Stillman College Inaugural Festivities Spotlight Service, Path to Eminence

While things were winding down elsewhere in Tuscaloosa with Spring Break beginning at the University of Alabama, Shelton State Community College and the local school systems, it’s been just the opposite at Stillman College as the school’s sixth president Dr. Peter Millet was inaugurated Friday.

The weekend of inaugural festivities that included a Gospel concert on Thursday evening, a prayer breakfast on Friday morning and a sold-out masked scholarship ball on Friday evening, gave the historically black institution that serves more than 800 students a chance to be in the spotlight.

Stillman’s Service Imperative

Saturday’s Burrell Odom Day of Service put the Stillman students in the community  in a way that President Millet told The Tuscaloosa News would be at least a once-a-semester event.

As a service learning instructor and community engaged scholar, I was pleased to hear that President Millet wants to make community service an official part of every Stillman student’s experience.

As an undergraduate student at Howard University 25 years ago,  I vividly remember my days of service in Northwest Washington, DC as a member of the Community Action Network.   I also did street ministry through my church, Metropolitan Baptist.  But,   my connection to the larger DC community was an important part of my development.  It also helped me be a better journalist.

Stillman President Peter Millet
Stillman President Peter Millet

Path to Eminence

Often those of us at the University of Alabama or elsewhere in Tuscaloosa hear secondhand what’s going on across town at Stillman College.  Fortunately, Friday, I got a chance to see firsthand some of the festivities formally marking the beginning of The Peter Millet era.

Even though he’s been on campus for more than a year, formally as provost and then as an interim President, this weekend was Dr. Millet’s chance to call the nation’s attention to what he is doing to take this institution established in 1876 to a new dimension in 2015.

He wants Stillman College to “Expeditiously Move from Excellence to Eminence.”

In his inaugural address Friday, Dr. Millet detailed how he would do that with academic excellence, community engagement, health and wellness and simply by “loving one another.”

Indeed, it’s a great day to be a Stillman College student and an occasion for pride if you are one of the thousands of Stillman College alumni.   Those of us in the Tuscaloosa community celebrate with the Tigers on the West side of Tuscaloosa.

Those of us at the University of Alabama stand with you in our common goal of helping our students be successful

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Desegregated or Integrated: Is There a Difference?

Panelists at today’s “Brown at 60” symposium at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute tackled the question of the difference between schools being integrated and those that are desegregated.

BIRMINGHAM, Ala.–  On this the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision that supposedly desegregated the nation’s public schools, some have suggested the schools were never really integrated.

The U.S. Supreme Court on this date in 1954 declared “Separate but equal” is unconstitutional.  Later on the court ordered schools to dismantle desegregation “with deliberate speed” by working in five areas:

  1. facilities
  2. staff
  3. faculty
  4. extracurricular activities
  5. transportation

Wait a minute.  Did the dismantling of separate schools for whites and blacks mean those institutions were “integrated” or just “desegregated?”

You’ll get a different answer depending on who you ask.  During a panel discussion at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute today at a symposium “With All Deliberate Speed; Education Equity 60 Years After Brown,” University of Alabama at Birmingham Education Professor Tondra Loder-Jackson posed the definitional question to panelists.  Loder-Jackson directs the Center for Urban Education at UAB.

Here’s how they responded:

Samantha Elliott Briggs
Samantha Elliott Briggs

DR. SAMANTHA ELLIOTT BRIGGS, Consultant and Curriculum Specialist, Professor, Samford University
Integration conjures up ideas of assimilation.  Desegregation is more “all-encompassing.”  It provides choice, opportunities, and options

“I was part of a desegregation program.  I was part of the first generation of a group in 1984 to desegregate St. Louis County (Miss). Schools.

The schools were already INTEGRATED.

There were black students there, who lived in suburban neighborhoods.  But they wanted to provide a choice opportunity for students who were coming from an inner city urban environment to desegregate to have rare opportunity not only for inner city students going to the suburbs, but for the suburban students to come into the city.

“Integration will allow for us to come together and have a ‘kum ba yah,’ but without desegregation, we’re not really dealing with some of the walls, some of the attitudes and some of the behaviors

Michael Wilson
Michael Wilson

DR. MICHAEL WILSON, Principal Glen Iris Elementary School in Birmingham, Ala.

