Student Responses to the End-of-the Year Open Letter Part 2

Background: I included an open letter to my students as a part of their final exam. You can read the initial letter here, and you can read their responses to my letter here. Upon catching a couple of students cheating/talking during my final exam, I gave the culprits zeros and required them to retake the exam. I created  a new exam with a new open letter. Below are the students’ responses to  my second letter. 


Dear Mr. Westbrooks,

Your open letter was very interesting because it’s like we are speaking to each other about education and I admired that. It was funny how you said “I’m not picking on you” and put me on the spot but I was explaining this part I’m writing to someone. That’s why I understand why you gave me an zero. I’m happy that you gave me a second chance to make up and I should of known not to discuss anything because it’s a final but a lot of people was speaking that’s why I thought it would be ok to speak too.

Mr. Westbrooks you really funny I was mad yesterday that was suppose to be my  last day. I looked on my grade I had 2 A and 1 B and 1 F the F was by you I was like why he gave me a F and I seen talking and I had to talk to you and said the test tomorrow so I wanted to do whatever it took to get Honor Roll again and I’m working on it now.

I really appreciate you giving me a second chance on this test to make up my grade. Thank you Mr. Westbrook


Dear Mr. Westbrooks

I appreciate that your letting me retake my final exam, because other teachers would’ve just gave me a “F.” And my grade would’ve been bad and I would not been able to make honor roll and my grade dropped so bad I would have had to attend summer school 2016.

I regret cheating on your test and if I can go back into time I’ll really change my act that day because it was very unacceptable because my grade was good in your class and I learned enough to do a great enough job the first try I did the test.

I am horrible at cheating because it’s not my hobby and I really didn’t study for the final until last night and everything seems more easy to me. I wish I would’ve did this from the start because I would not be in the situation I am as of right now. Thank you for letting me redo this important final, and great open letter. It was very interesting and made me look at the situation in another vein.

Student Responses to the End-of-the-Year Open Letter

Background: Last week, I posted an open letter that I wrote to my students. You can read it here. Below are some of the responses that the students wrote back to me. Each response is denoted by the student’s initials, and they are exact replications of what they wrote, so expect to see grammatical errors. 


Dear Mr. Westbrooks,

With that being said, not all students have the same mindset as others. I understand where you coming from but I don’t know about others. I agree with you, I haven’t been here for that long, I see many kids that are real smart but all they do is try to show off in front of their friends. Today is mostly based off people impressing their friends so the “act tuff” or don’t want to do their work or try to be down and skip school. I tried to help people, I really did I tell people this all the time, but it’s like people are afraid to be judged. Like say a boy don’t want to they’ll call him a “B” word and not want to be his friend, call him a nerd etc. Basically if you get kids one by one I promise  you you’ll see a better grade or education percentage because they don’t have to impress anyone. But back to what I was really talking about. I have many goals I would like to accomplish. So I’ll try my best to accomplish my goals and take the advice that you gave me.


I read your letter beginning to end and I found a lot of the things in your letter important and interesting. I’m one of the students that wants to go to college and find education very important. Th job I want to have when I grow up is a defense attorney and that takes a lot of school and hard work. I am going to try my best to achieve that goal but if that doesn’t work out, I will always have plan B and C which is a flight attendant or real estate agent. Them are some pretty good backup plans so even if I fail at becoming a defense attorney I will have backup plans. Like you said education is more bigger than grades. I agree in order to make A’s and B’s you have to know things. You can’t just make an A or B by knowing nothing. You have to put in the time and effort to achieve your goals and go to college. You also need an education to get a job you can’t expect to get a job and not know anything. A job is very important. It’s not to late to better your education and smarter your mind so that you are ready for any challenges that come your way. Work hard and play later.


Dear Mr. Westbrooks,

My main goal in life is to be “successful.” When I express the term “successful” I don’t mean have lots of money or a huge mansion, and five cars. I want to be able to look back over the years of my life and be able to say “I made it.” I want to be able to be proud of myself. As I reminisce about my early years in high school and even through college, I wish to endure the satisfaction of knowing the sleepless nights, the extra credit assignments and the waking up early constantly every morning paid off. It took me a long time to figure out that nothing in life is given to you. You must earn “everything.” A quote I came across said “When you want to succeed, as bad as you want to breathe then you will be successful.” I feel as though if I work very hard, then reaching all my goals will be no problem. I highly understand the importance of education. A high school diploma nowadays does not mean anything. You should strive to go past your potential. I feel like education is something no one can take from you. It is more powerful than anyone can realize. But in reflect of what you said, I will do my best to be the best I can be. I will take my education more seriously. Thank you so much.


Dear Westbrooks

I honestly agree with the whole letter. I feel that as a student I understand what you are trying to say. As I got through the first 2 paragraphs you seem like you’re trying to get a point across trying to reach out to us as a teacher or catch our attention on things we don’t notice. I like how you “BOLDED” your subjects about the message that your trying to send.

I feel like you tried to relate to us. It seemed like since we saw the school is easy, your goal was to make your class hard. Reading this I thought of everything you wrote and it sounds like you care for us. You don’t want to see throw our lives away. You would want to see us do well maybe on TV somewhere.

It is shameful that we would just want to pass and leave high school not knowing anything. It seems like we just want a good grade. With this being a “charter school,” public schools such as Central, Shabazz, Weequahic, they actually get more work and harder work.

I honestly would like to take this poem home because it was touching. And if you would take a few kids who have nothing going for their lives and read this to them maybe it could have them think a little bit.

Reading this I also thought I shouldn’t think about what I want to do until 12th grade year. But now I think I’m going to start early and have like backup plans because I have big dreams and I want to make them come true.



Dear Mr. Westbrook,

I thank you for writing this letter towards us students. This letter motivates me to do better for myself. You’re my favorite teacher and writing this letter towards us makes me think hard about what I want to do after high school. You really caught my attention when you said how we all think this school is easy but when you handed us the social commentary project many of us struggled with the project and some of us still have not turned it in. Most of students think it easy because it easy to cheat and get an easy but then what happen after high school. You can’t cheat your way through life. Some of us really have an eighth grade education because it is easy to cheat here. But how are you going to get a job if you have a low educations intelligence. You can’t go to college and you think you going to cheat your way through. Cheating may help you now but in the long run it’s going to do more damage than help. So I would like to end this letter off with a thank you.


Dear Westbrooks,

I have reviewed your letter and A’s and B’s do indicate my action in school. I’m focus on moving to the next grade. My english class is type easy. You put lessons together the best way you can to make your students understand the lesson very well. Some assignments sometimes I thought I would never get it but I came along and got it done.

I don’t think every assignment would be easy for me because you still have other people in different places that are very behind on different skills. Your letter gave me a total exchange mindset about my work and grades. You made me come to class more because you teach me great skills to lead me to passing your course.


Dear Mr. Westbrooks,

I agree with you 100%. A lot of students in this school are getting good grades but they are not really learning the content and keeping it in their brain so they would use it in the future. I like the way that you teach you brake everything down for us and make sure we don’t move on to something else unless we understand it and you give us a challenge so that we could actually put some thought into our work. I also agree that we don’t have to go to college to be successful. A lot of students in this school are talented so they could use their talent to start a business of be a super star. I agree with you and I think we need more teachers like you.


