Martin Luther King, Jr. Day event at Valparaiso University in Indiana

Monday, January 16, 2012 – the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebration at Valparaiso University, Indiana

Urban Prep Academies in Chicago has to provide students–all African American, all male, all from low-income communities–with “Swords and Shields” is what Tim King, the founder, president, and CEO told us during lunch, after his keynote address. The Swords? Their weapon is intellectual prowess. The students, coming out of the dysfunctional Chicago public school system, take double sessions of English and math to catch up. I love it that students are chosen through lottery and the schools don’t give up on anyone. Kids can get in trouble, but they don’t get thrown out. The school works with them to keep them moving forward. None of this zero-tolerance crap that I’ve written about before, kids criminalized for tardiness, a system that pushes kids out of school and into the school-to-prison pipeline. Maybe I shouldn’t even say “kids.” Tim King addresses students by Mr. and their last name. He wants 13-year-olds to experience being treated with respect, adult to adult male. Beautiful. They start each morning with a community ritual in which they reinforce their commitments to themselves, the school, and their education. The Shields? The sense of identity, confidence, self-esteem, and character they will need once they go out into the wider which, as he said, often means whiter world. They need that inner strength to withstand all the crap the world is gonna throw at them. I think of my friend Karen Taylor. The multitalented Karen D. Taylor, writer, vocalist, who also needs all her talent and vision in raising a black son in this society. She recently posted this link to a report about a Yale study which showed black boys receive harsher punishment and less attention (regardless of socioeconomic status) than white counterparts. Duh. When do we stop funding academics to research the obvious and start funding inner city schools? Instead we continue to fund our schools through property taxes so that the students who need the most attention consistently get the least.

Someone asked Tim King the secret of his success with Urban Prep. He said he didn’t know yet whether the schools were a success. Yes, 100% of the students have gone on to 4-year colleges, but till they graduate and till we see what they do with their lives, the question remains open.

I led a two-hour focus session in the afternoon–my workshop that uses the arts to improve literacy and writing ability. I had a great group–some Valpo freshman, some non-matriculated foreign students who are on campus to learn English, and Stuart Schussler of the Mexico Solidarity Network also attended. The Network recently initiated a unique study-abroad program–unique because participants never leave the US. College students live for a week or two with immigrant families in Chicago. It’s Spanish-language immersion and consciousness-raising rolled into one.

Interesting time at Valpo, staying with Prof. Nelly Blacker-Hanson, and distracting her from what promises to be an enlightening paper on Lucio Cabañas, schoolteacher, who went to the sierra as a guerrilla after his peaceful protestand strike in 1967, Guerrero (Mexico) led to violence and government attempt on his life. (Click here for a taste of  her earlier work on the struggle in Guerrero.) Also fun to meet Nelly’s dog, Mischa, a huge Russian breed that looks like an Old English Sheepdog crossed with a bear. It’s a good thing a canine that size is so utterly mellow and gentle. And it’s no surprise children look at her with all that hair covering her face and ask “Does your dog have eyes?”

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One Response to “Martin Luther King, Jr. Day event at Valparaiso University in Indiana”

  1. panele Says:

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