Some years ago, as he was concluding his sermon, my pastor asked us in the audience to take that Sunday’s message out into the world and “do life together.”
My pastor’s call was a reminder that we do not walk this human journey in isolation. We do so as members of communities created around our faiths, our hometowns, our families — and our schools.
The most powerful of those communities are created through daily actions that show care and develop connection. Not all blood relatives are family, and not all students and educators are, either, though it’s something I hear teachers say all the time.
It seems to me that whether teachers and students are family depends on the extent to which they’re “doing life together.”
I’ve thought a lot about this as a former teacher in Camden City. When I was teaching there, my students saw me in Camden City. I got my hair cut in Camden, I went to church in Camden, I ate at restaurants in Camden, and I worked with high school students in Camden during the summers. It didn’t hurt that I was from Camden, too. A student may have seen me at the barbershop in East Camden or pulling up at my grandmother’s house in Whitman Park.
While it’s true that my students saw other teachers at the mall or the movie theater, those spots are in the suburbs. It’s not the same as being on the home turf of your students.
That’s not to say that strong bonds between educators and students don’t happen within the walls of a school. Nor do strong bonds develop just because a student sees a teacher patronizing an eatery or attending a church service in the municipality where they live. I am not naïve.
But deeper connections happen between educators and students when they do life together. For teachers who teach Black and Latinx students in low-income communities, doing life together means making a connection with the community where you teach students. Doing life together means more than just going to work to teach Black and Latinx children.
This kind of connection is often misunderstood. Early in my teaching career, some teachers sought my advice on how to strengthen their relationships with students. Others were clearly jealous of my relationships with students. I got the sense that they thought my relationships were stronger than theirs because I am Black, and they are not.
What they didn’t understand was my Blackness didn’t earn me blind loyalty from Black students. My Black skin at the front of a classroom may have elicited good feelings from students on the first day of school, but those feelings would have dissipated if I could not teach, if I was unfamiliar with my content, and if I did not treat students with respect.
I could teach. I was familiar with my content. I treated students with respect. And I also was doing life with them, in Camden. That’s something any teacher can do.
What that looks like is home visits to share good news about students. It looks like attending a city council meeting to advocate on behalf of your students on an issue affecting them and their families. It is also supporting Black- and Latinx-owned restaurants, bookstores, pharmacies, bakeries, and corner bodegas. It’s volunteering in the community where you work. It’s bringing your family to the community you work to see fireworks on the Fourth of July or to watch the lighting of the municipal Christmas tree.
Doing life together isn’t meant to be taxing on the mind, body, and spirit. But it does sometimes require you to step outside your comfort zone and become vulnerable.
For White teachers who work with students from cities like Camden, it requires that you sometimes choose to become a minority in a world where a similar experience is all too familiar to your students and their families. That experience is a lesson in and of itself. And that’s what doing life is all about — learning to live together as brothers and sisters, rather than perish together as fools.
Rann Miller is the director of the 21st Century Community Learning Center, an after-school program in New Jersey. He also served as a school administrator in Camden and taught high school social studies for six years. He publishes an education blog called the Urban Education Mixtape. You can follow him on Twitter @UrbanEdDJ.
James Forman, chief spokesman for the Black Manifesto, inspects a bulletin board in New York’s Interchurch Center after he and supporting members of the National Black Economic Development Conference seized three floors of offices in 1969. The NBEDC sought $500 million in reparations from the white religious community. RNS file photo
On a Sunday morning in May of 1969, as clergy processed into the sanctuary of New York’s august Riverside Church, civil rights activist James Forman vaulted into the pulpit to demand $500 million in reparations for the mistreatment of African Americans from white churches and synagogues.
At the time, Forman’s interruption represented the high point for the reparations movement. A week before, Forman had debuted a radical proposal for racial justice known as “the Black Manifesto” for 500 black activists gathered in Detroit for the National Black Economic Development Conference.
“(W)e know that the churches and synagogues have a tremendous wealth,” the manifesto stated, “and its membership, white America, has profited and still exploits black people.”
The conference determined, by a 187-63 vote, that it was time for white Christians and Jews to pay reparations and demonstrate a willingness to fight “the white supremacy and racism which has forced us as black people to make these demands.”
Riverside, then a mostly white liberal Protestant congregation whose neo-Gothic landmark building was financed by John D. Rockefeller Jr., would be deeply divided over the next few years over Forman’s challenge. As the activist brought his manifesto to other congregations and denominations, Riverside established a lecture series and a “Fund for Social Justice” that aimed to raise $450,000 over three years to help the poor in the local community. It fell short of the goal by almost $100,000.
Members of the congregation file out after Sunday morning worship services at Riverside Church in New York on July 20, 2014. The building is modeled after the 13th-century cathedral in Chartres, France. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
The Black Manifesto’s demands never caught fire in the broader U.S. religious community. The Rev. Gayraud Wilmore, a black Presbyterian leader in New York City in 1969, recalled 50 years later how religious institutions responded.
