Advocating for Change: Oakland’s AAMA
October 18, 2017
Posted by: Adi Alouf, Intern
Fifth in our “Racial Justice: Advocating for Change” series.
The great inequalities in educational access and opportunity across racial, economic, and residential lines produce and maintain the academic opportunity and achievement gaps between white students and students of color.
The school-to-prison-pipeline describes the inadequate educational services, overcrowded classrooms, racially and socioeconomically isolated environments, lack of good teachers and insufficient funding for teachers and services that make students - often students of color and from low socioeconomic backgrounds - more likely to be disengaged, face exclusionary discipline and early involvement with law enforcement. Exclusionary disciplinary practices disproportionately impact students of color. Black students are suspended or expelled from school three times more often than white students. Inequities prevail in special education, with children of color more likely to be designated as intellectually disabled or emotionally disturbed and in need of special education. Even when they are correctly diagnosed, children of color often receive poorer services than disabled white children.
Education is an economic driver in our society. The spheres of education inequality and economic inequality are interlocked, feeding and relying on one another. In fighting for education justice, we simultaneously work to dismantle systemic racism within and across various institutions.
The Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) launched the Office for African American Male Achievement (AAMA) in 2010 - a department committed to encouraging, empowering, and engaging OUSD’s black male students. A handful of organizations joined together to consider data which proved that past initiatives to transform the experiences, access, and opportunity for black male students had largely failed - “the educational needs of black children were not being met.” This department was the first of its kind. By focusing on black male students - the subgroup of students “furthest away from opportunity,” consistently on the lowest position on every positive indicator of success recorded in the data whom schools are found to be especially hostile to - the OUSD acts in line with its theory of Targeted Universalism, whereby zooming into a select group of students is seen to transform and uplift educational opportunity for all students.
AAMA offers a handful of programs to achieve its mission. Its Student Leadership Council, launched in September 2014, brings together black male students in middle through high school in positions of leadership and from all over the United States to support each other at their local schools and act as role models. Students on the leadership council participate in their local school councils and create interventions and programming for their black male peers.
AAMA’s Manhood Development Program (MDP), an academic mentoring model designed and taught by black males for black males, seeks to decrease suspensions, incarceration, and the opportunity/achievement gap, and increase attendance, graduates, and literacy. The MDP curriculum “draws on historical and contemporary African and African American culture to support students as they explore their identity options, learn how to manage their emotions, learn how to channel their personal will, and develop a positive sense of purpose for themselves, their families, and their communities.”
AAMA’s Khepera Pathway offers a “college and career pathway” for students - teaching them critical thinking, problem solving and leadership skills through start-up entrepreneurship, social innovation, and civic engagement projects and opportunities. The Pathway program provides the professional training essential to running a business and leading change in local communities and society at large.
AAMA analyzes “the patterns and processes that are producing systemic inequities,” and works to restructure and create systems and spaces that provide opportunity and success for black male students in the Oakland Unified School District. To disrupt patterns of institutional racism, and to shift the narrative of black masculinity, AAMA forges community partnerships, researches and implements best instructional practices, and paves the way for sustainable reforms to support a culture of academic excellence for all students. AAMA offers an academic mentoring course, a Revolutionary Literature course that satisfies college credit, and organizes workshops and conferences. AAMA also engages parents, cultivates partnerships and collaborations, and offers professional development.
Sign the National Education Association petition to Shut down the School-to-Prison Pipeline