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Super Principal Kafele lays out plan to save black boys

Posted by Admin On September - 29 - 2011

By Chinta Strausberg


The biggest problem facing black boys in public education is closing the “attitude gap,” said award-winning Principal Baruti Kafele who spoke at Saint Sabina Church.

Closing the attitude gap must be on the front burners of all schools if educators are serious about helping black males excel and become tomorrow’s leaders, he told the congregation. 

The author of five books, Kafele said when an educational system lacks cultural and mentoring programs, it creates a huge crises for these students who need more than courses in math, science and social studies.

 Black male students need a cultural and male mentoring safety net that will provide the guidance they may not receive at home but mentoring that will help turn them into men with a purpose and a strong ethical and behavioral background.

“There’s no greater challenge, no greater crisis than that young man but that young man can soar when the right ingredients are in place,”  said Principal Kafele.  When people look at the education data that may include prison records homicide, suspension, dropout rates or low academic performance and ask him what is wrong with these black boys, Kafele said, “Nothing. We got to look at ourselves a little bit differently” and if we do that, we will be in a better position to make them the young men that we want them to become.”

Kafele said he pursued a childhood dream of flying an airplane but admitted he was initially frightened. Kafele said he signed up and took flying lessons that cost $200 a lesson for an hour.

“My wife wasn’t all that happy,” he said. “I was going up three times a week. I’m not rich. After about 20 flights, the man said something profound to me. The man said, “Principle Kafele, you’re pretty good at what you’re doing now. I’m ready to turn this thing over to you.”

When his flight instructor told him to find a point and fly to it, Kafele received that message as a challenge to the students—“find an honor role and fly to it. Find acceptance into a university and fly to it.

“Find your goal…your dream…your vision…your passion and fly to it. He didn’t say nothing about try hard. He didn’t say it is going to be a struggle .He didn’t say that there would be obstacles in your path. He just said, ‘fly to it.’”

When Principal Kafele got back on the ground, he said,  “God took me up here, and I have no more desire to fly that aircraft because what that man taught me was how to fly without an aircraft.”

He asked the teachers, “Is the goal for our children to soar”? The teachers said, ‘Yes,” but Kafele said, “How are they going to soar and you don’t know how to fly? You don’t know how to teach them how to fly. No wonder they are failing because the teacher can’t fly.”

Flying, he said, is an attitude. “It’s all about the attitude.” When people asked him how he’s doing, he responds. “I’m on fire. I’m blazing. I’m on my way to yet another extraordinary day. This day is not going to be ordinary because it’s an attitude.”

Kafele told the church, “If we want these young people to soar, we got to look at these other gaps” with the first being the attitude gap.” “It asks the question, ‘Do I believe in him’?” Kafele said, “There are teachers and leaders in building who do not believe in the children in those classrooms. “How can I inspire you, excite you, if I do not believe in you,” he asked.

Kafele’s second gap is called “the relationship gap” that asks the questions “do I know him”? “There are young people who are going through all sorts of trials and tribulations.” Principle Kafele said there are some teachers who don’t know what is going on in the heads of their students.

“How can I teach you if I don’t know you? How can I ever connect with you if we have no relationship with you? How can you connect with me, if we do not have a relationship? There has to relationship within that classroom.”

The next gap in Principal Kafele’s formula is the compassion gap which ask the question, ‘Do I care about him”? Kafele said students often say their teachers don’t care about them.

Leading by example, Kafele said, “There’s got to be love for those kids. It’s got to be all about them.” Kafele has given his students his cell number so they can have access to him. Students, he said, must have access to their teachers.

The fourth gap is the relevance gap which ask the question “Do I realize who he is”?

And, then there is the empowerment gap ‘that asks the question do I teach him how to fly. Do I teach him how to fend on his own once he leaves me”?

Saying each day is precious, Principle Kafele said, “We got to go to that mirror–put that mirror in your classroom, in your office. “I ask myself three questions every single day. I ask Principle Kafele who are you?”

