"You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete."
-R. Buckminster Fuller
IT'S TIME FOR CHANGE
By Kevin McDermott, Founder
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” -N elson Mandela
Sixty years ago, come May 2014, the Supreme Court handed down the Landmark ruling Brown v. Board of Education invalidating racially segregated schools. It is now over fifty years since Dr. King reminded America of the fierce urgency to change! To quote Dr. King: “Now is the time to make real promises and open the doors of opportunity to ALL God’s children.” More than a hundred years ago, Frederick Douglass reminded us, “It is easier to build strong children than repair broken men.” Today, too many years later, more than ninety percent (90%) of all teachers are still white and over eighty-five percent (85%) of school boards in the USA are still white.
Yet, in over two hundred high schools across the USA, there are large populations of
non - white and mostly poor children. Dr. Cornel West calls these schools "chocolate drop-out factories." Against that backdrop, it is not surprising that so many of these schools are failing to adequately address the educational needs of our poor and minority students, especially African-American and Hispanic males.
We need a change! It’s time for us to RETHINK how we can meet the needs of all our young people. We need to create new written policies that serve the best interests of each and every student, without distinction as to who they are and what their background may be. Most upper and middle class students seem to do fine under current policies. Yet, these embedded policies continue to suppress and hide the academic performance of the bulk of minority and poor children. These policies negatively impact both staff and student achievement.
Consider this. Across the USA less than two percent (2%) of the staffing in our Public schools are either African-American or Hispanic males, yet both of these groups of males make up a very large percentage of the H.S. drop-outs and an abnormally large percentage of our prison inmates. Is this really just a coincidence? Also, less than eight percent (8%) of female teachers are non-white. The problem is systemic, meaning that ultimately school failure can be attributed to the accumulation of ineffective programs, policies and interventions.
Over 2500 years ago, Plato posed two essential questions :
Who teaches our children?
What do we teach them?
Each and every generation has the moral obligation to answer these two essential questions. We need to respond to this culture that seems to be sending confusing signals to our young people, a culture that seems to be AGNOSTIC about what it wants our young people to be. We MUST send a CLEAR AND ACHIEVEABLE notion of what it means to be a decent human being and a productive member of our society.
Now, as 2013 comes to a close, our prison population is living proof that poverty, being under-educated and being a non-reader are shameful proof of how expensive these combinations are for our young people and our nation. Over seventy-five percent (75%) of all federal prisoners never make it past tenth (10th) grade and over eighty percent (80%) come from fatherless homes. Over seventy percent (70%) of our state prisoners cannot read on the fourth (4th) grade level. It is shameful and not a secret that the private businesses that operate our prisons use the third (3rd) grade reading test results for their future budget planning. Georgia spends over one billion dollars($ 1,000,000,000) annually on its prison systems. By the way, that is the fourth (4th) highest out of fifty states. Is it just a coincidence that Georgia’s education system ranks 46th out of 50 states?
Embedded policies from another era color every aspect of the educational pathway from recruitment and retention of minority staffing to the construction of virtually separate and unequal learning places and the separate social environments they create. Our schools are more segregated today then they were in 1970. The above examples are merely the metaphorical “Tip of the Iceberg” that flows from embedded policies and traditions that harm our poor and minority children.
A big part of this crisis is on the HOMEFRONT where over the past 40 years the picture of the FAMLY has changed so very drastically. According to figures from the 1970 census, over seventy five percent (75%) of all children had both parents in the home. As of the 2010 census figures, over seventy five percent (75 %) of non- white homes and over thirty percent (30%) of white homes are made up of single parent households. This has translated into shameful poverty numbers. Over thirty five percent (35%) of our children live in poverty. Shame on US!! So many of these parents are non-reading, under-educated, under-employed or unemployed. They struggle to do their best and feel left out of the American DREAM. In June 2013, over twenty-five million (25,000,000) children did not speak to their biological fathers on Father’s Day.
The problem is apparent. The solution is… a parent. In 1961, first lady Jackie Kennedy said “If we bungle raising our children, I don’t think whatever else you do matters very much.” That goes for all of us parents. We must, now more than ever, learn ways to come together as communities and a nation so we can reverse this downward spiral. Admittedly this is a very TOUGH JOB, yet that is the JOB for ALL of us, if we are going to make a difference in the lives of millions and millions who seem to have NO HOPE for a decent future. Our current School System causes a tremendous financial drag on our economy. Every seven seconds a student drops out of high school in the USA. Millions and millions of our tax dollars each year are spent to imprison and/or clean up the mistakes made by our non-reading, under-educated, and unemployable dropouts. Things MUST change for us to achieve long-term economic stability. We live in an information age economy. EDUCATION is our main currency. For children who are poor and are not reading proficiently by third (3rd ) grade, over sixty percent(60%) of them do not finish high school. Among children who never lived in poverty, less than two percent (2 %) of third grade readers do not graduate from high school.