I found this social commentary very interesting because is not just a letter to NPCS class of 2018 but is a letter that every student could be inspire by taking your words seriously; It will help student to have different mentality of education. Which you use to remind us that not a lot of people have the opportunity of attend high school, college or university. This message really inspired me and give me a reason of taking advantage of education because many people fought for education, which were their civil right but they were denied of their civilization of education. Now that I have the opportunity to something that many people dream of I will grab education is extored.

The second important that I personally learn in this message is that letter grade doesn’t really mean anything. Education is more than just a letter grade. A letter grade just describe your performance in academic. Education has a whole different meaning. Like you said in your letter “Education is any type of training or learning.”

“Money without consciousness, awareness, knowledge, wisdom, and understanding leads to destruction.” I learn a lot in this message. I also understand that money is not everything but money with education is everything.

I appreciate your time and concern about us, this letter will always hold a special place in my heart. As long you let me have a copy.


Dear Mr. Westbrooks,

As a student of yours for a year and knowing you for 2 years I’ve honestly have learned a lot. Mr. Westbrooks your honestly my favorite teacher & I will always remember every chance you have given me to pass your class all the jokes and honesty you give on to us to make our day shine better I truly appreciate you. Your one of the teachers that really always have our best interest even though sometimes you do tell my mother I skipped your class but anyway you will always be my favorite teacher.


Dear Mr. Westbrooks,

I thank you for this letter because it helps understand a lot of were you coming from I’ve learned from you. I’ve learn from my mistakes. I know I’m a smart kid and not everything in life is easy. I’m planning a lot of things to do in the future like going to the military or to college, maybe both.

I know my first year was a mess but I’ve changed a lot and it’s what teacher is this school keep telling me. I’ve been progressing my work  and my behavior. Nowadays the street is not safe to be walking around with all these gang and shooting. This world needs to get better. Yes college is not for everybody but if you have good skills and know that you can be something in life then going to school is and working hard to achieve your dreams is the way to go.


Dear Mr. Westbrooks,

I greatly appreciate you for taking the time out to express how you feel about the students and our needs in NPCS. I agree with what you said 100%. Some of the kids around my age don’t take education to serious. Before you wrote this short letter I was one of the kids that said “This school is easy” but not easy because of the grades , I said it because we could get all the help we need, we can use the computers whenever we want but some of us tend to take advantage instead of taking the opportunity and bettering ourselves. When I took summer school last year that was a wake up call for me, because I knew I could have passed just like everybody else but I took advantage and waited until the last minute when it was already too late. I failed myself. However I am proud of myself now on who I am becoming. I’ve improved so much over the past year because I took my education more serious than my teachers.


Your letter was upwelling. I like that you keep the class interesting because most students like learning new things and some gets bored if it’s not hands on. There are many reasons why a lot of students from last year stayed here it’s because teachers like you. You example what you hand us I get it when you do that and the note on the computer I like how you go over it in class.

This school assignments are easy but your work is difficult all of your work is writing assignments there is not a lot of quizzes and if it was it would be on a paper and must be handed in after class. Other classes there are a lot of questions that is very easy and out work is on the computer so if we don’t know a question we can get answer from another student.

I want to leave this school because I feel as though this school would not teach me what college seem as when I go to college I want to be on task and know what they are doing. Instead of being confused about my worse subject which is math. Everything about math confuse me but I agreed what everything you have said you know what happens in this building I just want a bright future.


Dear Mr. Westbrooks,

It’s crazy how I’ve met you & you were a flex coach tending to disrespectful children’s need to becoming an English teacher, teaching said disrespectful kids. I’ve read your open letter & I’m thinking about what you wrote & I’m trying to do better & I’m trying to start now in high school with experiences & trying no to wait after high school but not only am I to young, my parents aren’t letting me. They play a huge role in my life & doing with my social life & aren’t allowing me to go & get the experiences I need. I don’t blame them either, with the craziness going on right outside of the place we have learned to call school.

I’m going to college. Even if you say it isn’t for everyone I’m going. It’s for me I already have it all mapped out. I just got to do better in school. I could’ve had honor roll all marking period but I’ve slacked in my classes – I’m still slacking but all that’s changing once I move into the white neighborhoods when I move down the street from a nice white couple who goes by the name Sally & John & their nice daughter Barbara. I might take some influence on them. Once I’m out of the urban neighborhood. Once I’m out of the ghetto.


Dear Mr. Westbrooks,

I understand that education is very important for my life. This year is a great because I met amazing teachers who I have learned from. I very grateful that I could have you Mr. Westbrooks as my English teacher because you taught me so much that will benefit me in the future to the Air Force and become a Pararescue (PJ). I will continue to learn about what life is about and hope see what life has to offer.

I hope to transfer to another school, but I will never forget Mr. Westbrooks class if I leave of course. I will cherish the cool moment we had in your class and everything you have taught.


Dear Mr. Westbrooks,

I read your letter and I have to say it got me thinking about what you said. When you said that students said this class or school is easy. To me it’s really not you can’t really focus on any work for the class to be easy. It’s hard to keep good grades but I’m trying and I guess that’s all that matters. You were right about the only staying focus on grades I know because I was doing that myself. I couldn’t really remember anything a teacher was saying but I calmed down on the grades and focused on learning the work.

Mr. Westbrooks I’m concern about college I really don’t know if I want to go but then again I want to because my mother never got a chance to go and I want to be better than her and not follow after her footsteps. Best believe I don’t play about my education. I lobe to learn new things. I love learning about where I came from or who I am.

I know I’m taking to long to find out what college I really want to go to, but I have been looking and I hope to find the right college. Mr. Westbrooks thank you for showing how much you care about my education. I really hope you read my whole letter and understand where I’m coming from.


Dear Mr. Westbrooks,

I agree with your letter and hope that it gets through to more students. I always loved school, I liked being challenge and my teachers always seeing that in me made me the highlight of their day. I always had good grades, of course I saw them as important because that was the proof of how hard I tried this however is my first year getting straight A’s. I’m guessing that being challenged through elementary and middle school paid off.

Also I’m not going to be I did wonder why we needed certain classes. I want to be a singer, songwriter, poet and hopefully author and director so certain things I had to learn of course I accepted it but wondered why. You answered my question as you said “Even if you don’t think you need to learn everything we’re teaching you in school, the process of learning is a habit, and it trains your brain to solve problems more relevant to you.”

I also take into account that we don’t go to college and still succeed I’ve learned about how if you go to college not knowing what you want to do then it’s a waste. That and how you said a lot of students or a majority of kids and teenagers in school think what they want to do in life will be more important to think about after high school although I’ve been ambitious about what I want to do since 5th grade others may not have to start as early but certainly shouldn’t wait till after high school.

My final thoughts to you in this letter is that you make excellent points. What you’re trying to teach high schoolers I knew all but one and I thank you for getting those points across.


I truly understand where your coming from in your letter. You just want us to get the point across that we don’t always have to find the easy way out. It’s more to it than just trying to maintain your grades & cheat on assignments or test. It’s about really learning academically and remembering what your learning, and I’m truly aware of that. So I’m going to really think of that and take action because college doesn’t mean a successful life either.