“The response should be the same. You are not ordinary in what you do. You are extraordinary at what you do? Translated, he explained, “How can I see myself as anything less than extraordinary and build extraordinary children.”

“We’re talking about an attitude that transforms young people so they can soar, so they can strive to achieve noting less than excellence. Referring to leadership, Kafele said “Everybody in that building has a role to play. Everybody in that building is a leader.”

Referring to President Obama, Kafele said, he was offered to work with some teachers in Montgomery, Alabama and to the principal who invited him, Kafele said, “When I’m done, I want you to drive me to Selma, Alabama.”

After the presentation, he and three teachers piled into a car and drove down the road to Montgomery. He appreciated the history of that road that was once traveled by his ancestors and those civil rights activists who marched for freedom and equal rights for African Americans.

While driving about 60 miles per hour, he finally saw a bridge on the horizon. Kafele wanted to walked alone on the Edmund Pettis Bridge and meditated thinking to himself,  “Kafele, you mean to tell me that you can’t take a mind and transform it in comparison to what happened on this bridge”?

He said referring to March 7, 1965 commonly referred to as “Bloody Sunday” where 600 marchers, headed by John Lewis, now a congressman, and Hosea Williams, were beaten by police.

Reflecting on that historic day, Kafele said the marchers walked with their heads held high. The opposition was on the other side. He described the scene as the challenges and the obstacles.

“For us in education, the challenges and the obstacles…,we face them every day, but the question is what are we going to do? Every day, 8 a.m. in the morning, there is some kind of challenge, some kind of obstacles. What are you going to do, turn around and go home, back down”?

Bloody Sunday, Kafele said, became an example of what true leadership is. “For all of us as teachers, as leaders, what ever capacity we serve, we must be able to teach like this…and if we find in our teaching practice” saying “straighten up” “something’s wrong because if we keep saying that, those kids don’t have the focus that is required for them to one day soar. This has got to be the march. This has got to be the walk each and every day.”

Principle Kafele told his teachers and staff “we got to lead that way, teach that way” and he said the test scores began to soar.

“We’re going to teach them math. We’re going to teach them science, social studies…but at the end of the day we didn’t teach them how to be men. We think that because they’re boys, they should just naturally evolve into men. That’s not going to happen,” Kafele said.

He said if a person wants to excel in a sport they have to look, watch and observe the best. He told his sons, “The best lives in their house and they are going to watch me. They are not going to find that man outside in the street somewhere.”

Principle Kafele told his staff  “at some point we have to teach manhood” and pointed to current statistics that claims 70 percent of the boys go home where there is no male present. “Then, they come to elementary school and it’s all women. Then they turn on the iPod and they’re listening to males. When they go back home, they’re home with their mother or grandmothers, very few with a man.”

Kafele wondered at what point are boys learning about manhood and why are people surprised when they gravitate to the 75 percent prediction.

Principle Kafele asked for a class where he could teach manhood to boys. His request was approved and is called Young Men’s Empowerment Program which mentors the boys from men in the community. Kafele credited this mentorship and a sense of purpose to the rise in their test scores.

Asking two young boys join him, Principle Kafele put a book in each of their hands. “That is the image we have to project throughout this country. Look at the weapons in their hands,” he said referring to the books. “You don’t need a gun, don’t need a knife, don’t need a blade. They got a book.”

Referrring to Carter G. Woodson who in 1933 wrote the Mis-Education of the Negro, Kafele quoted Woodson saying, “When you control a man’s thinking, you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell them to stand here or yonder. He will find his ‘proper place’ and he will stay in it. You do not have to send him to the back door. He will go without being told.  In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary.

“When we teach them with the right education and teach them who they are so when they look into the mirror they recognize who that (person) is looking back,” Kafele said they must see more than their name on the birth certificate. “ He said this teaches young black men their role and responsibility as a young black man.

