An initiative focused on growing African-American boys into strong men is combining mentoring, motivation, character education and an Afrocentric curriculum to raise academic achievement. Since 2010, when the Oakland Unified School District created a special department to specifically meet the needs of at risk African-American boys, the program has been popular due to results. The signature program is the Manhood Development Project, where all the teachers are African-American men.
“It’s been a huge lift for this campus to have a brotherhood on campus as part of the regular school day,” said Olafemi Bankole Akintunde, one of the teachers at Westlake Middle School. “It’s not an after-school program. It’s a regular course. It’s really designed for them to feel empowered.”
Since the program began in three schools, it has expanded to serve over 800 students in 24 schools in grades 4-12. Now the approach will be expanded to include African-American girls, as well as Asian and Latino students.
Approximately a third of the current students are high achievers. Another third are average, and the remaining children struggle in class. “What we found was that kids who really knew how to navigate the streets were helping the kids who were doing really well in school actually get home safely,” said Christopher Chatmon, executive director of the office. “And those kids who were doing really well in school were helping those other kids.”