Dear Mr. Westbrooks,

I agree with mostly everything you said. It’s true what you said about school and how finishing you work is more important than actually learning something. One of the things I didn’t agree on at least in my opinion is “that we don’t have to go to college.” Growing up in Newark isn’t easy. You always hear how Newark is the most dangerous city in New Jersey or the most dumb. Growing up I always had teachers tell me how everyone is expecting me to fail in life because “I’m from Newark” or how I’m not smart enough to go to college because “I’m from Newark.” It’s sad because most of those things apply for 80% of this school maybe even 90% but not me. I’m going to college. I know you think its not a big necessity to go but for me it a huge necessity. I WANT to go to college not just to prove a point but to get somewhere in life. I don’t want to stay here in Newark not because I don’t like it because it’s a beautiful city but because I don’t want to be mistaken for people that make Newark “Newark.” I don’t want want people’s face expression to slightly change in a disgusted way when I tell them where I’m from. Any ways in conclusion even if I disagree with one of your messages (I guess that’s what I’ll call it) I agree and enjoyed your social commentary.


Dear Mr. Westbrooks,

I’ve read your letter and I was focusing on it, in a good train of thought. This letter says a lot that you’ve really never said to me or that I’ve really heard. Education to me is really more important than grades. You can have the education and get a “F” on an assignment and still be the brightest, it’s the learning that counts. Grades are not an indication of your learning ability.

School and your class has taught me a lot and I have 2 more years to succeed. I believe you need a education, because honestly where would anyone be without education? Where would you be Mr. Westbrooks? Education is the key to success and that’s for everyone. But after the 4 years of high school I believe everyone should go to college to better there lives when I think is a great idea.

Reading your letter has brightened my look on learning and college. I think you took the time to write this letter to us truthfully. I took heed to what you have said in your letter. Thank you for this!


I do believe that education and the level of education isn’t where it’s supposed to be. I do notice that people really only care about passing and not really learning what is given. It just seems in life stuff are more important than school. We as kids on social media see a lot of people dropping out or high school or not going to college becoming rich and successful. I always felt like teachers made us feel like the only way of being successful was going through school and for me I never thought that was the case because growing there was a lot of things I looked at and was like you don’t need school for this and those things I was looking at the people doing them were successful. I just feel the school is one way of being successful but there is plenty more ways you just have to have hard work and dedication in what your doing. Don’t get me wrong school is good for kid and especially kids in our city and it’s always nice to learn something new but like you said the educational route may not be for everyone.

“An Open Letter to the Students that are Retaking My Final Exam aka 5 Lessons from Talking or Cheating on My Exam”

By Mr. Westbrooks

Background: The following open letter was included in a make-up final exam for students who were caught either cheating or were under the suspicion of cheating. Their task was to read the letter and respond to it by writing a letter back to me. You can find the original version of the final exam open letter here.

I wonder if any of you went through the exam and felt remorseful at the end after you read my open letter about taking your education seriously. My guess is probably not, based on your actions during that part of the exam and after. I would like to assume the best, but I’m also familiar with some of your unscrupulous behavior from last year that just seems to be incorrigible. (As you can see, I removed the vocabulary section of the exam, and decided to throw a few of those words in this letter.) Below, are 5 lessons you should take away from having to come to school another day to retake your final exam.

  1. I’m not picking on you.

As you probably know, you’re retaking this exam because you either cheated or you talked/laughed excessively. Before I go any further, I need to emphasize that the talking and laughing was excessive talking and laughing. I say that to say other students were talking and laughing and even trying to discuss exam questions at various points; however, they did it for a little bit and stopped. You all, on the other hand, did it for the majority of the period. So, I didn’t immediately decide to give you a zero the first time you talked or copied off of someone else’s paper. I put at least five checks next to your name before I did that.

You can also argue that I didn’t give you any warnings, but I would argue that it’s fair that I didn’t give you any warnings. All of you retaking this exam aren’t new to this school and the expectations. In fact, there’s been such a strong emphasis on test-taking throughout your years in school that you’re familiar with assessment expectations from your previous schools. For too long, especially at this school, you’ve received too many empty warnings and not enough real consequences. Without real consequences, you don’t learn from your wrongdoings, and without learning from your wrongdoings, there’s no improvement in your character.

Anyway, to put that part about warnings simply: You know better.

  1. The consequences should’ve been much worse. Be thankful.

I know you’re mad as hell that Thursday wasn’t your last day of school and you had to watch your average drop two letter grades. Before you start moping, sucking your teeth, and hiking on me (see definition #2) behind my back, understand that you’re very fortunate that I’m allowing you to retake this exam. If you were at a different school, you would be stuck with that zero. If this was the SAT or PARCC, your scores would’ve been canceled, meaning they wouldn’t count, and you would have to completely retake the test. College is another level. If you talk, you’ll get a zero and removed from the room, BUT IF YOU CHEAT, you will get kicked out of that college/university entirely. That means you don’t just fail the exam or that one, specific class; you get kicked out of school COMPLETELY.

As you can see, disruptions and cheating are very serious matters. Although I probably shouldn’t be giving you chances like this, I want to give you a fair warning now, so you won’t have to suffer a rude awakening later on. You also can’t give the excuse that you didn’t know, because you heard it from Mr. Westbrooks.

  1. Respect the people that put in the work.

I don’t need to say much about talking and laughing. When you’re doing that, especially constantly, it’s distracting and you can’t really concentrate on what you’re doing. Even if people say that it’s OK, they may not really feel that way. They might say that it’s OK for you to talk and laugh while they’re working, testing, or learning because they don’t want to become the enemy. You may not seem to care about your own work or education, or you may disrupt class or the learning environment, because you’re struggling with the work, but don’t bring down the other students who are trying to learn and do their best. Either remove yourself, or talk to me privately so you can receive additional help. That’s what I’m here for.

Students put a lot of hours into learning, studying, and completing challenging assignments. The students you refer to as the “smart kids” or “good kids” weren’t born Respeck Saucewith knowledge and the ability to earn decent grades and pick up on certain skills and information quickly. They had to be trained to become that way. It takes a lot of work, practice, and sacrifice to reach that point. How does it look when they put in the hours, days, months, and years to be academic achievers, and you merely put in a few minutes to copy their answers, but you both end up enjoying the same benefits? That’s like you slaving hard at a job for 40 hours a week, and letting someone who sleeps all day at home take half of your paycheck. That sounds crazy, right? Well, that’s what you’re doing when you copy other people’s work that they put time and effort into. I don’t care if you get the liquid bottle or the powder in a can, but you need to “put some respeck” on your classmates’ names and work!

