Ebony, White House as Partners Start Important ‘Social Conversation’ with Summit Series

Ten Action Steps that I will take as I go back to the West Alabama region following today’s Summit on Educational Excellence for African Americans.


JACKSON, Miss– As we leave Jackson State University, site of the second in a series of five summits on educational excellence of African Americans,  it’s important to chart next steps on that journey, even as we acknowledge the significance of the partnership behind the summit.

Todd Brown serves as the chief revenue officer and executive vice president of Johnson Publishing Co.
Todd Brown serves as the chief revenue officer and executive vice president of Johnson Publishing Co.

In March, Ebony Magazine published a story detailing plans to host the summit series as a way to raise awareness about the White House initiative on education excellence and encourage conversation about African American student achievement.

Today, one official from the magazine’s parent company reiterated that commitment.

Todd Brown, executive vice president for Johnson Publishing Co., the wholly minority-owned parent company of Ebony, reminded the audience of nearly 200 at Jackson State’s McCoy Auditorium that his publication was started as the “Book of Record for the African American community.”

“We still want to be in the business of having relevant social conversation about what’s going on life cycle-wise with our community,” he said .

Next Summits

The series continues in June with events in Oakland, Calif. on June 13-14, Los Angeles on June 26-29  and finally in Philadelphia, Pa. Oct. 24-25.

It will be interesting to see who’s selected to be the speakers and panelists at these upcoming events.   The players in these summits can change the entire direction of the movement for change.

In the meantime, for those of here today, what are our next steps–

Next Steps

David Johns is executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans.
David Johns is executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans.

“If there’s one thing that you do when you leave here today, it’s that you find a young person that you affirm,” said David Johns, executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans.

Johns suggested today’s summit was important in stressing the VALUE of looking at the issues that were addressed, realizing progress on these issues happens through the RELATIONSHIPS that are built at summits like this and that any effort much involve COMMUNITY.

 10 THINGS I’ll do now

While there are plenty of young African American men I can affirm both in my job as an assistant dean at The University of Alabama and in my role as a citizen in Tuscaloosa, Ala., there are multiple things that I think need to be done to “continue the conversation” and dialogue on the larger issue of educational excellence:

  1. The social conversation of Educational Excellence Must Start with the FACTS  (Assembling those from Ivory Toldson’s research will be key)
  2. The social conversation surrounding the status of African American boys must include a discussion about classroom-to-prison pipeline.
  3. A data-driven approach is essential for success.
  4. It’s not about the grants as many of the problems that need to be solved won’t come through “new programs” or initiatives, but the involvement of coalitions that pool resources that may or may not involve external funding
  5. The needs of African American boys can be addressed without excluding the African American girls
  6. The approach we take now must involve identifying and perhaps imitating BEST PRACTICES.
  7. The network of people working on this issue is larger than my geographic city or region– so I must follow-up with those from whom we heard today trying take advantage of the new relationships built through the summit.
  8. Engaging parents has to be a top priority in anything that we do in West Alabama, and that depends on the way we approach those parents.
  9. The Cultural competence and preparation of teachers is a major part of the puzzle that must be contained in any effort in our own state of Alabama to address excellence in education for  African Americans.
  10. While it takes a village (to raise a child), the village in the African American community is not well– so healing the village must be a priority before that village can support raising a new child.

Best Moderator of the Day: Jeff Johnson

JACKSON, Miss.– The last of our awards from today’s Summit on Educational Excellence for African Americans goes to the best moderator.

Jeff Johson
Jeff Johson

Jeff Johnson, a fellow journalist and an MSNBC commentator, had just the right edge needed to keep the sessions that he moderated on time.

At times, he used his moderator privilege to mount the soap box and do a little preaching on a topic of concern.

One of the highlights of the day was his call for those in the African American community to stop “punking out”  and have some “honest conversation” about how we treat African American young men who might love someone of the same gender, especially when it’s the black church who’s talking.

His statement followed a question from  a person in the audience who queried panelists about the issue of GLBT teens and their experience in the African American community.

One of those panelists, Jackson State’s Dean of College of Education and Human Development Daniel Watkins, also has pastored a church here in the Mississippi state capital for 29 years.

Watkins stressed the importance of loving all of young men and women regardless of sexual orientation or any other difference.  The response has be one of love.

Still, Johnson had the occasion to short-circuit a few members of the audience who had statements to deliver rather than questions to ask.

He was pretty firm with his three rules– Rule #1: ask the question   Rule #2 Ask the Question   Rule #3  Ask the Question

And we had to do it in 30 seconds.


Best Panel of the Day: College and Career Readiness in the African American Community

Assemble five experts on how to ensure African American students are college and career readiness and you have one outstanding panel, the best one of the latest Summit on Educational Excellence for African Americans today at Jackson State University.

collegecareerpanelJACKSON, Miss– Not counting the one that was held last night,  there were four panel discussions today as part of the second Summit on Educational Excellence for African Americans here at Jackson State University.

In my opinion, the richness of exchange, the range of panelists’ viewpoints and the passion that seemed to come forth was greatest in the first afternoon panel that focused on exactly what is meant by “College and Career Readiness” when it comes to African Americans.