“I saw them withering and unable to step forward and say ‘Let’s be the church,’” said Wilmore, now 98. “I saw no bold action taken on our side to go along with the bold action Forman was taking.”
Earlier in December, Reform Jews, declaring that “racial inequity is present in virtually every aspect of American life,” voted overwhelmingly to support a U.S. commission to develop proposals for reparations and urged conversations in their congregations to redress systemic racism.
In recent months, Virginia Theological Seminary, Princeton Theological Seminary and Georgetown University have all announced plans to fund initiatives that would benefit the descendants of slaves, while Episcopal dioceses in New York and Long Island made million- and half-million-dollar commitments as reparations committees continued their work.
In May, the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland voted to study reparations and urge congregations to “examine how their endowed wealth is tied to the institution of slavery.”
Maryland Episcopal Bishop Eugene Sutton testifies before the U.S. Congress about reparaions in June 2019. Video screengrab via C-SPAN
Maryland’s African American bishop, Eugene Taylor Sutton, said tears came to his eyes when the measure passed at the diocese’s general convention with no dissenting votes, and he realized that the assembled delegates, representing a membership that is 90% white, “got it.”
“They get this thing called justice, and when you put it in a frame that there is a basic injustice in this nation of stealing from generations of people and that has a direct effect on today, then people,” Sutton said, “they say, ‘OK, we got to get that fixed.’”
Sutton, who testified before Congress in June with writer Ta-Nehisi Coates to advocate for the idea of a U.S. reparations commission, emphasized that reparations can come in many forms. Starting next month, members of his diocese will begin to consider options such as providing better access for people of color to home buying, job training and faculty positions at seminaries.
It has taken some American religious institutions 50 years to get their heads around reparations. When Forman hijacked that Sunday morning service, two-thirds of Riverside worshippers, including the minister, stormed out in protest. After activists occupied offices in the Interchurch Center of New York, a court-issued restraining orders to bar Forman from the building. In Missouri, manifesto supporters in St. Louis carried out a series of “Black Sunday” protests, interrupting local services, which led to confrontations with white church members and arrests.
Activist James Forman walks in New York’s Riverside Church on May 11, 1969. Forman returned to the church after interrupting a service there earlier that month to deliver the Black Manifesto. (AP Photo)
The manifesto was quite specific in its demands. Black activists would control the distribution of reparations. The $500 million (soon increased to $3 billion) would be spent on programs designed to ensure black self-determination. These included establishing a Southern land bank, publishing industries, television networks, job training centers, labor unions and a black university.
The manifesto’s rhetoric was just as controversial. Written by Forman, a former member of the civil rights group known as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the preamble framed reparations in Marxist terms. “Time is short,” Forman wrote. “(N)o oppressed people ever gained their liberation until they were ready to fight, to use whatever means necessary, including the use of force and power of the gun to bring down the colonizer.”
Prominent black and white religious leaders diverged on how to interpret Forman’s call for revolution. The Rev. Ralph D. Abernathy, who succeeded the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, compared Forman to biblical prophets who spoke truth to power. Writing in The Christian Century, he asked, “Was there not even a physical resemblance between Amos, the dusty-road-weary prophet in his desert garb, and Jim Forman in his dashiki?”
The response from some white denominations was outright rejection. The Southern Baptist Convention dismissed the manifesto as “outrageous.” The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York called it un-American and touted its own programs for the “needy and disadvantaged” instead.
The American Jewish Committee, which as part of the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization had helped organize the National Black Economic Development Conference, withdrew from the IFCO. Rabbi Marc H. Tanenbaum, IFCO’s first president, resigned, stating he could not “in conscience stand by in silence and appear … to give assent to the revolutionary ideology and racist rhetoric of the Black Manifesto.”
Other denominations were more ambivalent. The Reformed Church in America invited Forman to address its general synod after he occupied the denomination’s headquarters a month after his action at Riverside. The Rev. Rand Peabody, a 22-year-old white seminarian who had already been slated to give the sermon the next day, revised his sermon after hearing news of Forman’s “liberation” of the RCA’s offices.
The Rev. Rand Peabody. Courtesy photo
“I remember I said it’s not a time for us to feel either blamed or shamed and certainly not a time to feel futile,” Peabody, now 73, said in an interview. “Our denomination, in his eye, did indeed have the power to play a part and we should accept that as almost a commissioning of the denomination to indeed step up to the plate and get involved in more focused and proactive ways.”
Like other denominations, the RCA didn’t accede to Forman’s demand that reparations be handed over freely. Instead the synod voted to create a $100,000 fund “to be disbursed according to the decisions” of a newly formed Black Council. The council then rejected the money.
“We just basically wanted to be at the table where decisions are being made and not considered an auxiliary or an offshoot or a secondhand portion of the denomination,” said the Rev. Dwayne Jackson, a Hackensack, New Jersey, pastor, who was a panelist at an RCA event commemorating the manifesto in October titled “Unfinished Business.”
