Schools in Oakland, California are teaching Black boys how to succeed. “Mastering Our Cultural Identity: African American Male Image” is a full-credit elective given at 20 schools in the district. Launched by the Office of African American Male Achievement, an initiative of the Oakland Unified School District, the program aims to help Black male students overcome the stereotypes and obstacles facing them in society.
According to The New York Times, the program, which is commonly called the Manhood Development Program, serves grades three through 12. Lower grades focus on stories and legacies of Black people while high school students explore African-American culture and history. All courses are taught by Black male instructors – like Kevin Jennings at Montera Middle School – which differs from the dominant group of teachers in the area who are predominantly white and female.
The Office of African-American Male Achievement, which was established five years ago, is the United States’ first department within a public school district that explicitly speaks the to the needs of Black boys. After an investigation into the high number of Black male suspensions by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, an agreement was signed to improve Black boys’ outcomes in the classroom. Programs like peer mentoring and student leadership conferences aim to push African-American boys toward the top of educational indicators.
According to the Oakland School District’s website, MDP was so effective that it grew from three to six schools in its first year. It currently operates in 17 schools in the Oakland district. The program aims to decrease suspensions and incarceration and increase attendance and graduation rates. It also seeks to close the opportunity/achievement gap while increasing literacy rates. The NYT reports the percentage of young men on the honor roll has risen from 16 percent to 25 percent over the past three years.
Tyree DeJuan Davis, a freshman at Oakland Technical High School at the time, told Oakland North his fellow students “are just kind and loving brothers to me.” He adds when he is getting too hyper in during a lesson his classmates are “always there beside me” to calm him before he gets reprimanded by their teacher, Lamar Hancock. A similar program was recently launched in Baltimore for high school students of color.