The term “College and Career Readiness” has been often used and tends to have a wide variety of meanings.

The panelists– Tina Dove from the Alliance for Excellent Educationni,  Keith Eakins from Nissan North America’s Supplier Diversity Program, Ron Walker from the Coalition on Schools Educating Boys of Color, Joiselle Cunningham from the U.S. Department of Education and Cedrick Gray, the superintendent of schools here in the City of Jackson — all had a different definition.

Joiselle Cunningham,  a teaching ambassador fellow at the U.S. Department of Education makes a key point while Keith Eakins from Nissan North America listens.
Joiselle Cunningham, a teaching ambassador fellow at the U.S. Department of Education makes a key point while Keith Eakins from Nissan North America listens.

While Eakins spoke of the importance of our African American graduates being “ready” to deal with what he called “under-the-table racism” that is alive in well in corporate America,  Walker talked about how COSEBOC ensures the young men are college ready by being “socially and emotionally prepared” with a strong sense of self.

Dove presented a quick lesson on the whole concept behind the Common Core Standards.

“It’s not a big scary monster, she said.  “It’s critical that we know what it is.”

Even though I’ve been to workshops on the Common Core in our College of Education at University of Alabama,  I learned a lot more today from the insights that Tina Dove brought to this panel.

Cedrick Gray, Jackson (Miss.) Schools Superintendent
Cedrick Gray, Jackson (Miss.) Schools Superintendent

“The common core is necessary, but not totally sufficient,” said Gray, who suggested training for  teachers so that they really know WHO they’re teaching is vital to the students’ college and career readiness.

Gray also shared a number of acronyms that have apparently worked for him here in the Jackson Public Schools

  • WIGS  (Wildly Important Goals)
  • FITS (Focused Instructional Teams)
  • ABC (Attendance Behavior and Course Performance)

Not to be outdone by her very articulate fellow panelists, Cunningham reminded the audience about the importance of watching the language that we use when talking about African American achievement.

She cited education scholar Gloria Ladson-Billings, who has written extensively about the difference between the “achievement gap” and the “opportunity gap”  

Cunningham’s comments took me back to my days as a Ph.D. student in a class in Social Foundations of Education at The University of Georgia where we spent an entire semester studying education philosophy.   We definitely had required readings from the work of Ladson-Billings.

The language we use, especially when talking about our young African American boys, is so critically important.

Best Speaker of the Day: Harvard’s Karen Mapp

Karen Mapp of Harvard’s Graduate School of Education was one of the best speakers at today’s Summit on Educational Excellence for African Americans.

Karen Mapp from Harvard's Graduate School of Education
Karen Mapp from Harvard’s Graduate School of Education

JACKSON, Miss– She wasn’t listed to give a keynote speech, but in showcasing the Academic Parent Teacher Team or APT Team that have been successful in the Creighton School District in Arizona, Karen Mapp grabbed my attention and seemed to dominate the panel discussion about strategies for “Empowering Parents, Guardians and Caring Adults.”

The former deputy superintendent of the Boston Public Schools now works as a lecturer in the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

She explained what the whole idea behind “parent choice” is all about.

“Choice doesn’t always mean equity, “Mapp said.  “Choice doesn’t always mean a good match.”

As we look for ways to effectively mentor African American boys back in Tuscaloosa, I know I’ll be drawing on some of Professor Mapp’s ideas on proficiency on family engagement and parent involvement.

I’m looking forward to seeing more of her ideas in Beyond the Bake Sale: The Essential Guide to Family/School Partnerships.


Ivory Toldson Gives Most Profound Statement of the Day

With a profound question, Howard University Professor Ivory Toldson challenges attendees at the Summit on Educational Excellence for African Americans.

JACKSON, Miss.– Leading off the speakers for today’s Summit on Educational Excellence for African Americans,  Dr. Ivory Toldson, who happens to be on the faculty at my alma mater (Howard University), left us with a question that I think was the question of the day:

Dr. Ivory Toldson serves as deputy director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities.




This question is absolutely important for those of us in journalists– when it comes to asking question about the “bad news” narratives that are often associated with African American males and their lack of achievement.

Toldson’s presentation set the stage for a day of discussions that required everyone to operate from a position of fact not fiction.    He showed the value of the academic researcher who can utilize social scientific research methods to question and critique statements that often are based in exaggeration of hyperbole.

In one such case, Toldson says his own enrollment as a black male student at a university was  being overlooked as scholars claimed there was an absence of black males.

His profound question challenges  anyone or group who is embarking on an effort to call attention to the achievement or opportunity gap for students of color.



In Its 8th Year, University of Alabama’s “Documenting Justice” Still Shining Spotlight on Injustice

Now in its eighth year, “Documenting Justice” continues to bring attention to injustices in the state of Alabama. The latest round of student films was screened Tuesday night at Tuscaloosa’s Bama Theater.

When it comes to teaching students about diversity and difference, few exercises are more powerful than having students to research and produce their own films.

We are fortunate at The University of Alabama to empower non-media production students to do exactly that while at the same time bringing much-needed attention to cases of injustice right here in our state.

