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Surmounting Educational Obstacles

The passport to increased social mobility in Black communities has rested almost entirely on accessing and availing educational opportunities. Following the Emancipation Proclamation, the American Missionary Association, along with private Black philanthropists and churches, established thousands of Normal schools, colleges, and universities. Irrespective of age, entire families attended classes to first, learn rudimentary grammar and mathematics skills, and subsequent liberal arts, trade, and science-based instruction.  Surmounting educational obstacles meant working collectively to ensure everyone who wanted to learn, could.  

Still, with America’s apartheid regime, known as Jim Crow, firmly entrenched, rural, and sharecropping families were prohibited from sending their children to schools. At the same time, middle-class and elite Black families opted for segregated public or parochial schools.  As a result, only a minority of Black students received the quality educations they sought. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall predicted an end to all school segregation within five years of the Brown v. Board of Education ruling. And while government-sanctioned laws and ordinances continued to undermine the move to integrate schools, thousands of school systems did attempt to provide equal access.  Why?  Because being able to rise to the challenges – and overcome them – in order to learn came without an option for failure.

So, as the nation moves to return this year to in-person learning after more than a year of virtual learning, it is important to remember that now, as then – failure is not an option.  There is uncertainty, there are unknown variables, there are new practices and procedures, and there is even a bit of anxiety moving about between parents, administrators, students, and teachers.  Still, we must push forward.

That said, it is important that we return to an effort of community-supported academic success.

Students: Do your part – work hard and take care of yourselves.  This may mean going to bed early, increasing your water intake (dehydration plays havoc with concentration), and make a habit of going over your notes daily so that when test times come, the information has become as familiar as your favorite song.  Also, when you need help, speak up. There is no shame in not knowing or even falling behind; we’ve all faced these issues.  

Parents: Know your child’s strengths, weaknesses, work ethics, and needs.  You are their greatest ally, advocate, and cheerleader, but you must be all of these from a position of honesty.  When or if you believe your child is struggling, utilize the resources designed by your school system to get help.  Work with your child’s teachers, counselors, and your councilmembers to find best practices and healthy solutions.

Teachers: Take a bow! You are doing an amazing job against incredible odds, and I commend your every effort.  Though many are going above and beyond their duties, few are squarely applauded.  Please, keep up the good work and know that it is appreciated.  Find time for mental and emotional health breaks during the week to avoid burnout.  

Churches: Consider Urban Alternative pastor Tony Evans’ Adopt-a-School Initiative or other platforms that allow you to partner with area schools to assist with guidance, conflict resolution, after-school activities, rites of passage, and community service projects.  

Finally, as the school year #ReopensStrong do your best to be supportive and kind to one another.  We are all trying to figure out the next moves, the safest solutions, and the most effective methods to ensure success.  Young people are watching the adults and learning by example how best to handle disagreements about policies, and how to manage frustration and anxiety.  After all, we sit on a precipice now that will determine how the nation’s youth will value education.  Let us teach them our most valuable asset is them.  

Read, Learn, Grow.

Dr. Shantella Y. Sherman

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