Looking at the two boys, Kafele said they have to “love, respect, have appreciation for and responsibility for himself first.

“He can’t love somebody else and he can’t love himself,” said Kafele. “If I got issues with myself, I can’t love you.” Kafele said black boys have to be taught this.  Distractions, he said, sometimes keep young black boys from learning how to love themselves. When they love and respect themselves, Kafele said “they are living with a purpose. They are purpose-driven.”

“He’s got a mission orientation.  Never is he going to be one of those job guys…job…. He’s on a mission because you can stop a man on a job. That’s why they couldn’t stop me back with that superintendant. They didn’t realize I didn’t have a job. I was unemployed. I was on a mission. You can’t stop a man on a mission….”

Looking over at Father Pfleger, Principal Kafele said, “They’ve been trying to quiet him down for 30-years. You can’t stop a man on a mission. It ain’t going to happen.”

Then pointing to his belt, Principal Kafele said “You can’t call yourself a man with your pants falling off. You can’t do it. Men hold their pants up.” In watching young boys and older men who have their pants hanging half-way their behinds,  Kafele mocked how some men wear baggy pants.

He said they can’t even walk right because their pants are falling down. “A man understands that folks are watching and he’s representing all of us.”

He then told a story about  his sons, who are 18 and 21. “When you walk out the house, you are representing me. You are my representative. If you mess up, you are making me look bad and I work too hard for you to go out and make me look like a fool. That is what men teach these younger men so he loves himself. He appreciates himself. He respects himself but he’s responsible for himself. He makes no excuses.”

Principal Kafele recited an African proverb: “He who can not dance will say the drum is bad.” “There are no excuses. These kids are going to soar because the attitude must be” changed. “They will soar because I am the teacher. They will soar because I am the principal. You will soar because I am your parent….”

He then asked three young girls to join the two boys by the altar. Looking at them, Principal Kafele said, “A man has a love, respect, appreciation for and a responsibility for women, young women, young ladies and ultimately his woman.”

Principal Kafele added, “A lot of times it’s so easy for a young man to take another young man out because if I can define myself as the ‘N’ word, and I look into the mirror and that is who I see looking back, the ‘N’ word, well you see, an ‘N’ word and a mind can’t occupy the same space.

“If I am standing in this space right here, I’m either a man or a ‘N’ word, but I can’t be both. The ‘N’ word is over here and the man is over here, but we can’t occupy the same space. That’s a contradiction, but on the other hand, if that is who he sees, then when he sees his brother, he sees the same thing…I’m worthless and you’re worthless.

“We both ain’t nothing. So, it’s easy to take you out because I ain’t nothing. You ain’t nothing. So I’ll take you out and I’ll be gone next week on the retaliation.

“However, on the other hand, if I teach you manhood, and I teach you that you are not a ‘N’ word, but you are a king, you are an intellectual, you are a scientist….”

Principal Kafele turned to the three young ladies calling them “queens.” “Ain’t no ‘B’ word standing up here. Ain’t no ‘H’ word standing up here, but that has to be taught, because by the time they get into grade school, some of these girls think that is their name because they hear it so much.

“It has to be taught. If he’s going to go far, then he’s going to need that partner and if she’s going to go far, she’s going to need that partner.”

With 70 percent of youth going home to a fatherless house, Principal Kafele said, “The conversation has to occur. Where is the conversation going to occur if it’s not happening in school or in church”?

Kafele went to the superintendant and told him he had to engage the students in this conversation and that he had to be a part of the solution. “If I can’t have that conversation and we just hammer them down with math, science, language, arts and social students, at the end of the day, they’re still grappling with issues of identity and manhood. I want to be able to teach them that, too,” he told the superintendant.

“A young man has to love, respect, appreciation and responsibility for his children. If that relationship goes south, those children are still there…. Once you have that child I don’t care happens in that relationship,” said Kafele.

