Montera1, 7:12 – AMBI OF SCHOOL HERE
ON THE WALL OF A PORTABLE CLASSROOM AT MONTERA MIDDLE SCHOOL, THERE ARE POSTERS OF INFLUENTIAL BLACK MEN – PEOPLE LIKE BARACK OBAMA AND MICHAEL JACKSON. SIXTEEN EIGHTH GRADE BOYS ARE FOCUSED ON TEACHER KEVIN JENNINGS.
Montera1, 00:43: KEVIN JENNINGS1: So, we’re about to watch this video first and then we’ll have a reflection. … This video is called Dear John.
3:45 – 4:00: FADE UP MC LYTE SONG
THE LYRICS ARE A LETTER TO AFRICAN-AMERICAN YOUNG MEN AND THEIR FATHERS.
Montera1, 02:52 CHORUS MC LYTE SONG …So you wanna be ballers, shot callers Dippin’ in the Benz straight lawless Or would you rather be father to your daughters?…
THE VIDEO SHOWS SMILING BLACK MEN HUGGING THEIR KIDS, AND FLASHES THROUGH FACES OF FAMOUS PEOPLE LIKE CORNEL WEST AND FREDERICK DOUGLASS.
FADE UP END OF SONG (Montera1, around 04:00)
Montera1, 4:05: KJ: So, can I get a couple hands and somebody tell me what they just saw in this video?
Montera1, 4:27: KJ: Jaylin J: I saw happy black people…I saw famous people… KJ: I like that you said happy black people. I like that you said that.
Montera1, 5:15: KJ: So I have a question, do we see videos like this often? … No, we don’t…
THIS IS A MANHOOD DEVELOPMENT CLASS, A COURSE CREATED FOR BLACK BOYS. IT COVERS A RANGE OF SUBJECTS, FROM HISTORY TO LITERATURE TO CURRENT EVENTS – ALL FROM AN AFRICAN-AMERICAN PERSPECTIVE. BEYOND PURE ACADEMICS, THE COURSE IS ALSO ABOUT LEARNING TO TIE A TIE, WHAT TO DO WHEN APPROACHED BY A COP, AND CREATING A SENSE OF BROTHERHOOD.
FADE UP AND DOWN: Mentera1, 7:12ish – scenes of students calling out songs they want to the teacher to play
THIS CLASS IS ONE OF FORTY-FOUR OFFERED TO ELEMENTARY, MIDDLE, AND HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS IN OAKLAND PUBLIC SCHOOLS. IT’S PART OF THE DISTRICT’S AFRICAN AMERICAN MALE ACHIEVEMENT INITIATIVE, OR AAMA. TODAY’S CLASS IS ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF MEDIA IMAGES ON BEHAVIOR.
Montera1, 6:52: If more videos like Dear John were displayed, what type of influence do you think it would have on black males? I’ll give you guys about 6 minutes.
THE STUDENTS HUNCH OVER THEIR NOTEBOOKS. AT THE BACK OF THE CLASSROOM, ALONGSIDE A LARGE STUFFED BEAR AND A FISH TANK, A SIGN READS, “MR. KEVIN LOVES ORDER AND STRUCTURE.”
HE ALSO LOVES JOURNAL SHARING. HE CALLS ON STUDENT MICHAEL JOHNSON WHO READS FROM HIS NOTEBOOK.
Montera1, 36:10 MJ: The influence would be amazing… if we saw in the media males taking care of their kids and taking the responsibility and owning up could change what black people are persuaded to be.
Things run differently in these classes. Students are called “kings,” and teachers are “brothers.” Teachers greet their students with a special handshake:
03OakTech_IntSurakoFollings, 3:18 SF01: Well, it’s two claps, then it’s two knuckle claps like that, then it’s a grab, go up, pinkie, wipe the shoes, and then salute.
IN 2011, THE FIRST YEAR THESE CLASSES WERE OFFERED, FIFTY STUDENTS ENROLLED IN THREE SCHOOLS. NOW, THERE ARE FOUR HUNDRED AND FIFTY STUDENTS IN FIFTEEN SCHOOLS ACROSS THE CITY. THE CLASSES MEET EVERY DAY.
AND THEY’RE WORKING. GRADE POINT AVERAGES ARE UP TWENTY-FIVE PERCENT FOR BOYS IN THE CLASSES. AND SUSPENSIONS OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN BOYS HAVE FALLEN BY MORE THAN FORTY PERCENT ACROSS OAKLAND.
BUT THERE’S STILL ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT. SOME COMMUNITY MEMBERS CALL THE CLASSES QUOTE ‘FLUFFY’ – LACKING IN STRONG ACADEMIC CONTENT.
CHRIS CHATMON, THE DIRECTOR OF AAMA, ENCOURAGES THE SKEPTICS TO COME TO CLASS.
INTERVIEW CHATMON, 33:30:
CC: So we frontload heavy on relationship and on creating a culture and the conditions necessary where kids feel safe.. then we go all in on the academic piece.
MEANING ONCE THE CULTURE OF THE CLASS HAS BEEN SET UP, STUDENTS START IN ON MORE TRADITIONAL ACADEMICS, LIKE LEARNING ABOUT AFRICAN CIVILIZATIONS AND READING MALCOLM X’S AUTOBIOGRAPHY.
THE OFFICE ALSO GETS PUSHBACK FROM OTHER MINORITY GROUPS WHO’D LIKE TO BE PART OF SOMETHING SIMILAR. BUT CHATMON SAYS THERE’S ROOM FOR THAT.
INTERVIEW CHATMON, 23:06: CC: We want to evolve the department into a department of racial equity and healing… 25:06: Equity does not mean equal… 25:32: The idea that a universal system is gonna meet the needs of everybody — if we haven’t learned that that doesn’t work, then shame on us.
THE OFFICE WILL LAUNCH THIS SUMMER, AND CHATMON HOPES IT WILL BRING OTHER MINORITY GROUPS INTO THE FOLD, WORKING ALONGSIDE AAMA. SO THE WORK IS SPREADING IN OAKLAND.
AND IT’S SPREADING OUTSIDE OAKLAND TOO. CHATMON’S BEEN ADVISING SCHOOL DISTRICTS IN SAN FRANCISCO, ANTIOCH, MINNEAPOLIS, AND ATLANTA.
AND THIS PAST FEBRUARY, THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION CELEBRATED ITS ONE-YEAR ANNIVERSARY OF IT’S OWN PROGRAM TO UPLIFT YOUNG MEN OF COLOR. CHATMON WAS THERE AT THE WHITE HOUSE. IN A GROWING MOVEMENT, HE HAD THE DISTINCT CLAIM OF BEING THE FIRST TO RUN ANY SUCH OFFICE.
FOR NORTHGATE RADIO, I’M LAURA KLIVANS.