“Snowflakes are one of natures most fragile things, yet just look what they can do when they stick together.” - Verna Kelly
It’s Time for Change!!
There are several pertinent organizations, here in Georgia, that are on the frontlines in the battle to make changes in this crisis.
(1) The Bridge da Gap Movement is a youth development program that uses an innovative approach to reach students and teach life skills applicable in today’s socially challenged environment. BDG's mission is to pass on a rich legacy to all young people through the development, understanding and application of core values. BDG hopes to keep the dream alive for future generations. CEO//Founder Kevin ‘Khao’ Cates is an Awarding winning Hip Hop Recording Producer who several years ago invested thousands & thousands of his own money to create Bridge da GAP. Today BDG has working agreements with hundreds of Boys & Girls Clubs across the USA and works with hundreds of schools all over the world.
(2) Parent University of Savannah, Ga. was started in 1999. Fourteen years later, over 3,600 people have graduated from Parent U. It is a community–based organization which has been embraced by the community because the man who started Parent U. CHOSE to look into the heart and soul of the participants rather than judge them by the color of their skin or their educational background. Today thousands and thousands live better lives and are better parents because of Michael O’Neal’s compassion and loving service.
The Parent Univ. community, in early 2013, started a community out reach program they call Early Learning College for parents of children ages 2-6. Parent University and Early Learning College will have over 20 sessions in 2014. ELC’s curriculum is taught by certified teachers. Local Rotary Clubs and several businesses fund this program.
(3) At Kennesaw State Univ., the Mother–Son Parental Engagement Workshops are given several times a year by Founder Dr. H.E. Holliday. Doc Holliday is an Associate Professor of Educational Leadership at K.S.U. Doc has been a Principal for middle schools or high schools, for nearly four decades. His high-performing multicultural schools have been characterized as innovative, data-driven, engaged, and orderly. These workshops address core values worth knowing.
(4) Project Second Chance is a community-based Alternative Educational Program. PSC is a diploma completion/vocational training program that combines school and work in flexible full day sessions. PSC is designed for young people from the ages of 16-22 who have already left high school and unfortunately have not completed their H.S graduation requirements. PSC will work closely with Juvenile Court Systems as an alternative to prison for non-violent offenders who have not achieved academic success in a traditional setting. There are over ten million (10,000,000) young people across the USA and over three hundred thousand (300,000) in Metro Atlanta area, who need a second chance.
PSC focuses our programs and resources on the desperate young people whose broken lives are crying out for NEW possibilities in the midst of the chaos that seems to be their reality. Investing in turning dropouts into graduates will benefit ALL citizens and stimulate our economy. Years of research repeatedly
highlights the link between education and the economy. Indeed, raising educational outcomes (PSC’s mission) not only boosts incomes for those who graduate but these gains compound into improved local, state and national economies. The city and state should view Project Second Chance as a KEY strategy for strengthening the economy.
PSC believes our country’s tendency to punish difficult teenage behavior by incarceration is counter productive to the well-being of our society. Juvenile detention and youth correctional centers are commonly dangerous and abusive. Over the past forty years, eighty percent (80 %) of all USA centers have been institutions whose conditions are so violent, dirty and restrictive of basic services, that either a Federal Court intervened or a major scandal erupted. PSC asks the question … “Why do we incarcerate so many of our youth who pose relatively no risk to our Public Safety.
by Kevin McDermott, Founder/Executive Director Project Second Chance
Part of the genius of black life in America comes down to the ability to make something out nothing, "a way out of no way” as the saying goes. Black people in America, cooking with nothing but what was left from the master’s table, collards, chitterlings, and pork fat, made a delicious something out of nothing. The black church, with its majestic preaching and powerful singing, was built on a cornerstone of outright rejection: white Christians didn’t want black people in their pews. The best example of black Americans finding a way out of no way is black music. The innovators who blazed the trail for black musical forms like gospel, blues, and jazz were men and woman with little music education and few instruments, who nevertheless found a way to create a new sound. They used their voices, hands, and feet to make a joyful noise and tell their story. Generations of black music found a way to tell the story, full of joy, pain, and defiance --- making a way out of no way.