“I believe that integration should be a very natural thing.  It should be like integrating ideas.

It’s coming together being a human race rather than looking at skin color and things like ethnicity and where you’re from. .. Like in desegregating the workforce, we were forced to INTEGRATE because it was not happening naturally.

It should come from our hearts, souls and who we are.   The other one (desegregation) someone has to come to tell you do it because you’re not doing it.”

Margaret Zimmerman Beard
Margaret Zimmerman Beard

MS. MARGARET ZIMMERMAN BEARD, integrated Jefferson County, Ala. School System, now retired after 51 years and 10 months 

I think there is a difference.  Desegregation is simply a dismantling or un-doing the segregation.

No thought about the mechanics of the situation, no effort to change things.

We closed black schools and showed a lack of respect for their culture and their tradition.   The culture that existed in those walls.
Integration is fine.  That’s what happened with us.

Cameron Young
Cameron Young


CAMERON YOUNG,  Senior, Spain Park High School, Hoover, Ala.

At my school, we are integrated.  We have different types of races, different colors of skin at my school.

But, there still is segregation in the lunchroom.  You have white people over here.  You have Hispanics.

And then you have black people over here in different parts of the room and they don’t really come together and speak to each other.

They’re just kind of separate.  The only time you see them coming together is in the classroom… I think we should just come together and basically be one.

 

State School Superindent Bice Touts Change Strategies for Alabama Schools on 60th Anniversary of Brown Case

Alabama’s Superintendent of Education Tommy Bice used an address on the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education to challenge residents to join his campaign the “change the way Alabama does school.”

BIRMINGHAM, Ala.– On the 60th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision that desegregated the nation’s public schools, Alabama’s Superintendent of Education has a challenge for every Alabama resident: be the voice that creates change in our schools.

tommy-bice-0e1fa66951f3d972
Alabama State School Superintendent Tommy Bice

“If you don’t see things happening in your school system, ask why?.  You’ve been given permission to do so,” said Tommy Bice, in delivering the keynote address for a education symposium commemorating the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision.

The symposium took place this morning at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.

Bice talked about the importance of 90,000 Alabama residents”reframing the message” for changing schools around what’s best for state’s children and not just about teacher salaries and benefits.

His 40-minute address centered on ways Alabamians can “imagine” the state’s school systems where accountability was based on more than just standardized test scores, where students are involved in project-based learning experiences that exist beyond the traditional 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. school day.

He touted the differences he’s already made since taking over as the state superintendent nearly three years ago such as the end of the Alabama High School Graduation Exam.  In its place, new assessments tied to state standards are being implemented.

The change is part of new statewide effort to ensure students are “College and Career Ready,” part of the state’s “Plan 2020” that seeks to achieve a 90 percent graduation rate.

Bice says the biggest challenge he faces as state superintendent is “getting the right people in the right seats to teach the children who believe that regardless of what they bring to the table we can make a difference.”

“We can’t continue to do school like we’ve done school.,” he said. “We’ve got to do it very differently.

Mixed Results in This Week’s Media Coverage of 60th Anniversary of Brown Decision

WIS-TV gets it right when reporting on the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision. Media must help resident see local relevance of anniversary of U.S. Supreme Court decision.

On this 60th anniversary of the historic Brown v. Board of Education decision, the mass media have done an ok, though not outstanding, job of explaining the key issues still at play in public education today.
The 1954 decision declared that “separate but equal” schools were unconstitutional.  It eventually led to desegregation (but necessarily integration) of public school classrooms.

In a story that ran on the front page of my local newspaper here in Tuscaloosa this week, Associated Press Reporters Jesse Holland and Kimberly Hefling mostly focused on Gary Orfield’s “Brown at 60” report, which was released this week.

ABC News also published this same AP story.

Gary Orfield
Gary Orfield

Among other things, it found that in places like New York, California and Texas, more than half of Latino students are enrolled in schools that are 90 percent minority or more.  Orfield is a perennial expert on the issue of school desegregation.

The report is one of the few that gives a comprehensive look at where we stand as a nation.

The Civil Rights Project at UCLA is definitely to be commended for its work in this area.  I just have read an executive summary of the report released this week.

But, in reporting only on this “national” picture of Brown, the media may not go far enough.

