Merlene Davis: There's no better time for an educational summit than now

The Rev. Keith Tyler of Antioch Missionary Baptist Church says the pastoral fellowship group is "about impacting the community."
The Rev. Keith Tyler of Antioch Missionary Baptist Church says the pastoral fellowship group is "about impacting the community."

The 2011 Black Educational Summit, planned for July 30 and 31, is an indicator that what was old is new again.

The event is hosted by the Interdenominational Pastoral Fellowship of Lexington & Vicinity, a group of 15 ministers representing seven denominations. The group was formed about a year ago to address three areas of concern for Lexington in general and for the black community in particular.

The group wants to reinvigorate the black church's influence on social issues such as recovery and re-entry programs for ex-felons, the accountability of politicians, and education.

"One of the main intentions of the Black Educational Summit is help parents and students have a successful school year," said the Rev. Willis Polk of Imani Baptist Church. "We want to make as much use of the black church and its influence as possible to make that happen."

That influence was crucial to educating black students before, during and after desegregation. The church was an independent, unifying and stable spiritual authority in the black community that took a leadership role in protecting and promoting its people.

In later years, however, that influence waned and the support system narrowed as churches concentrated on their own turfs. The pastoral group marks a change in those attitudes.

"It is a new day," said Bishop Jerome Norwood of St. John Missionary Baptist Church.

The education summit is a collaboration between the pastoral group and several active and retired educators in the Bluegrass. It will concentrate on issues concerning preschool and kindergarten, elementary, middle and high school students. Discipline and parental involvement will be addressed, too.

For example, parents with children in preschool and kindergarten will be told what is expected of their children at those levels. Kindergarten students need to know their shapes, colors, numbers in and out of sequence and how to write them, how to recognize letters and their sounds, and how to rhyme words.

Information will be given to parents to help them know the basic requirements.

One session will be conducted by a special education teacher who will break down the technical terms school officials use to determine student placement.

The second day will feature guest speakers Kenneth Campbell, president of Black Alliance for Educational Options, an advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., and Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., a strategist for the Black Alliance and former executive director of the NAACP.

Charter schools will be discussed.

"When it comes to educating our children, everything should be on the table," Imani Baptist's Polk said.

As an added incentive, the pastoral group is working with Connect Your Community to give away 150 desktop computers to parents or guardians who attend both days of the summit and a series of classes familiarizing them with computers and the Internet.

Connect Your Community is a project of the Urban League of Lexington- Fayette County that provides personal computer and Internet training, and low-cost equipment.

However, the summit will be valuable to everyone, even those who already have computers, Polk said.

And the group isn't stopping at hosting an educational summit. Wayne D. Lewis, an assistant education professor at the University of Kentucky who specializes in school- community relations, said he will be working with the ministers and teachers to craft a follow-up plan for parents.

"Once we get them in, we don't want to leave it there," Lewis said. "We want them to know how essential they are to their children, and will give them strategies for working with their children at home and working with the schools. We want them to know what it means to be involved. "

And support from black churches is essential to that.

The Rev. Troy Thomas of St. Paul AME Church, thinks the black church is changing.

"We have to reteach our people about the role of our black churches in the community and counteract the negativity that we can't get along and that we aren't effective, that we are not a force," he said.

The Rev. Keith Tyler of Antioch Missionary Baptist Church and president of the group, agreed.

"No one will star but Jesus," he said. "This is about impacting the community. It is a community initiative."

With Fayette County Public Schools getting a new superintendent and new testing parameters statewide, it couldn't come at a better time.