  1. You’re bad at cheating anyway, so just don’t do it.

Let’s be clear: This is not a challenge for you to prove me wrong, but I want to lighten the mood a little bit by pointing out how terrible you are at cheating. Well, you probably won’t find this funny, but I’m laughing at you. First of all, you were super obvious. You saw how small and open the room was, so of course I’m going to notice you looking at someone else’s paper. Secondly, you go on your phones to Google, and copy answers that make no sense…at all. On the “Harrison Bergeron” fill-in-the-blank, question, I gave you a small blank to fill in with ONE word (The answer was dystopian by the way). But, what did you do? You wrote a paragraph in the space below the question, and drew and an arrow to the blank. Really though?? And can any of you tell me what the word “interval” means without looking it up? No, OK. To make matters worse, you all didn’t have enough sense to change the words so everyone didn’t have the same answer. You had the same exact answer…word for word. Really though??

Don’t take this as you need to find sneakier ways to cheat. Just don’t do it!! Study! Pay attention in class! Don’t have side conversations! Ask for help, not the answers. I’m not supposed to call students mean names, so that’s not what I’m doing. I’m talking about your behavior and not your character or personality. With that being said, the ways in which you all tried to cheat was stupid, very stupid.

  1. It will catch up to you.

I hope this doesn’t happen, but let’s say after you finish reading this letter you still choose not to listen. You find better ways to cheat, you don’t get caught, or you never receive any real consequences. Just know that, you may think that you’re getting over, but it will catch up to you eventually. It may come in the form of you getting kicked out of college, or it may end up being exposed as an incompetent and ignorant student or worker, because you never really learned anything or put in any real work. Quit while you’re ahead, or suffer serious embarrassment later on.


Mr. Westbrooks

Read the students’ responses here.

An End-of-the-Year Open Letter to the Students of My English Classes

By Mr. Westbrooks

Background: I drafted this open letter and included it as a part of my students’ final exam. The purpose of the letter was for them to analyze an example of literature being as social commentary and to give them some parting words to reflect on over the summer. The students were also required to respond by writing an open letter back to me. Some of their responses will be included. Note: The letter was a last-minute decision, and I wrote it about an hour before the exam lol, so there was definitely more I wanted to say but didn’t have time to write.

To the current English 2B students and the larger Class of 2018:

As most of you know, I like to keep things interesting, so rather than finding a social commentary text that someone else wrote, I decided to write to you directly. With the exception of the new students that arrived this school year, we’ve been together off and on for two years now. A lot of your classmates from freshman year are no longer here for various reasons. For those of you who are still here, I’ve witnessed some of you grow behaviorally and in terms of maturity, and I’ve witnessed some of you grow academically. While we’ve made some progress, I have a few areas of concern that I would like to bring to your attention briefly. All of my comments connect to theme of taking your education seriously.

Your Education is Bigger than Grades

Passing your classes — or even earning A’s and B’s in your classes – is not an accurate indication of whether you’re prepared for the next grade or even life after high school, regardless of what you decide to do after you graduate. This is especially true considering that the work and expectations at this school aren’t challenging enough. We both know this, because I’ve heard some of you on a few occasions talk about how “easy” this school is. However, we also both know that I’ve never tried to allow my English class to be too easy for you. Just look at the social commentary posters that many of you struggled with, but eventually completed. You shouldn’t be content with school being easy, especially when many of us are far behind teenagers in other schools, states, and countries.

When you’re only concerned about earning average or good grades, you become more focused on finishing your work rather than actually learning or gaining a deeper understanding of the material. Knowing how much growth we need to make, I find it shameful that we only complete learning tasks when it’s a part of the grade. What’s even crazier, is that some of you even turn down extra credit opportunities! Even if you don’t think you need everything we’re teaching you in school, the process of learning is a habit, and it trains your brain to solve other problems that may be more relevant to you.

Yes, You Do Need an Education

Many people probably have a narrow understanding of “education.” When the word education comes up, many of us automatically think of school. But in fact, education comes in many different forms. Here are my thoughts on college: College isn’t for everyone, and everyone shouldn’t attend a college/university after high school; HOWEVER, I believe every student should have the OPTION of attending college. There shouldn’t be any student leaving high school without the skills to be successful at an institution of higher learning. Also know that earning a college degree isn’t a guarantee of financial success, but it could be if you use the higher education system to work for you.

I want you to think about education more broadly, and take it seriously. Education is any type of training or learning. You have other options besides going to college, enlisting in the army, or just getting a job. You can be an electrician, mechanic, plumber, barber/hair stylist, beautician, etc. You can own your own business, which is very important. We’re all familiar with street entrepreneurs aka trappers who employ themselves by selling illegal and destructive products in the ‘hood, so why can’t we take that entrepreneurial mentality, and start businesses that are both legal and productive?

My last point on the necessity of education: Along with attending school or learning a skill/trade, you also need a proper education of yourself. Even if you’re a platinum rapper or earning millions in the NFL, NBA, or MLB, you still need this knowledge. One of my favorite teachers (I think it was Tony Browder) once said, “Money without consciousness (awareness, knowledge, wisdom, and understanding) leads to destruction.” Money alone can compromise your morals or cause you to make stupid decisions that will lead you to losing your money.

Many of us don’t know the history of who we are and where we come from. It’s important for us to know this “old stuff” in order to give us guidance for the present and future. I hope you picked up on this lesson from our social commentary project that history repeats itself, and if we’re not aware of it and take proper action, we’re doomed to make the same mistakes that our ancestors made. On a positive note, studying the achievements of those who came before you is inspirational, and it takes away all excuses for you not being excellent. Educate yourself on who you are. Read more books (I’m not only saying that because I’m an English teacher). Watch videos and documentaries, and visit museums. There are even Instagram pages that you can follow that can provide a starting point towards knowledge of self.

Don’t Wait Until After High School

I hear some of you say “Oh, we’re still in high school, and we’ll worry about that stuff after we graduate.” No, start now. In reality, other kids your age started taking their education seriously and working towards their after high school goals in elementary school. It’s never too early to get started. The earlier you start, the better chance you have at being successful. Because of the education we’ve been given so far due to our background and where we live, we have a lot of catching up to do, and we also understand that we have to work twice as hard to get where we need to be.

Final Thoughts

I hope you read this entire letter, and you take heed to my words, and think seriously about them over the summer. I wouldn’t write this long letter if I didn’t care about you or want to see you do well. You are the present and the future, and all of us adults are depending on you to make our future better than what it is now.


Mr. Westbrooks

Read the student responses here

It’s Time to Man Up: Reflections from an Urban Educator’s Perspective on the 2-Actor Play that Explores What it Means to be a Man

By Mr. Westbrooks

“no education. no freedom.”

ManUpthePlay  It’s Tuesday. School’s out for the year for the most part with the exception of the extra days that we’re contractually required to work. I’m cleaning and packing up my room, just to unpack it again in September. I receive an email from a coworker about an upcoming stage play called Man Up. I read the email along with the accompanying flyer, and the production was described as a two-man play that tackled the topic of manhood along with issues that men deal with such as fatherhood, relationships, bullying, substance abuse, PTSD, etc. They were holding 2 shows on Friday evening, and I knew immediately that this was something that I needed to experience.

Before I build on my immediate thoughts and reflections after viewing the play from a Black male educator’s perspective, allow me provide context without spoilers. Man Up is centered around two main characters, a Black male high school English teacher and one of his Black male students. The student, whose name is Jihaad, suffers from an ill that is all too common in our society: His father has been absent for the majority of his life. Jihaad’s bitterness about his father’s absence contributes to his challenges with school, particularly with his English teacher Mr. King. Jihaad is frustrated by Mr. King’s tough love, and Mr. King is frustrated by his inability to reach a troubled young man who exudes the potential to be great. This is another phenomenon that is quite common in urban education and something I experience regularly in my day-to-day interactions with students.