Rap and its hip-hop beat fits in this glorious tradition. Black New Yorkers literally tapped into the left-over electricity from big-city street lights to power their sounds systems and a thumping beat for their Caribbean style dance-hall parties on the street corners and parks. Did all those who suffered and died for freedom, all the martyrs of the civil rights movement, such as Medgar Evers, Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Martin Luther King Jr., really give their lives so that generations of young blacks could act out in public as if they were characters in a “gangsta” movie?? Frederick Douglas risked death to learn how to read and write.
Teachers nationwide complain about the boys in every high school class who spend their mental energy scrawling rap ditties instead of studying because they believe they will be the next big rapper. Meanwhile, they dress like rappers (who dress like prisoners) and act hard-core, cursing and fighting on the way to school, in school, and after school---- assuming they still are in school. If they are still there (for so many), it is not for education ,but because it is their social club.
This generation of young black Americans is a part of the arc of struggle for equal rights, education, and opportunity in America. The crucial idea is that this generation has an unprecedented opportunity to rise up in America and establish itself through education and programs like Project Second Chance. The creative battle which our program is waging is against the “starless midnight” of the dropout crisis in America. The silence is louder then the thumping bass of the current hip-hop beat. It is so loud it hurts ears, hearts and souls.
The heroes who struggled and sacrificed to win Brown vs Board of Education have to be wondering what the hell has happened? A generation dropping out of school and celebrating the gangster lifestyle is a shocking turn of events, a repudiation of hundreds of years of civil rights struggle. It is a rejection of the gift of opportunity. It is collective act of contempt for the true black American identity--- a strong, creative, loving people with faith in God, seeking a better life for the next generation. The high percentage of young black people dropping out of school is wasting the opportunities that the Brown decision opened for them.
Martin Luther King Jr. said the real wealth inherited by black people was being empowered to create positive social change. Project SecondChance will be ALL about positive social change. It will be our mission and the heart and soul of everything we do. A newfound wealth for black people, because violence and suffering did not stop determined black people, and now available – Project Second Chance – will be an example to inspire younger Americans, black and white, to act with courage and dignity to change this dropout crisis.
If Dr. King lived today, he would be appalled at the idea of young black people seeing themselves as nothing but comedians, ballplayers, or gangster rappers. How could he not be furious at young people who lack an appreciation of the historic sacrifices made by so many to open doors for today’s young Americans, black, Hispanic, Asian, and white? Project Second Chance will work hard to ensure his hard work was not wasted or lost. The lack of consistent media attention and the absence of political will to deal with this dropout crisis adds to the isolation and alienation of those who need a second chance, Project Second Chance -------- A Way Out of No Way!
Cultural Ignorance Continues To Imperil Student Success
While working in a public high school (over 75% kids of color), I was shocked to hear too many of my colleagues’ candid revelations about their “problem students”. When I asked about their own efforts to reach these at-risk students, mostly students of color from lower class backgrounds, too many would invariably respond, “Those kids are only going to be dropouts soon. Why knock myself out for them?” I’d respond, “Would you knock yourself out if they were your kids?” Their silence was my answer “These aren’t my kids!” That experience drove home the uncomfortable reality that students who need the best teachers usually don’t get them. Most at-risk youth are plagued by the fact that most teachers did not grow up under the same circumstances or were not trained to overcome cultural stereotypes and the misunderstandings that these differences create. As a result, far too many of these at-risk students are subjected to harsher disciplinary procedures than their white classmates.
These at-risk students are routinely banished to the academic wastelands of the school system like the in-school suspension rooms or special education classes. I was in charge of an in school suspension room for four years, an after school detention for five years and Saturday school detention for five years. I experienced, first hand, what most of my colleagues thought about these “problem students” . Many, over 40%, believed it was a waste of their time to send catch up work for these “problem students” and I heard comments like “Let them sit there and rot, they don’t deserve my help”. The question is how much can we expect parents to care about the education of other people’s children?? I have been thinking about that question the last few months as I watch the Governor’s panel grapple with the thorny problems of equity and funding. Project 2 nd Chance (www.project2ndchancega.org) was created to level the playing field for children whose parents seem to lack the education and/or resources to prepare their children for a successful future. So many of these parents had these same difficulties growing up as their children and so many had no role models to prime them not only to learn, but know how to excel. Among the middle class and very affluent, parenting today seems to have become a competitive sport, with these savvy parents racing to arm their children with skills to thrive. Unfortunately, our poorer public school systems lose a lot of these affluent families to private schools which so many families living in poverty simply cannot afford.