“Once you have that child that child is your responsibility, and if you make the decision that I am not going to be a father to my child, then you’ve made the decision that I am not going to see you as a man anymore. You are a boy trapped in a man’s body.”

Saying he is not “beating up” on any adult in the church, Kafele said, “I’m planting seeds for young people. That’s what I do…. When I talk to young men about having the utmost respect for these queens, sometimes when it’s just us together,” he said the boys claim the girls don’t act right at parties.

And, that is when Principal Kafele tells them, “That’s not the opening for you to exploit them. If you see something that is not right, then you have to correct it. If you are going to exploit that girl, then it no wonder that someone exploits your own mother.

“You have to make sure that you respect them and if you see things are not right, then you help to elevate them but you don’t take advantage.” Kafele gave the same message to the young ladies.

“We as parents, we as fathers have to understand that we have to be parents to our children,” he said.

Kafele said at 4:30 a.m. Sunday he couldn’t sleep so he clicked on the Saint Sabina website (www.saintsabina.org) and listened to Father Pfleger’s September 4, 2011 message concerning ‘Wait on it. You may be right there ready for your breakthrough and you’re going to quit because it’s not coming quick because it’s not coming quick enough for you. There’s the confirmation,” said Kafele.

“A lot of times with these young people you gotta wait on them. We got to be persistent and move out of a sense of urgency, but we got to exhibit patience at the same time,” he said.

He gave his 14-year-old son as an example. “He came to me. He’s 18 now. He was 14 then.  The 21-year-old never came to me with this question. The 18-year-old…someone told him when he was around 13 that he was cute. The 21-year-old lives in books; so I don’t know if he got that same message.

“He said, ‘dad, can I get an earring,’?  I’m not mad at anybody,” said Kafele. He told his son, “No sir.” When his son asked why not, he shot back, “because I said so. Anything else you want to talk about because this conversation is over.”

The next week, Kafele said this same son asked if he could get a tattoo. He denied his request but this time he made a deal with his son telling him, “Pay half my mortgage and I will allow you to pierce your body from the toe all the way to the top of your head and you can paint your whole body just give me half that mortgage every month.” Kafele said this son is now 18 and doesn’t ask him questions like this anymore.

“In my house, I am in charge, along with my wife,” said Kafele referring to parenting skills and the fact that his speech was live on the Internet and he said his wife was watching.

“We call the shots. I have three kids. I don’t have three little friends. I can find friends in the street. Those are my three children; so I am raising them.”

Kafele said that same son wanted to stay out late on the weekend. He explained to him why he couldn’t do as his friends did—stay out late. Kafele’s words were few. “Because your friends are the ones who run their households; so don’t you ever compare me to a child.

“We have to be in control…be in charge. We are the ones running the show whether it be at home, in the classroom, in the school or even in the community.”

Kafele said young men must have “the love, respect, appreciation and responsibility for his brother.” Kafele asked the two boys to face each other and shake hands. “That is what this is about. No beef, but too many of us bump into each other…. We don’t have beef because we are brothers, but somebody has to teach them that.” He said men must reinforce this brotherhood.

“It’s not going to happen on day one or day two. It takes time. It took 400-years to get to this point so we are not going to fix this thing tomorrow. It’s going to take some time, but when we persevere, we get that much closer to the goal.”

Principle Kafele said the young men must have a love, respect, appreciation and responsibility for his community.

Kafele then asked four adult men to come near the altar where he was speaking. He asked them to lock arms and make a circle around the two boys. They were inside of a wall of men. “They can teach manhood all they want but the one thing they cannot do is model it. “Right now, those two young men are locked in and if they tried to get out, I know they can’t get out….

“If we take men and perform a wall around these young boys and stay around these young boys and don’t let them out…we think at some point we got to let them fly. I ain’t letting my 18-year-old fly or let the 21-year old fly because I still have some raising to do.