However, like any skillful or effective teacher, Mr. King used his English class as a space for therapy and release. This was a concept I learned about in one of my English education courses in grad school. Ultimately, the multimedia project on “What it Means to be a Man” would eventually lead to Jihaad coming to terms with his father not being around and finding an exemplar father figure in his teacher.

As a Black man, who happens to also be a teacher, here are three things I took away  upon viewing experiencing Man Up:

The Importance & Necessity of Black Male Teachers

In one scene, Mr. King’s day-one homie questions him on why he chose to do deal with the stress and underpayment of the teaching profession. His response is powerful, and I echo his same sentiments. There are very few male teachers in the profession. There are even fewer Black male teachers and even, even (times 2) fewer Black male English teachers. Mr. King said it simply: Black boys “need to see strong, Black men.” Having access to positive role models who look like them can leave a favorable impact on their academic success and adolescent development. This is one of the primary reasons why I perceived teaching in an urban area as a calling, and I subsequently answered the calling.

The English Classroom as a Humanizing Space

Many educators probably feel that nationally sanctioned standards and standardized test prep stunts creativity and “real learning;” however, the key components of English Language Arts remain. Students still read literature and engage in narrative, persuasive, and expository writing. There are opportunities to discuss and debate amongst one another and chances to create multimedia presentations. Despite the limitations, English teachers have a bit more wiggle room than other core content area teachers.

Rather than allowing English class to add on to the frustrations that many of our youth are already facing, the subject should do the opposite by becoming a source of therapy. I was consciously exposed to this concept while taking Prof. David Kirkland‘s “Hip-Hop and the Teaching of English” course at NYU. Via learning tasks such as the video project Mr. King had his students produce, the texts that we choose to the read, the open-ended writing activities we assign, and the thought-provoking, small group/class-wide discussions that are sparked by our effective questioning transforms the English classroom into a humanizing space.

Furthermore, the fact that the writers chose to depict the education-centered plot of Man Up as dramatic art in the form of a stage play infused with music and poetry, indirectly legitimizes the need for arts education in our schools. Even without courses in the various forms of art, English teachers can incorporate the arts into their curriculum by having students create poetry or participate in Theatre of the Oppressed activities, which I was also introduced to in the Hip Hop course.

Regardless of whether learning comes in the form of traditional tasks such as reading, writing, and discussing or in more creative forms like visual and dramatic art, providing students with spaces to express their thoughts and feelings while acknowledging and affirming their humanity will ultimately break down the psychological and emotional barriers that hinder their achievement in school without sacrificing rigor and high expectations.

All Men Need to Man Up

In the public forum, we’re often most critical of the men or boys that wreak havoc in our neighborhoods. Indeed, they need to be adjusted, but in reality we all have room for improvement. We’re critical of the Jihaad’s of the world for being annoying as hell in class and seemingly not taking their education seriously, and we demonize the men like Jihaad’s father for being deadbeat daddies. Man Up made it a point reveal that all men have challenges, even brothas like Mr. King who on the surface seem to have it altogether.

Overall, Man Up is a must-see production for its themes, lessons, humor, interactivity, aesthetic value, and its relativity to our daily challenges. Although the play is male-focused with an all-male cast and characters, there’s a message for everyone. It’s a calling for all boys and men to man up, and it’s a calling for all girls and women to set high expectations and standards for the boys and men in their lives.

Man Up will be on a 28-city tour this summer. Visit for more information.

Man Up Post Play

“Without teachers, there wouldn’t be any other profession.”

Can you expect …

Can you expect teachers to revolutionize the social order for the good of the community? Indeed we must expect this very thing. The educational system of a country is worthless unless it accomplishes this task. Men of scholarship, and consequently of prophetic insight, must show us the right way and lead us unto the light which shines brighter and brighter.

– Carter G. Woodson (1933)

In a system of …

In a system of colonialism, the colonizer has a dual purpose for educating the colonized. The first is socialization into accepting the value system , history, and culture of the dominant society. The second is education for economic productivity. The oppressed are treated like commodities imbued with skills that are bought and sold on the labor market for the profit of the capitalists. The educator advocating liberation has parallel purposes for educating the oppressed: education for struggle and education for survival.

– Janice E. Hale-Benson

The Ethnic Cleansing of Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the Age of Obama, Part 1 of 3

By Prof. Jahi Issa, Ph.D

For more than 100 years, HBCU’si have educated African American leadership.
Although the mission statements of most HBCUs do not state this fact, HBCUs grew
out of the social disorder and aftermath of the American Civil War—a period
which constitutionally brought millions of formerly enslaved Africans into
citizenry in the United States. Similar to colleges and universities that were
created for religious groups such as Catholics, Jews and for other immigrant
groups, HBCUs were created in reaction to de facto marginalization created by a
European American hostile society. ii Because of the efforts of the Civil Right
Movement, HBCU’s were finally recognized as important institutions and were
giving special status for Federal funding. However, over the past few decades,
HBCUs have been targeted as being too “Black” and many states are progressively
trying to eliminate African Americans from these institutions that have served
as a buffer zone for the Black middle class. Some HBCUs have and are going
through hostile takeovers in order to turn them into White education facilities
and thereby permanently eliminating the African American middle class.

African Americans Perform Better at HBCU’s

Although over the years many have argued that HBCUs are redundant and irrelevant in today’s “post racial world,” the fact remains that these intuitions of higher learning, according to the National Science Foundation, graduate more than 33% of all African Americans earning Bachelor’s and doctoral degrees, almost double that compared to African Americans attending predominately White schools.3 Furthermore, according to the Washington Post, the “post racial” world that many hoped for with the election of President Barack Obama may just be an illusion.4

Relying on a recent report from the Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends, the Washington Post noted that the typical White household in 2009 had 20 times more wealth ($113,149) than the typical Black household ($5,677). Moreover, another report that was conducted by Brandeis University in May of 2010 and concluded that African American will never reach wealth parity with that of White Americans.5 Both reports note that African Americans with college degrees stand a better chance at edging out a decent life in the United States than those without degrees.

According to a 1977 study that was conducted under the leadership of Dr. Mary Francis Berry, in her capacity as the former Secretary of Education in the Carter Administration, primary reasons why HBCUs tended to be better equipped to prepare students for real world experience was because they offered:

credible models for aspiring Blacks…“psycho-socially congenial settings in which
blacks can develop” “insurance against a potentially declining interest in the
education of black folk.”

