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Charter school for black youth opens

A mural hangs on the wall of the 100 Black Men of the Bay Area Community School. The charter school focused on educating black youth opened on Sept 4. (Fatima Sugapong)

A charter school for black students ages 5-10, 100 Black Men of the Bay Area Community School, opened in Oakland on Tuesday, Sept 4.

This year, they will be teaching kindergarten, first grade, and fourth to sixth grade, with a projected enrollment of about 375 students. By the year 2019, they will expect to be open for grades K-12, with a projected enrollment of about 975 students.

“(100 Black Men of the Bay Area) provides various services to uplift those children, to make sure that they have a great start in life,” said Mark Alexander, Chairman of the Board of Directors of 100 Black Men of the Bay Area. “Mentoring is the foundation of our organization.”

1oo Black Men of America is an organization that got its start during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. A diverse group of successful black men adopted the name, “100 Black Men, Inc.” as a sign of solidarity. Their first meeting took place in New York after Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Since then they have branched out across the country. The San Francisco branch, 100 Black Men of the Bay Area, was established in 1988. Their mission was to heal the disconnect of African American youth with their community. They have given out over $1 million in scholarships to deserving black youth.

The Bay Area school focuses on boys in Oakland because of their high suspension and drop out rates. The school is essentially serving as a model for other Oakland schools to provide young black men with the tools they need to succeed beyond high school in areas other than sports. According to Alexander, most of the students want to become athletes or entertainers. Their goal is to open up the students’ minds to other areas of study, like science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

First grade teacher Edward Yule is highly regarded and respected by his students, who are constantly greeting him in the hallway and stopping by the classroom to say goodbye before their parents sweep them up. Yule’s time with his first grade students has been enjoyable and a learning experience for him as well.

Yule said, “I look forward to what we accomplish at the end of the year. What I’m focused on right now is raising [the students’] reading levels, math assessments, and writing skills. I’m looking forward to seeing how all the hard work has paid off.”

Brother Boze, the Program Coordinator for after school programs, where students are engaged in organized activities, serves as a mentor for the students. This past week, Boze has built trusting relationships with the students in the after school program. The Kindergarten class, in particular, are willing to help him with setting up snacks or carrying things around.

“I’m really looking forward to the way these young brothers adapt and adjust to various academics and the cultural experiences that they have here,” Boze said. “I would love to see how they develop after three or four years of being here.”

The school is hidden in the East Oakland hills, small and quiet on the outside.

On the inside, however, are hundreds of boys running around while the peacemakers, those who serve as mediators and mentors for the kids, try to talk them down from all the excitement of the after school program beginning. There are coordinators and teachers that refer to the students as “scholars,” as they remind them that they have to come in quietly.

According to Alexander, there will be more after school programs made available to the children beginning in January of 2013.

Some students will be involved with a pre-med program, where they will learn what various diseases are, how to prevent them, how to check blood pressure, and more about human anatomy. They will have physicians come in to talk to the kids, take the kids on field trips to hospitals and college campuses like University of California San Francisco and Stanford University.

Engineering programs will also be made available to the students through aeronautics and robotics. Fifth grade students will be able to learn more about how to fly planes and will be taken out to flight lines and gain more experience in the field. Students will learn the fundamentals of engineering in the robotics club. They are aiming to form a robotics team in order to compete at the national level.

Anthony Robinson, a Peacemaker, wants to instill a mutual respect among the students. As an Oakland native, his childhood experiences inform his interactions with the kids.

“We just want the kids to be able to work with each other…we have them at such a young age and we want to give them some type of maturity before they go to middle school,” Robinson said.

Robinson said that it has been a challenge to work with the kids in the beginning simply because everyone is still getting to know each other and they are still building that trust with each other. Although the students come from different backgrounds, the school aims to emphasize equality. Robinson said that the uniform policy demonstrates that equality.

“As educators, we have to have a passion and love for the kids [more] than anything else…you have to love this job and these kids because a lot of these kids come from backgrounds and homes that need that kind of love,” said Amin Walls, a Peacemaker at the school.

100 Black Men of the Bay Area aims to be very  community oriented.

Walls is a part of the effort to include the parents into their child’s education more. He will be conducting home visits, which entail going to the students’ homes after observing their behavior at the school. According to Walls, these home visits will only occur after several warnings to the students.

Parents like Tatiana Stewart and Nicole Price are excited about their sons attending the new school.

According to Price, the school nurtures the “whole student,” meaning they are uplifting the kids through academics and encouragement through example. Before the school got its start, Price as well as other members of the community, attended community meetings to discuss black male achievement. She was able to voice her opinions about what she and her family wanted to gain from the school. Before the school began, they said had a clear understanding of the community’s needs.

Stewart, a single mother whose son is in the kindergarten class, said as her son jumped into her arms, “I think it’s very important to support our culture…in a city where violence is portrayed, [there is] a huge stigma on African American males…I think this [school] is a positive on our culture.”

More schools from the 100 Black Men organization are expected to open across the Bay Area, in Oakland, Richmond, and San Francisco.