After eight years,  Andy Grace and Rachel Morgan deserve applause for sustaining a rather unique program known as “Documenting Justice,” where students labor for two semesters to learn the practice and process of making movies while  using the tools of an anthropologist to engage in indepth study of an issue or a community here in our state.

The end product of the two semesters of work is shared in a public screening in downtown Tuscaloosa at The Bama Theater.

This video previews the six films that were screened this evening at The Bama Theater:

The six films screened this evening provided SIX Important Lessons about Injustice in our own state:

  • Lesson #1  Birmingham’s Norwood community shows what happens when white flight collides with Interstate highway development.
    In “Norwood,” Filmmakers Myranda Bennett and Kelly Konrad took the ongoing discussion about urban blight to a new level by showing us what people in Norwood think about the abandoned homes in their neighborhood.  This could have been any community once on the cutting edge, but in latter decades has “gone down” as people have moved away.    The variety of interviews was what made the lessons in “Norwood” real.  I think this was the one of the top two films of the evening.
  • Lesson #2  Sexual assault is still a problem in 2014 and should be examined through the lens of those recovering from the assault.As unfortunate as sexual assault is, there’s been so much attention paid to it , you might think “Why is this still happening?” Abbey Pint and Megan Dillard didn’t just tell another story about rape based on the experience of the one who was assaulted.  They identified a range of female assault victims who focused on telling stories of how they are recovering, not just on the details of what happened.
  • Lesson #3 Disability and race are under-covered and can be depicted by looking at the experience of hearing impaired in the African American community.
    How do you negotiate the two types of difference of being black and not being able to hear?  Filmmakers Gabrielle Taylor and Johanna Obenda tackled this subject in an usual film with lots of sub-titles and silence.
  • Lesson #4- Alabama has a REAL PROBLEM with its laws for animal spay and neutering.
    My favorite film of the evening was “Fixed” where Connor Towne O’Neill and Kenny Kruse took their cameras inside the local animal shelter here in Tuscaloosa and the shelter in Shelby County.   But, they didn’t stop there.  They contrasted the situation in New England where many animals are transferred from Alabama and here in our community where there are not enough laws governing spay and neutering of animals.   I’m not a big pet lover.   But,  I found this particular film so informative.  It increase my sensitivity to a major injustice here in our state.
  • Lesson #5- You can tell a story with no interviews and narration.
    Filmmakers Kyle Leoparda and J.L. Clark may not have intended it.  But “Run of Mine” about the coal mining community is a good example of how to shoot a film and leave out the talking or the interview clips.   The natural sound of the coal mining in Brookwood provided an interesting twist on how to make a movie in a non-traditional fashion.
  • Lesson #6-  There is a ministry for an openly-gay Southern Baptist minister
    The final film, “Sanctuary” spotlights the difficult challenge facing Christians who are openly-gay.   Filmmakers Rachel Arnsen and Myah Wilder interviewed members of The Spirit of the Cross Church in Huntsville.   While a brief mention was of Leviticus, this film focused less on the theological debate and more on the spiritual lives of those who are living their Christian lives often away from their families.

Hats Off to the Chattanooga Times Free Press and Two-Time University of Alabama Alumna Joan McClane For Noteworthy Reporting

Those of us on the journalism faculty at The University of Alabama are smiling today as one of our two-time alums was part of a team named a finalist Monday for the Pulitzer Prize in local reporting.

Screen Shot 2014-04-15 at 6.37.25 AMIt’s a pleasure to start the day by reading one of the top three examples of local reporting in all of journalism and to know it was produced, in part, by one of your former students.

Joan Garrett McClane completed her bachelor and master's degrees in journalism at The University of Alabama.
Joan Garrett McClane completed her bachelor and master’s degrees in journalism at The University of Alabama.

That’s what I am doing this morning as I check out the Chattanooga Times-Free Press, which we learned Monday was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize, the highest award in journalism.

It seems like only yesterday Joan Garrett (now Joan Garrett McClane) was sitting in my classes as part of the Knight Fellows in Community Journalism at the University of Alabama.

Now she’s spending nine months researching a story analyzing homicide cases and learning, among other things, that fewer than half of shooting suspects in Chattanooga are caught.

According to the story “Speak No Evil, ” 58 percent of open homicide and shooting investigations in Chattanooga are at dead ends because of witness silence.

This gives me a whole different impression of that community surrounded by mountains off Interstate 24.  You see it as you travel between Atlanta and Nashville or going from North Alabama up to Knoxville, Tenn.

The Pulitzer committee recognized    McClane, Todd South, Doug Strickland and Mary Helen Miller  “for using an array of journalistic tools to explore the “no-snitch” culture that helps perpetuate a cycle of violence in one of the most dangerous cities in the South.”

Today I recognize McClane, in particular, for developing the multimedia skill set as a student and putting it to work in way that brought national recognition to her news organization and great pride to those of us here in the journalism department at The University of Alabama.

Having done research at the Chattanooga newspaper several years ago, I know what a top-notch news operation they have there.  Now the world knows by another example of the work the staff there is producing.

I’m just excited that one of our graduates is among those producing such work.

Way to go Joan!