Furthermore, the report posits that the ultimate purpose of the HBCU is to “represent the formal structures which nurture and stress racial ideology, pride and worth for Blacks. Consequently, they are what every racial and ethnic group is entitled to have—a political, social and intellectual haven.”6 The report mentioned above was recently vindicated in a study that was published in January of 2011. Three economists concluded that African Americans who attend HBCUs tend to perform better in the work force than African Americans who attend predominately White universities and colleges.7

The 1965 Higher Education Act and Title III: Federal Funding For African-Americans in Higher Education

One cannot discuss today’s relevancy of HBCUs without mentioning the Higher Education Act of 1965. The Higher Education Act was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson as part of his Great Society program that sought “to strengthen the educational resources of our colleges and universities and to provide financial assistance for students in postsecondary and higher education.” Before the law was signed by President Johnson, the Chairman of the House Committee on Education, an African-American Harlem Congressman named Adam Clayton Powell made an amendment that defined HBCUs as “…any historically black college or university that was established prior to 1964, whose principal mission was, and is, the education of black Americans.”8

The amendments also legalized the federal funding of HBCUs through the Higher Education Act of 1965 Title III program. Title III is the federal governing body which sets the standard for providing funding for HBCUs. Over the years Title III had provided billions of dollars to support African-American undergraduate, graduate programs, increasing African American participation in math and science, real estate acquisitions and strengthen HBCU’ endowments to name a few.9 In all, Title III has helped African American universities not only to increase their numbers in accredited degree programs across the country; it has also allowed many HBCUs to have a tremendous economic impact in the communities that they serve.

Economic Impact of HBCUs and the Origins of a New and Corrupt Era

In 2005 the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), an office within the U.S. Department of Education, published a report that documented the economic impact of HBCUs. Primarily, this study was introduced by President George W. Bush and continued by President Barack Obama’s administration, which sought to include the participation of private sector (corporations) into the governing bodies of HBCUs.10 The study found that more than 100 HBCUs had in 2001 an economic impact of almost 11 billion dollars in the communities that they served. For instance, schools such as Howard University have a total economic impact in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area of more than 600 million dollars. For smaller schools such as Delaware State University, their total economic impact was more than 150 million dollars. It must be noted that the economic impact also made a national impression.

Again, according to the National Science Foundation, HBCUs bestowed nearly 25% of all bachelor degrees earned by African Americans in 2001. In the areas of agriculture, biology, mathematics and the physical sciences, HBCUs accounted for more than 40 percent of all bachelor degrees earned by African-Americans.11 With this stated, it is easy to see why corporations would want a piece of the pie. Furthermore, if one is to evaluate the current lack of transparency on Wall Street, it is easy to see that Wall Street’s collaboration with today’s HBCUs could represent the end of African American higher education as we know it.

The Second Corporate Takeover

Although President Barack Obama’s HBCU Executive Order 13532 “encourages private investment in HBCUs,” research proves that corporate partnerships are not new to HBCUs, nor are their historic inputs solely motivated by financial gains.12 Not long after the end of reconstruction, Northern White capitalists sought extreme ways in which they could control the ebb and flow of African American education. This was done to curtail the rapid development of African American educational institutions immediately after the Civil War.

For instance, from 1865-1880 federal agents documented that there were thousands of African American schools operating throughout the South independent of White control. When northern White benevolent groups finally reached the South with mythical-preconceived notions that they were coming to “civilize” former wretched enslaved Africans, they were astonished to see that Africans Americans had already had established their own schools systems fully equipped with African American teachers. These schools’ full missions were self-determination and political control over the regions of the South in which they were the majority.13

The high level of African American political education created a problem for the nation after the Compromise of 1877. Since African Americans were no longer allowed to exercise political autonomy in the South, strategies were devised on the federal level to control the nature of their education. The federal government, along with the corporate conglomerates in the North, believed that the only way that they could ensure the continual flow of cheap labor in the South was to train African Americans in a way that they would not advocate for political control of their communities.

Furthermore, there was another important issue at play—that was African American competition with Whites for high skilled jobs. The solution was a new type of training for Southern African Americans called “industrial education.” This type of schooling served the purpose of supervising and training African American to be subservient to White interests.14 Schools such as Hampton, Tuskegee, and Delaware State were devised as the alternative to the African American independent schools that advocated self-determination after the Civil War. The corporate-handpicked spokesman for this new type of schooling was none other than Booker T. Washington.

One must remember that Washington’s entrance exam into Hampton University was sweeping the floor. The ultimate goal of Hampton was to control the emerging Black leadership of the Jim Crow South, and train African Americans in the corporate labor needs of the new South.15 The financial backing of Hampton University and what would later be Tuskegee was provided by White Northern corporations and philanthropy. This corporate-industrial style form of education continued to dominate Southern higher educational institutions long after the death of Booker T. Washington in 1915.16

The White House Initiative on HBCUs Encourages Corporate Collaboration

The current encroachment of private corporate input into the affairs of African American higher education could and will be disastrous. It would mean that African Americans will be forced back into the Jim Crow Era. A deliberate attempt to curtail educational advancements that was gained by the Civil Rights and Black Power era seems to be the main motivation. The White House Advisor on HBCUs, John Wilson, Jr., stated in April of 2010 HBCUs “must not be seen as plaintiffs in the struggle for civil rights….”17Dr. Wilson, a graduate of Morehouse University, tends to forget that it was struggle for civil rights that literally allows him to serve President Barack Obama. The White House Initiative on HBCUs came into existence because of the “plaintiff” of the past.

Furthermore, Mr. Wilson’s statement implies that African American should abandon their pursuit for full rights and self-interest. Taking a lead from Dr. Wilson’s statements, a Wall Street Journal editor named Jason L. Liley wrote an editorial stating that HBCUs were a dismal failure and that “Mr. Obama ought to use the federal government’s leverage” to bring these schools under Wall Street’s control. He went further by stating that HBCUs should all become private and model themselves after the University of Phoenix.18

One month after Liley’s editorial, a conservative from the Wall Street funded American Enterprise Institute also imputed on Wall Street’s quest to control Black education. He ended his article in the Chronicle of Higher Education by stating that HBCUs “should accordingly be encouraged to enroll more non-black students.” The author mentioned nothing about White universities increasing African American enrollment. He also stated that “some HBCUs, notably two in West Virginia (Bluefield State and West Virginia State University), are in fact no longer predominantly black” but are still receiving special (HBCU) federal funding.19

Five months after the Chronicle of Higher Education essay appeared, the White House Advisor on HBCUs, John Wilson, Jr. was invited as the keynote speaker to the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. The title of his speech “Historically Black Colleges and Universities and the Albatross20 of Undignified Publicity” conveyed that HBCU are historically cursed when it comes to publicity in White dominated media outlets. Moreover, the central thesis of his speech, although impressively constructed, was that HBCUs should jump on the corporate bandwagon by accepting funds from good corporate Samaritans such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.21

Black Colleges & White Cultural Hegemony: The Signs of the Future

Although the Higher Education Act of 1965 clearly states that an HBCU is a school “whose principal mission was, and is, the education of black Americans,” economist and scholar at American Enterprise Institute, Richard Vedder, reminds us that there is a trend being shaped where HBCUs which formally had an African American majority student and faculty body now have White majority populations still receive federal funding geared for African Americans. These two schools are Bluefield State College and West Virginia State University. According to a May 19, 2000 CNN report, White enrollment at HBCUsis on the rise. Other schools such as Kentucky State University, Elizabeth City State University and Delaware State University are only a few schools that have a growing White and non-African American student and faculty population.