These stories do little to make the issue of school desegregation (or in some cases “resegregation”) relevant to most Americans, in terms of their local schools.

With smaller news staffs,  most local news outlets probably didn’t bother to “localize” Holland and Hefling’s story.

While not as recent as the UCLA study,  the Brookings Institution looked at the overall issue of segregation in 2013 and examined the issue of class, which has to be included in any retrospective look at school desegregation.

Many of the pseudo-events  (i.e. rallies and press conferences) staged this week on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of Brown called attention to the issue of resegregation.

For example, US News and World Report, on its web site, provided coverage of a rally by the National Education Association (NEA) among others.

 

WIS-TV recognizes Direct Beneficiaries of Brown

WIS-TV in Columbia, SC featured those who broke racial barriers more than a half-century ago in two South Carolina communities.
WIS-TV in Columbia, SC featured those who broke racial barriers more than a half-century ago in two South Carolina communities.

I haven’t seen many television stations like WIS-TV, which features Oveta Glover and Millicent Brown, who were among the first South Carolina students to attend all-white schools.

The NBC affiliate in Columbia, SC and perennial top-ranked Raycom-owned station included not only those from their market, but also someone who lived in Charleston (“the low country”) who was involved in desegregated schools there more than a half-century ago.

WIS-TV reporter Meaghan Norman gets a star for her story.

In spite of thin reporter ranks in, local news outlets, especially TV stations in the midst of May ratings sweeps, ought to be enterprising stories that make today’s discussion of race, education and equity relevant for their local viewers and readers.

 

With Photos, Panel Discussion, Tuscaloosa Area Students Re-open Dialogue About Outcomes of School Desegregation

A brand new photo exhibit and a high school student panel discussion Friday at a downtown Tuscaloosa arts center re-visit issues over the desegregation of all U.S. schools, just two weeks before the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Five schools from Tuscaloosa's Northridge and Central High School participated in a panel discussion at the Dinah Washington Cultural Arts Center Friday, May 2.
Five students from Tuscaloosa’s Northridge and Central High Schools participated in a panel discussion at the Dinah Washington Cultural Arts Center Friday, May 2. NPR’s Gene Demby (far right) moderated the discussion.

Just two weeks before we officially mark the 60th anniversary of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision that desegregated American schools,  high school students in Tuscaloosa, Ala. laid out some issues in education that need to be discussed not only here, but across America.

Two generations removed from those who in the wake of 1954 Supreme Court decision broke racial barriers as black and white students began attending classes at the same schools, 20  students at Northridge High School and Central High School showed how a digital camera can capture the realities of so-called “resegregation” in 2014.

Starting Friday, May 2 and continuing through the May 17th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education ruling, the fruit of their labor with the camera lens is on display at the Dinah Washington Cultural Arts Center in downtown Tuscaloosa.  To coincide with the opening of the photo exhibit, ProPublica hosted a screening of Maisie Crow’s mini-documentary Saving Central, which was produced in conjunction with the publication of  “Segregation Now” story in the May issue of The Atlantic Magazine.

Nikole Hannah-Jones, an investigative reporter with ProPublica produced "Segregation Now" for The Atlantic Magazine.
Nikole Hannah-Jones, an investigative reporter with ProPublica, produced “Segregation Now” for The Atlantic Magazine.

“On top of me writing an article, we wanted to give students a chance to show what race in education looks like for them instead of adults always speaking for them,” said Nikole Hanna-Jones, the award-winning investigative journalist who spent more than a year researching the situation in the Tuscaloosa City Schools.

“She is basically the best reporter on desegregation and integration out there,” said Gene Demby of National Public Radio’s Code Switch Team, which focuses on issues of race, ethnicity and culture.

Demby moderated a brief panel discussion Friday, which featured five of the 20 students whose photography work followed up on issues raised in Hanna-Jones’ reporting on resegregation.

Taking Action

The students wrote six-word essays as part of The Race Card Project, but also captured images using digital camera that served as a status report on the situation with race in the Tuscaloosa City Schools.

The glaring omission from the group of students who were involved were those from the city’s eastside at Paul W. Bryant High School.

“We picked Northridge [High School] because it’s the most integrated high school in the city.  And we picked Central [High School] because it’s the most segregated high school in the city,” Hanna-Jones said.  “They produced really amazing work, beautiful photos that tell the truth that not just Tuscaloosa, but communities all across this country are largely ignoring.”

