Merlene Davis: Saturday conference aims to help African-American boys and men

In August, the Schott Foundation for Public Education issued findings that said only 47 percent of black males nationwide graduate from high school.

It concluded that of the 48 states reporting in the study, black males are least likely to graduate in 33 of them.

In November, the Council of the Great City Schools reported that, "Black males continue to perform lower than their peers throughout the country on almost every indicator."

The report called those findings, "a national catastrophe, and it deserves coordinated national attention."

And now, in December, First Baptist Church, Bracktown, Fayette County Public Schools and United Way of the Bluegrass have joined forces to host "The State of the African American Male Conference," featuring author and national education consultant Jawanza Kunjufu, who has focused on the education of black males for many years.

"This is an opportunity for the public, for the community, for parents and educators to understand what is going on concerning the achievement gap in education," said Roszalyn Akins, founder of the successful Black Males Working program at Bracktown, which is open to African American males in grades six to 12. The program on Saturday will stress academics and personal responsibility and will take place instead of the career fair usually offered at this time of year.

Kunjufu, the author of Countering the Conspiracy to Destroy Black Boys; Raising Black Boys; and Developing Positive Self-Images & Discipline in Black Children, says the influence of peer pressure has surpassed nearly every other entity in the lives of young black males.

"Children are actors," Kunjufu has said in other workshops he has conducted, which are on "They act out what they see in us."

Teachers cannot teach children they don't love, respect or culturally understand, he said. Children sense those things and will react accordingly. That doesn't mean white teachers can't teach black children, he said. It simply means all teachers need to better understand how their students learn and understand where they come from.

Instead of a varsity approach to education as exists in sports, he said, the approach to education should be intramural. Everyone should have a chance to participate in all aspects of education instead of only the very best students.

To accomplish that, Kunjufu said, there are five changes that can be made to help bring about a narrowing of the achievement gap.

■ Teachers should identify the leaders of peer groups and push them to take on positive roles in school.

■ Parents need to be involved in the workings of the school and give support at home.

■ Parents must praise their children and should believe the world will be better because of them. And schools should make sure there are black role models frequently present at the schools.

■ The education system must try other methods of teaching to capture the interest of different types of learners.

■ Teachers must have high expectations.

"Expectations transcend race," Kunjufu said in a workshop.

Akins said Kunjufu will conduct a workshop for boys starting at 10 a.m. He will discuss goal-setting, careers and paths to success, Akins said.

At 11 a.m., Kunjufu will talk with parents, educators and the general public.

Kunjufu will emphasize that black children don't learn well by being lectured to, Akins said."You have to engage them," she said. "Now that we have block schedules of 90 minutes, we are setting them up for failure. Learning ought to be fun. Anything you learn with pleasure, you never forget."

Also, throughout the day, some 50 vendors will offer information about educational help and careers. Then, from 4 to 5 p.m., Kunjufu will conduct a workshop called, "Where Are Their Adams?" It's a talk that will address the need for black men to do more in their communities, churches and homes.

"If you are an uncle, father, brother. If you are a man, you need to hear this," Akins said. "You need to take your rightful place in the home."