This leaves a very wide gap between the haves and the have nots. Facts tell us, most affluent families spend over ten times as much on their children’s education as the lower income families, making this gap too large to catch up with for families living in Education reformers like Project 2nd Chance (www.project2ndchancega.org) argue that ALL children deserve a fair chance. So many affluent parents work hard to give their children a better advantage in the learning process, yet most low-income parents would also, if they had the resources. People living in poverty because of their economic status (under paid, under educated and not having skills to be employable for higher paying jobs) don’t seem able to get unstuck in the vicious cycle of poverty. One of the many goals of Project 2 nd Chance is to help break this vicious cycle of poverty. Many African-American parents report their children are punished for talking too loud. Sadly for these students, too many teachers are not trained about this cultural difference or the teachers grew up differently which causes them to take this loud talk as an act of defiance or just rebellious behavior. Not all teachers are racists but they are susceptible to cultural stereotypes and institutional racism that affect society. As the mentors, instructors and role models for millions of children, they need to understand the cultures and communication methods of the kids they teach.
That starts by actually listening to the Good communication and the ability to truly understand cultural differences are skills that seem conspicuously absent in far too many of our schools. Administrators don’t seem to listen to teachers; many teachers (not growing up in a culture of poverty) seem unable to listen to parents who feel their input has no value. And hardly anyone listens to students who say they want teachers to challenge them, care about them, engage their interest and would like them to practice patience and fairness. Until institutional racism, assumptions based on ignorance and false beliefs about cultural deficits are eradicated, the racial divide in our nation’s schools will not be bridged. In the meantime, the children of color who need the most from America’s schools will continue to receive a “separate but unequal “education. Does this mean that nothing can be done? The question is who will do it? Most parents should not have a responsibility to other peoples’ children yet someone has to champion all these children whose parents are unable or incapable of giving them an edge. Being educated changes lives and helps not only the educated, it helps the economy of the communities where they will live and work. Currently, that responsibility and moral obligation seems to fall on people who seem unable to change a system that mostly works for the affluent and middle class.
That responsibility is not always easy to bear. At times, it requires taking unpopular steps. We created Project 2 nd Chance (www.project2ndchancega.org) to rally for these at-risk students, so these students don’t continue to be incarcerated into a system that is very costly for our nation. In 1961, First lady Jackie Kennedy said, “If we bungle raising our children, I don’t think whatever else we do matters very much.” Project 2 nd Chance believes there may be plenty of blame to go around yet the blame game must end and solutions must be found. We believe Project 2 nd Chance is part of the solution for this racial injustice called The Dropout Crisis. There are some facts that many know and seem to ignore about this crisis yet few seem to have the wisdom and courage to change. They are: Over seventy percent (70%) of our state prisoners never made it past the tenth grade, over seventy percent (70%) cannot read on the fourth (4 th ) grade level and over eighty percent (80%) come from fatherless homes. The following may be the most shameful fact of all about a system that clearly doesn’t work for ALL: the private businesses (billions in profits) that operate our prisons use the third (3 rd ) grade reading test results for their future budget planning. If you live in poverty, are a person of color and don’t read on the third grade level, there is about a 65% chance you won’t graduate from HS.
If you are a male of color, there is a 70% chance that before your 25 th birthday you will be incarcerated . Who is responsible for these at-risk youth?? Clearly, it starts in the home. Yet, if you are born into a single parent household with a parent who is under educated, unemployed, under skilled and can’t read on a third grade level, is it Your Fault??? You then go into a school system that is not really equipped to deal with your short comings, should your whole life be wasted just because two people created you before they knew their responsibilities as adult parents? One of Project 2 nd Chance’s partners is Parent University. Since 1999, over 4,500 people have successfully graduated from this program, helping thousands have better parenting skills. The problem is apparent …The solution is A Parent!!!! Well, currently there are over 30,000,000 children under 18 years of age who last Father’s Day didn’t spend a single second with their biological fathers. This crisis seems to go unaddressed. Yet we know over eighty (80%) percent of all prisoners come from fatherless homes. Project 2 nd Chance will work hard to change this crisis. The CEO /Founder has been married to the same woman for almost 42 years.
We created Project 2 nd Chance to address so many of these injustices and are equipped to have solutions to this unresolved racial injustice issue. Our mission is to serve our diverse and traditionally under-served youth by having alternative educational programs and vocational training programs. We will help prepare our at-risk youth to succeed in getting their HS diploma and have the skills that will help them become productive members of our society. Our vision is to create a level playing field and to bring back hope into the lives of so many who currently only see despair. Over fifty years ago, Dr King screamed out for us to bring justice and equality to ALL God’s children. Our vision is to continue what Dr King asked us to do. Currently, millions & millions of our young people live in what can only be described as CHAOS, we at Project 2 nd Chance will work hard to bring HOPE back into their lives and help them see that their lives can have meaning again.