The Issues:  Through Today’s Students’ Eyes

ISSUE 1:  EXPOSURE to those of other races

Students were queried about the whole idea that 60 years since Brown v. Board of Education, schools that did desegregate are now segregated again.  In Tuscaloosa, Northridge High School is the best example of an integrated high school setting.

“I actually am happy that I go to the school that I do because I am able to interact with people of other races rather than just black and white,  said Camri Mason, sophomore at Northridge High School.

“We all learned about Brown versus Board of Education in history class, but you never really think segregation still exists in our school system,”  said Rebecca Griesbach, a sophomore at Northridge High School.  “I remember the first time we collaborated with the students at Central and they told us that they really had any diversity at all and it really shocked me.”

ISSUE 2: EQUAL DISTRIBUTION OF RESOURCES

Perhaps the topic that received the most attention during the panel discussion was Tuscaloosa City School System’s allocation of resources to the three high schools.   Pre-1954, predominantly black schools were known to have inferior textbooks and sub-par facilities compared to white schools.   The desegregation of the schools was supposed to correct that problem.

Today, with re-segregated schools, the matter of “unequal” class offerings was identified as an example of how the experiences of the more integrated Northridge High School was different from the nearly all-black Central High School.

Board Vice Chair Earnestine Tucker, who several years ago raised the issue of why Physics courses were not offered all the schools, tonight made it clear that now “resources were not the issue,” even though some of the students felt that they were not getting all the resources that were needed.   In some cases, something as similar as a whiteboard was mentioned as a lacking piece of equipment at one school.

After a somewhat heated exchange between members of the audience and those on the panel,  it was suggested that students needed to know the manner for requesting resources when they are needed at their school.

ISSUE 3: SEGREGATED STUDENT ORGANIZATIONS

During the question-and-answer session,  a member of the audience introduced the matter of segregated sororities and fraternities,  a problem that cast the University of Alabama’s Greek System into the national spotlight last fall.    Students from the local high schools were asked if this type of segregation was evident at their high schools.

One of the student panelists indicated segregated student sororities are a problem at the high school level. Often these sororities are “by invitation only.”

ISSUE 4: SCHOOL ZONING MAPS
At least two questions were asked tonight about why students living a few minutes from one school were zoned to travel a far distance to another school?

Clearly the concept of “neighborhood” school is not fully understood or being implemented to the satisfaction of all in Tuscaloosa.

Through The Camera Lens

jazmine
Jazmine Thompson, a senior at Central High School, had four photos in the exhibit at Dinah Washington Cultural Arts Center in downtown Tuscaloosa.

Many of the 15 students who did not participate in the panel discussion expressed themselves through the photos that are on display at the Cultural Arts Center.

Among them is Jazmine Thompson, a senior at Central High School.

Thompson says she’s found herself frequently having to dispel myths about students at her school being under-achieving or not having the same excitement about their school as Northridge High School and Bryant High School.

“We do have school spirit like other two schools, “said Thompson, who recalls painting her own face half red and half white as part homecoming.

Thompson plans to attend Shelton State Community College, which is located in Tuscaloosa,  in the fall.

In the past, she’s written stories for her school publications.

Meanwhile at Northridge High School, James Niiler, who will be the editor of award-winning Northridge Reporter next year, took some photos that were included in the exhibit.   His photo entitled “BUSED” was designed to show the experience that many face when they are transported out to his high school north of time.

jamesniiler
James Niiler is a sophomore at Northridge High School and member of the staff of The Northridge Reporter.

Niiler also participated in the panel discussion.

“We can’t constantly be focusing on the wrongness of the past,” said Niileer, who recalls attending school with people from different racial groups virtually all of his life, including during a brief school experience in Texas.  “We just have to learn to live together.”

Clearly the students at Central High School and Northridge High School are learning a lot about the educational dilemmas that face our nation six decades after Brown v. Board of Education.

When May 17th rolls around later this month,  the nation can turn to these Tuscaloosa area students for an understanding of where we are as a nation in providing equal access to a quality education to all children.

“The whole point of this exhibit was the be able to foster a conversation, to be able to see the truth through photography and then invite the community in, talk about the issues and decide what is to be done,” said Hannah Jones.

 

 

 

 

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.