Negative comments tend to be the norm when folks talk about those who live in the District’s Southeast communities — whether those remarks have merit or not.
But for one group of sixth-graders from Democracy Prep Congress Heights in Ward 8, they assert that they not only refuse to accept such negative stereotypes but note that they can easily illustrate how much they know about their neighborhood, their city and their country’s current political state of affairs.
And under the able tutelage of their mathematics teacher, Brandon Frey, it’s clear they’re receiving a unique form of instruction that incorporates both the needed fundamentals of math with the kinds of real world issues that impact African-Americans in D.C. and other urban dwellings.
Frey, 25, a native Washingtonian raised by a single mother along with a younger sister, says he first had plans to become an orthopedic doctor until he realized, while working for a physician after graduating from Old Dominion Union, the severe need for teachers who could more easily relate to their pupils by starting their conversations by referring to experiences commonly faced. That’s what soon led the Cardozo Senior High graduate, raised in Southwest, to return home and teach youth in Ward 8 — the place where he adds, “My heart has always been.”
“I bring a Black perspective to my class by including issues from both the past and present to the forefront,” he said. “But I’m also able to align those situations with the common core standards so that they’re still learning what’s needed for them to succeed. My class motto: “I don’t teach calculators, I teach mathematical thinkers,” he said.
As an example of what his students have already learned, he described lessons in which he’s used percentages, unit rates and ratios to illustrate how economic inequity and the lack of adequate resources (i.e. organic grocery stores and hospitals) in D.C. remain unevenly distributed because of race and income.
“Blacks in Wards 7 and 8 get the short end of the stick,” he said. “Their world and mine when I was a youth are almost identical so I know what it feels like to experience a sense of hopelessness. Still, I’m determined to help them believe that they can achieve their dreams despite being from wards or communities that have been written off or perceived as having schools that are inadequate.”
A trio of Frey’s articulate students, Jakari Green, 12, Daria Craddock, 11 and Keiva Williams, 12, not only confirmed his assertions but added significantly more fruitful insights.
Jakari, who hopes to one day become an engineer and lives in Southeast, boasted about his grades and his love of mathematics.
“Our teacher makes math fun and relevant and it helps having a Black instructor because he understands the challenges we, our families and our community must face every day,” he said.
“I want to be either the CEO of a business or a politician — like the president of the U.S.,” said Daria who also lives in Southeast.
“I’d like to become the first woman elected president. Women are just as capable as men to lead the country. As for our teacher, he’s the best — it’s easier to relate to him because he understands us. He’s already gone through the things that we’re trying to handle now,” she said.
But Keiva, who lives with her family in Northeast, said having a Black teacher isn’t that important to her — although it does help.
“I have to admit, Mr. Frey knows what’s going on — he knows the real deal,” she said. “And he believes in us — in me. I want to be an entrepreneur after college so I can return to my community and help the homeless. I want to make my neighborhood a better place one day.”
When asked about the current president and what’s been going on in Congress, the three youths responded with views typically associated with those far beyond their tender ages.
“He needs to lower the prices for food and housing so people can live wherever they want. Those in power don’t seem to care about the poor or people who are struggling and who don’t seem to be included in the plans for improvements to our country’s economy. That’s wrong,” Jakari said.
“President Trump and Congress should give more assistance to those organizations who want to get people off the streets and help them get jobs,” Daria said. “They also need to change the laws because Blacks usually receive unfair prison sentences and they’re forced to remain locked up a lot longer than whites who break the same laws. I wish President Obama could come back and lead America. He cared. He fought for affordable health care and he was an honest man,” Daria added.
Keiva shared her concerns about the kinds of businesses that she sees each day in her community.
“Why won’t our leaders get rid of all of these liquor stores and fast food restaurants? Why don’t we have the kinds of stores that sell healthy food like the ones in other parts of D.C.? Why do our parents have to pay such high rents for places that aren’t safe, that are often unhealthy and which are so small that children like me don’t have enough room to breathe and grow? Don’t Blacks matter too?” Keiva asked.
Frey, after listening to his young scholars share their heartfelt opinions, reemphasized his love for the community in which he was born and raised.
“There is greatness east of the river. There’s greatness in Ward 8. And our youth, like my students here at Democracy Prep prove each and every day, are unwilling to allow their circumstances to define them or their futures. Rather, they’re claiming their own futures, brighter futures, regardless of the less than equitable situations and opportunities before them,” he said.