centered schools facing challenges in a struggling economy.

Nsoroma recently began a campaign to raise funds toward gaining financial stability. It asks for community support to reach its goal by Feb. 28. As of Monday, the school has only raised about 10 percent of its $30,000 goal.

To help Sustain Nsoroma, make a financial contribution by visiting www.indiegogo.com/sustain-nsoroma

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