Black Institutions Will Be Our Foundations For Freedom

Kudos to the Center for Black Educator Development for the 5th annual National Black Male Educator Convening this year. It was a wonderful opportunity to connect with my fellow Black male educators to be revived, renewed and restored for the work of educating young people – particularly Black students and other students of color. Kudos to the Center’s team for putting on a wonderful convening of and for Black educators. From the panels to the workshops… it was exactly what we needed.

I left the convening feeling every bit of poured into. I hope my brothers felted poured into as well.

I was privileged to participate in a panel, with heavyweight educators, including Dr. Constance Lindsay (whose research made my own possible), Dr. Travis Bristol (the preeminent scholar on Black male educators) and Ms. Joyce Abbott, a master educator of the Philadelphia Public School system.

I also had the opportunity to speak with a host of other scholars including Dr. Ivory Toldson, Dr. Jarvis Givens, and Dr. Greg Carr. Even more wonderful was the breathtaking sight of witnessing the sea of Black male educators in an entire hotel ballroom—and overflow.  

It was powerful.

With that said, none of those things are my greatest takeaway. My greatest takeaway is something testified to by the life of Dr. Carter G Woodson. Rather than work in white institutions that could control and censure his scholarship—scholarship meant to build Black people—Woodson created a Black institution so that he could do just that; build African people of the United States through education about African people throughout time.

Woodson poured into the lives of Black people through a Black institution. My greatest takeaway is that to really give Black people what they need, we should be meeting the need by way of Black institutions.

Certainly, Black people can do and have done great work within white institutions—on behalf of Black people. Many of us continue to work for institutions that are led and created by white people. However white institutions are not Black institutions, what simply means that what matters to Black people doesn’t take precedent.

Non-Black institutions, no matter how well-intentioned they maybe where Black people are concerned, will at some point compromise what’s best for Black people for the sake of the mission of that organization/institution. A perfect example is a school “dedicated” to educating Black students while failing to teaching students about the history of whiteness and white supremacy to not upset parents in the community.

In fairness, non-Black organizations cannot necessarily function as unapologetically Black. However, a Black institution can; hosting convenings like the Black Male Educator Convening from a very governance mindset. Such events are important, not because of the day off of work or the catered food, but because these events facilitate the atmosphere where we can speak to one another as we know each other to be, so that way we can move forward together.

What was shared at the convening was from a purely governance space rooted in the Black experience; formatted for Black educators. White institutions, no matter how well-intentioned, can’t do that.

Black institutions genuinely have a passion (and heart) for Black people. You don’t have to explain a particular initiative aimed towards Black people in a Black institution as you do in a white institution.

As a writer I’ve submitted numerous pieces to white institutions; essays very much centered on the Black experience. Some were published while others, because they bumped up against the values and sensibilities of those organizations and/or institutions, my writings were rebuffed. Black institutions have always provided me with the space to speak from where I sit and see without, having to explain why.

That is the power of writing for Black institutions. The convening displayed the power of Black educator institutions. It reaffirmed my understanding of that power.

Some will say that we need more Black institutions, since they offer so many great opportunities for Black people.

I would caution folks to reconsider their sentiment. We shouldn’t focus on why there aren’t more Black institutions. Rather, we should consider why haven’t more Black people rooted themselves within the Black institutions that already exist?

Root yourself in a Black institution. If none fit your passion, launch one with likeminded Black folk.

Black institutions should never be steppingstones to the next best thing or the next big thing. Black institutions are the thing that will allow us to work, to advocate, to fight and to defend ourselves within an anti-Black society. I walked away from the convening with hope; a hope in knowing that we as a people continue to build on the legacies of those who came before us.

As for me, I am rooted within numerous Black institutions with respect to my work and the convening reaffirmed my commitment to those institutions that I’m attached to—encouraging me to root myself a little deeper.

I encourage all Black people, particularly those of us who are in education, to root ourselves within a Black institution. One may teach at a historically white institution, whether in higher Ed or K-12. One’s school district may service Black people, but with agendas, procedures, and policies not established with Black people in mind apart from policing them. Although one may do the work on behalf of Black people wherever they are, so much more can be done when part of an institution that can help you do that.

I encourage us to identify and join those Black institutions locally and nationally that can help you do the work that you have been called to do. Know that those institutions are here for us to pour into and to pour out of. Moving into the new year of 2023, let us reason together that we join a Black institution and build us with our time, talents and dollars. May we build institutional strength by leaning on institutional memory.

Together, let us march (fight) on until victory is won.


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