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A LESSON FROM OUR AFRICAN AMERICAN COUSINS

 

By Agnes Agyepong

 

Wednesday, November 25, 2009.

 

Some may argue that Black schools go against the whole premise of the Civil Rights Movement whilst others may feel that Black schools only promote self segregation between Black students and those from other racial backgrounds. On a recent visit to Washington DC, I decided to take myself down to Howard University, the institution that has been dubbed 'The Black Harvard,' because of its reputation for producing highly talented Black graduates.

 

I recall the Black British politician Lee Jasper, in September 2008 calling for the opening of Black schools in the UK and the main stream media had a field day with him. At the time I must admit I did not pay that much attention to the issue but thought “hey I’m in town lets see what all the fuss is about.”

 

As I walked up to Howard, the first thing that struck me was the Campus. It was huge in comparison to most universities I had visited back home. Outside the local Starbucks five young Black males could be seen loitering around. In London they could have easily been mistaken as a gang as they are wearing hoodies - the supposedly new symbol of gang membership. The big give away, however, is that they are wearing blue trousers, screaming out to everyone around them that in fact these guys are trainee doctors.

 

The first person I stopped and talked to was Michael. J. Daniels who is a Howard Alumni. Michael informed me that he had grown up in the ghetto in Bronx, New York, and had been eager to gain a sense of “self belonging and identity as a Black man,” which he felt only Howard could give him. He went on to say that “although many people in America and around the world thought that it would be impossible for a Black man to become President of the United States, at Howard students are instilled within them a sense of confidence that as a Black man you can do anything”, and as a result, Obama's presidency did not really come as a surprise to him.

 

Margery a 19 year old Business Marketing major stated that “Howard is not limited to African Americans. However, Howard does a phenomenal job bringing up Black students.” Margery informed me that she had previously been to a predominantly 'White High School' but felt more at home being around “Black people with the same drive and ambition.”

                       


Margery
 

Camille, a 19 year old Speech Pathology student spoke about her upbringing in a predominantly White and Asian area in the suburbs of Georgia. For Camille, going to Howard was about being in an environment where “she could experience her culture first hand” - an experience she had not gained whilst growing up at home.

 

Shakiyah, an 18 year old freshman said of her experience at Howard so far that she feels a “sense of involvement with the community.” She continued “we are all one colour but we are all so different and diverse, we are not the same. At Howard they do not try to promote any form of segregation but do not let us forget who we are and where we have come from.”

                           


Shakiyah
 

I sat down on a bench to gather my thoughts and reflect on the information that had been given to me. Black schools and colleges in America were born out of oppression, because previously Black people were not allowed to go to school. Today, Howard stands strong as a blossoming child born out of bondage. But would such a move be able to work in the UK and more importantly what would it achieve?

 

I went into Howard thinking that it would work on a similar premise to faith-based, Jewish and Asian schools here in Britain. Howard undeniably turns teenagers into young men and women who are confident within themselves and are ready to face life’s challenges. However, after talking to so many students I felt that such institutions work in America because of the history attached. In the UK, if Black schools were to be implemented on a mainstream basis I am unsure if they could achieve the same kind of reputation that is needed to compete in today's global market (i.e. a Black Cambridge), but I doubt that the mainstream media would be behind it.

 

What I do feel is needed though is more programs like The Young Ambassadors (www.theyoungambassadors.com) and other such mentoring programs that have clear goals and objectives that can be measured to help give Black British youth a sense of identity and inner confidence that will allow them to turn away from a life of crime.

 

Images: Agnes Agyepong

 

Agnes Agyepong comes from a Public Relations and Communications background and is currently a postgraduate student in International Relations. She blogs at http://agnesagyepong.blogspot.com/

 

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