Furthermore, according to an August 17, 2011 Wall Street Journal article called “Recruiters at Black Colleges Break from Tradition,” HBCUs such as Tennessee State University, Delaware State University and Paul Quinn College are cited as no longer focusing exclusively on recruiting African Americans. The author of the article points out that Tennessee State University’s Black enrollment has reduced to around 70 %, while Paul Quinn College Black enrollment has been predicted to fall from 94% to 85% for the Fall 2011 academic year.22

Many have asked whether or not White enrollment at HBCUs represents a decrease in African American enrollment at the same schools. The year that CNN published its story, Blue field College African American faculty had dwindled to less than one percent from previous decades. The African American student enrollment had also decreased to less than ten percent. Nonetheless, research shows that when African American faculty at HBCUs is a majority, African American students tend to enroll at a higher percentage and they tend to be more productive in the work place once they graduate.

There seems to be a direct correlation between African American student enrollment and that of its faculty. In other words, if the African American faculty enrollment at HBCUs is low, African American students tend not to attend HBCUs. When this occurs, is an HBCU still an HBCU? In other words, can you have an HBCU without Black students and faculty? This is exactly the issue that American Enterprise Institute scholar Richard Vedder was raising in his essay in the Chronicle of Higher Learning. Why are HBCUs that are no longer Black in students or faculty population receiving federal monies geared toward African Americans? The federal government seems to believe that this trend represents the future for HBCUs.


1 Historically Black Colleges and Universities are institutions founded primary for African Americans.

2 The United States Department of Education, Record Group 441, National Archives and Records Administration, National Advisory Committee on Black Higher Education and Black Colleges and Universities, (1979). National Advisory Committee on Black Higher Education and Black Colleges and Universities was the precursor to the White House Initiative on HBCUs established by President Jimmy Carter in 1976 and signed into law in 1980.

3  Joan Burrelli and Alan Rapoport, “The Role of HBCUs as Baccalaureate-Origin Institutions of Black S&E Doctorate Recipients,” National Science Foundation Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences, (2008).

4 Paul Taylor, “Hard hit in recession, Blacks still hopeful,” The Washington Post, July 28, 2011.

5 Rakesh Kochhar, Richard Fry and Paul Taylor, “Wealth Gaps Rise to Record Highs Between Whites, Blacks and Hispanics: Twenty-to-One,” Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends (26 July 2011)

6 National Advisory Committee on Black Higher Education and Black Colleges and Universities, The United States Department of Education, “Black Colleges and Universities:” An Essential Component of a Diverse System of Higher Education,” p. 27. Although not widely known, Dr. Mary Frances Berry, when she was Assistant Secretary for Education, was responsible for convincing President Jimmy Carter to sign an executive order that brought about the White House Initiative on Historical Black Colleges and Universities. This was done as a result of the Civil Rights Movement and Black Power Struggle during the 1960-70s.

7 Gregory N. Price, William Spriggs and Omari H. Swinton, “The Relative to Graduating from a Historically Black College/University: Propensity Score Matching Estimates from the National Sur vey of Black Americans,” Review of Black Political Economy (2011) 38.

8 Higher Education Act of 1965, H.R. 621, 89th Cong., 1st Sess. (1965); Higher Education Act of 1965, S.673, 89th Cong., 1st Sess.(1965); Higher Education Act of 1965, Pub. L . No. 89-329 (1965); Vol. 111 Cong. Record (1965) 883, 978, 17367;

9 See the United States Department of Education’s website on Title III and it’s specific programs for African- Americans and HBCUs: “Title II, Part B.: Strenthening Historically Black Graduate Institutions Program.” U.S. Department of Education.

10 The input of private sector or corporation into the governing affairs of HBCUs was first initiated by President George H. W. Bush in 1989. See The President’s HBCU Board of Advisors Report:  “Transition Ongoing: Building Capacity in Historical black Colleges and Universities through Participation in Federal Programs.” Annual Report to the President 2007.

11 The National Center for Educational Statistics: “The Economic Impact of the Nation’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities.” Department of Education. October 2006.

12 President Barack Obama’s Executive Order 136532.

13 James D. Anderson, The Education of Blacks in the South, 1860-1935, (Chapel Hill, 1988), pp. 1-32.

14 Donald Spivey, Schooling for the New Slavery: Black Industrial Education, 1868-1915, ( Trenton, 2007) pp. 69-90.

15 It must be pointed out that Washington was vehemently opposed by a plethora of mainstream African American leaders.

16 Raymond Wolters, The New Negro on Campus: The Black College Rebellion of the 1920s (Princeton, 1975) p. 3-30. It must be pointed out that the corporate domination of these institutions were able to control the ebb and flow of African American education for more than seventy years.

17 The Chronicle of Higher Education, April 22, 2010.

18 Jason L. Riley, “Black Colleges Need a New Mission,” The Wall Street Journal, September 28, 2010. It must be noted that a plethora of HBCU presidents denounced Riley’s article. See The National Association of Equal Opportunity in Higher Education

19 Richard Vedder, ‘Why Do We Have HBCUs?’ The Chronicle of Higher Education, 15 October  2010.

20 The word “Albatross” means an “omen of bad luck, as well as a metaphor for a burden to be carried.”

21 John Silvanus Wilson, Jr., “Historically Black Colleges and Universities and the Albatross of Undignified Publicity,” 21 March 2012. Several HBCUs have already announced their corporate collaborations. See entire speech.

22 Sue Shellenbarger, “Recruiters at Black Colleges Break from Tradition,”  Wall Street Journal (17 August 2011).

Source: blackagendareport

Dr. Issa received his Ph.D. from Howard University, his M.A. from Southern University,
and his B.A. from Texas Southern University. He also attended Candler School of
Theology at Emory University. Dr. Issa was born and raised in St. Louis, MO and
currently teaches at Delaware State University.

Jasmine Tucker: Religious Organizations and the Education of Black Children

By Jasmine E. Tucker

Nuns on a Bus Tour led by Sis. Simone Campbell

Every morning when I walk out of Union Station, I always grab a newspaper from the vendors outside on Massachusetts Avenue. One morning a few weeks ago, I opened a Washington Express paper and saw a group of elderly women on the inside. The women were just not brochure-peddling evangelists, but these nuns had created the Nuns on the Bus campaign. Sister Simone Campbell led a bus tour throughout the Midwest visiting cities such as Philadelphia, Columbus, Toledo, and concluding in Washington, D.C.

Their goal was to educate the community about the current House budget created by House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. Ryan’s budget, entitled “The Path to Prosperity, is going to raise taxes on 18 million low-income families while cutting taxes for millionaires and big corporations. It would also push the families of 2 million children into poverty and kick 8 million people off of food stamps and 30 million off of health care. The Ryan budget would ultimately affect residents of Ohio, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin only.

Most importantly, the budget is going to completely reshape the education field. This budget will especially hit home for me, because I am a native of Columbus, Ohio. The budget will cut $72.6 million out of Ohio’s Head Start budget, which will result in 10,416 Head Start preschool slots being eliminated, and 3,300 lost jobs over the next two years. More than $110.8 million will be cut out of special education funding affecting over 60,000 special education students in the state of Ohio. Title I funding, which is used to aid low performing schools, will also be reduced immensely. Over 65,000 students will be affected by this change, and over 1,500 jobs will be lost with a reduction of Title I spending.