“We got to keep the wall around them and when we are serious about keeping the wall around these young men, we bring about change. The beauty is this can be done in school.”

Kafele said there are many men who want to be a role model to the students.  “When you establish in that school a climate for young men to learn manhood and a culture for young men to learn manhood, those young men will listen to anybody because the culture dictates what they do. It dictates their behavior so the boys will listen.”

He told a story of one school where there were 700 students at 10:30 a.m. but two-hours later, they have lost 200 students. They had simply walked out the door.

Kafele began to investigate to find out how a school could lose 200 students in two-hours. He found out there was one principal at the school and nine vice principals for a school of 900 students.  When he asked why so many, he was told because it was needed. He learned there were also nine armed policemen.

When he went to the auditorium to speak to the students, there were teachers lined up all around the room. “I felt like I was in jail,” he said. He told the students to look at the teachers. “Something’s not right with that picture. They are all looking at me and they can’t look at me for fear that you’ll act up.”

Kafele told the teachers to turn around, face him and sit down. He challenged the students to change their behavior. He told 25 students to ask each other how they got to their senior year. He said those students led the discussion in that assembly. The administrators admitted they had never seen that before prompting Kafele to say, “Because the culture and the climate won’t allow it.”

Kafele believes men from all walks of like should be brought into the schools and mentor, nurture and teach black boys about manhood.  Life experiences have helped Kafele to mentor black youth.

Principle Kafele said once he had a speaking engagement in New Jersey but he didn’t have enough gas. It was cold in February and he decided to take the risk and began driving without stopping at the gas station.  The gas gauge was OK until he was on top of the bridge because that is when his car stopped accelerating. He coast down the ramp and thought he could pick up some momentum enough to get to the gas station just to the right.

That didn’t happen. His only obstacle was a stop light at the bottom of the ramp, but as soon as he got to the light, it turned red. His stalled car created a traffic jam. Roadside service couldn’t come before two-hours. So, Kafele said he was going to put his car in neutral and push it. “The problem was I was driving a Ford Explorer at the time and it didn’t budge.”

Kafele said he’d walk to the gas station and get a $1.00’s worth of gas but the man said he didn’t have a container. He went back to his car. He thought about the Flintstones. “I don’t have a hole in the floor, but I can do something like what Fred Flintsones did. I’m going to put it in neutral, stick my left leg out the door and let it drag the car. That didn’t work.”

“Out of no where a homeless man appears. He said, ‘get in the car. I got this.’ I follow instructions,” said Kafele. “He said ‘put it in neutral,’” but the car wouldn’t move.

The homeless man whistled and two more homeless men appeared. “Help my friend,” the homeless man told his friends. The car began to move and they pushed him to the gas pumps. Kafele went into his pocket to give them some money. “I was having flashbacks when the homeless brother would come up to the window” and he would ignore them. Referring to the three homeless men, he said, “They didn’t have to help me. All they saw was a guy in need.”

“Those three homeless men who I’ve never seen again taught me something. They said I don’t care how big you think you might be. I don’t care how high your star might rise. At the end of the day, you still need me….”

“As it relates to what we do as educators, the taught me we can’t do this thing alone…. We got to talk to one another. We got to hug on one another. We have to love on one another…. We have to be each other’s support” and understand it’s about the young people and not yourself.

“This thing that we’re seeing in our society we got to end this today. Ain’t nobody flying into these cities to save us for us. We got to do it ourselves. We got to keep these boys from murdering. We’ve got to keep these boys from joining gangs, from making bad decisions, from under achievement. We have to be the ones to make it happen.

“As long as we see a person in our mirrors looking back that is in fact extraordinaire, as long as we see a person looking back who has a purpose, as long as we see someone looking back who does have the evidence that he or she is serious, I can guarantee that youngster will achieve,” said Principal Kafele.

Chinta Strausberg is a Journalist of more than 33-years, a former political reporter and a current PCC Network talk show host.

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