Rep. Paul Ryan holds a copy of the House budget

With the partnership of various Christian, Jewish, and Muslim organizations, the Faithful Budget was created. The Faithful Budget, endorsed by the Nuns on the Bus campaign, is an alternative budget that provides a compromise that allows the wealthy to retain their wealth while uplifting the poor at the same time. In the education component of the Faithful Budget, the aims are to continue expanding education reform rather than allow Congressman Ryan to debilitate it.

I applaud Sister Simone’s efforts to reform education through an alternative budget, however I think the private religious sector may underestimate its power. If it reappropriates its efforts in a way that does not involve politics, it has the possibility of creating substantial social change. In a world where Washington politicians make all of the major decisions, the well being of African-Americans will always be last on the agenda.

A new source of power needs to be reintegrated into the African-American community. There was once a time when religious groups were able to create and sustain institutions that benefited the well being of the African-American community. Religious organizations have the capability to unite and make some major changes for the education agenda. One organization made a key impact on education for African-Americans, and its evidence is still manifesting today.

During the late 1860s and 1870s, Northern churches and religious societies established dozens of normal academies and colleges in the South. A majority of the institutions taught elementary and secondary education. Only a small amount of Black students were prepared for college level work. The American Missionary Association – an abolitionist and Congregationalist organization – collaborated with the Freedmen’s Bureau to create Fisk in Nashville, Hampton in Virginia, Tougaloo in Alabama, and Avery in South Carolina.

The American Missionary Association

These institutions implemented a curriculum based on elementary and secondary education, liberal education, and vocational education. AMA’s primary goal was to train black students to become teachers. AMA was instrumental in sending teachers and clergymen to the South to cater to the spiritual and educational needs of the freedmen.

AMA made a significant contribution by stepping from behind the pulpit and going into the community and creating sustenance. The church was able to fundraise by holding bazaars, hosting bake sales, and creating missionary and quilting societies to pay for their major projects. Some churches are doing great things by creating Christian academies and summer education programs, but collectively they can do so much more.

Imagine if Potter’s House, World Changers Church, Greater Allen A.M.E. Cathedral of New York, and New Birth Missionary Baptist were to establish a campaign to raise funds for new Christian schools across the country. With the revenue that they earn in their churches and from fundraising, they could afford to maintain schools that teach African-American children. The Christian churches have the revenue and members to contribute a great deal to providing an alternative education program for African-American children. If they can feed the poor, conduct missionary trips, and still place ATMs in their churches, then they can create schools and provide books and teachers for our Black children.

Jasmine Tucker is a senior sociology major/African-American Studies minor at Howard University. She is also an educational issues intern at the American Federation of Teachers. Follow Jasmine on Twitter @YourQueen2Bee.

The Need for a Renewed Black-Operated Freedmen’s Bureau

A Bureau agent stands between armed groups of Southern Whites and freedmen

By Jasmine E. Tucker

New York City is the home to the largest population of African-Americans in the country, however only 1 out of 10 students out of the five boroughs will graduate from college. There are 33,000 abandoned homes in the city of Detroit. Cleveland has the highest unemployment rate for African-Americans in the country. Los Angeles has the highest population of homeless African-Americans in the nation. Sadly in Washington, D.C., almost half of the African-American population is suffering from AIDs.

All of these barefaced statistics are statements that we as a people have been marred by everyday in this generation’s existence. With this epidemic of suffering that is affecting millions of African-Americans; one can only wonder what the future will hold for our race. Relying on one’s faith can only get us so far. Being in America to suffer because of our race has been an underlying theme since the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade.

I can only recall one circumstance where this nation’s government has created a reform program geared specifically towards African-Americans. The establishment of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands – more commonly called the Freedmen’s Bureau – is to this day the only reform system that was geared toward the well-being of African-Americans. Even though the Bureau’s goal was to also assist poor Caucasian refugees, their main goal was to give newly- freed slaves a clean slate after emancipation to work and learn.

A renewed Black-operated Freedmen’s Bureau in today’s society may be beneficial in correcting the social injustices plaguing the African-American community. The Bureau of Reconstruction was not able to completely renovate the African-American community; however it made many strides to improve the quality of life for African-Americans after the emancipation.

By the end of the Civil War, the South had been distraught. Many former slaves and White refugees faced starvation and lacked basic needs such as food, clothing, and shelter. It soon became obvious to the U.S. government that additional aid was required to end the anguish in the South and help Whites and Blacks to restructure their lives. In response to this need, Congress passed the Freedmen’s Bureau Act in 1865. The agency provided food, clothing, and shelter for hungry and homeless Whites and Blacks. The Bureau was also accountable for supporting former slaves in negotiating fair labor contracts with Whites and building schools to help educate their children and themselves.

General Oliver Otis Howard

One of the first Black colleges created during the Reconstruction era was Howard University, founded in 1867 by General Oliver Otis Howard, who was also the first head of the Freedmen’s Bureau. The Bureau established camps for the homeless, fed the hungry, and cared for orphans to the best of its ability. Additionally, the Bureau provided medical care to half a million freedmen and was responsible for implementing the Special Order #15, which we all know as “forty acres and a mule.” Despite all these accomplishments, the Bureau was also very flawed.

Congress never provided adequate funds or personnel to carry out the task of assisting the poor. The allocation of Bureau agents was scarce across the South, with usually one agent representing up to 20,000 people. There were few African-American agents, because only a small number of military officers were Black. Although the bureau’s primary concern was the welfare of former slaves, it actually served more poor Whites than Blacks.

Sharecropping was in fact introduced to the South on a sweeping basis by the Freemen’s Bureau. After emancipation and the abolition of the plantation system, the Freedmen’s Bureau assisted Blacks in negotiating contracts for pay or a share of what they produced for their former masters. Sadly, once President Andrew Johnson was sworn in as the new president, he began to pardon thousands of former Confederates and returned their land to them ending the Special Order #15.

40 acres and a mule

As stated previously, America needs a new Black-operated Freedmen’s Bureau. This bureau, which was a part of the Department of War, was created to not only assist poor White refugees, but mostly to assist the approximately four million newly freed slaves. Yet Congress and its White agents manipulated their power and misappropriated funds that could have helped the poor.

In today’s society, we are not physically enslaved like our ancestors were; however we are suffering from hunger, poverty, inadequate education, unemployment, and a lack of health coverage. Maybe a new federal program that is anchored specifically towards the African-American community will usher in improvements for the well being of our people and our children in the generations to come.

If the theory of the Dubois’ Talented Tenth can be applied, I’m sure the leaders in our community can create a movement of social change. We do not only owe it to ourselves, but we owe it to our children who are going to be in this world with skin that will forever hinder them. If it could be done in 1865, I believe our brothers and sisters can bring it into fruition now.

Jasmine Tucker is a senior sociology major and African-American studies minor at Howard University in Washington, D.C. She’s also currently an Educational Issues Intern at the American Federation of Teachers.