Jackson, who knew some members of the council from his childhood church in the Bronx, said the staffer hired to oversee the council was the church’s first black executive. (Today, people of color comprise a third of the RCA’s executive leadership team.)
Other denominations acknowledged the grievances raised by the manifesto but rejected the solutions it proposed and even the language of “reparations.” Instead they created or continued programs aimed at helping poor blacks and others. The Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People, the Evangelical Covenant Church’s Fund for Disadvantaged Americans of Minority Groups and the Episcopal Church’s General Convention Special Program were all created around the time of Forman’s action.
Dominique DuBois Gilliard, the current director of the ECC’s “racial righteousness and reconciliation” ministry, recently reflected on how this kind of response “enacted a very problematic erasure of the black freedom struggle.”
Met with the manifesto’s demands, “the Covenant found it more palatable to shift the conversation to marginalization in general,” Gilliard writes in the May/August edition of its Covenant Quarterly, which focused on the 50th anniversary of the manifesto. “This response has strong parallels to proclamations that ‘All Lives Matter’ in response to the declaration ‘Black Lives Matter.’”
There has been a shift in recent years, however, which Gilliard has helped encourage. The ECC Resolution on Racism, passed in June, insists that “the time is right for white clergy to attend to the sins of our own community and make a public commitment to prioritize antiracism work within our ministerium.”
Activist James Forman speaks in Montgomery, Alabama, in March 1965. Photo by Glen Pearcy/Library of Congress/Creative Commons
Nell Gibson, a member and former chair of the Episcopal Diocese of New York’s Reparations Committee, recalled that in the wake of Forman’s declaration — which resulted in the Episcopal Church’s $200,000 donation to the National Committee of Black Churchmen — members of her Manhattan church created a Black and Brown Caucus. After receiving the $30,000 they demanded from their St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery, they developed a free breakfast program for children, a summer “liberation school” that taught minority children their ancestors’ history and a prison law library.
Fifty years on, reparations are often framed as spiritual tests as much as financial ones. This year was named the “Year of Apology” for the Episcopal Diocese of New York, and each Sunday Gibson’s congregation has said a prayer that includes this sentence: “For the many ways — social, economic and political — that white supremacy has accrued benefits to some of us at the expense of others, we repent.”
Soon, the diocesan reparations committee will consider a number of possible next steps, such as a truth and reconciliation commission or education and health care initiatives.
Likewise, Sutton said his Maryland Episcopal diocese is moving methodically after years of conversation about reparations to figuring out how that will be lived out financially and otherwise.
“We don’t have all the solutions, we don’t know everything that’s going to fix the problem and so we’re going to be humble in even what we think we can accomplish,” he said. “But, by God, we’re going to do something.”
John Perkins, left, speaks at the Mosaix conference on Nov. 7, 2019, in Keller, Texas. Mark DeMyaz, president of Mosaix Global Network, stands behind Perkins on stage. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks
Editor’s Note: The speaker uses a racial epithet in his first answer.
KELLER, Texas (RNS) — When longtime reconciliation advocate John Perkins took the stage at a conference of multiethnic church leaders, they gave him a standing ovation and kept standing as he counseled them.
“You will find me in the so-called white church; you will find me in the so-called black church. But I’m there to be redemptive,” he told them. “It’s intentional, being a reconciler.”
At almost 90, Perkins, a civil rights activist, advocate for the poor, and worker for inclusivity in evangelical churches, told hundreds of people attending the Mosaix conference in early November that he’s “almost finished” with his work but there is more ahead for them.
“I want to be encouraging to this generation: This generation, don’t give up, don’t give up,” he urged. “Let’s love one another.”
In an interview the day before his brief address to the conference, Perkins said he’s planning the final book in a trilogy that will be the “centerpieces of my theology.” The first, “One Blood: Parting Words to the Church on Race and Love,” has been followed by the second, “He Calls Me Friend: The Healing Power of Friendship in a Lonely World.”
He talked to Religion News Service about the importance of friendship, overcoming hate with love and his hopes about heaven.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
You are a veteran in the realm of race relations in church and society. What concerns you most about the current state of those relations?
Integration and racial reconciliation is that space between when the first black moves in and the last white moves out. Now the whites are moving back and the blacks say, “We don’t want you in here with us and we want to stay like we were. Y’all taking our land.” We haven’t decided about getting together and loving each other. The church hasn’t made that decision.I don’t think we’re developing authentic friendship. Our discipleship is not going there. I think our racial reconciliation continues to antagonize each other. I don’t meet many white folk who want to be a racist and we’re calling them a racist. I don’t think that’s affirming their dignity. I don’t think that’s receiving ’em. I don’t meet many black folk who want to be called a n—– again. That’s not affirming our dignity. So we haven’t found a language of accepting each other. We don’t have the language for the conversation. Even if we have the conversation, our language itself is already bad.
In speaking to people attending Mosaix, a multiethnic church conference filled with people who are from the generations that follow yours, what advice do you have for clergy seeking to create or maintain churches that are inclusive of a variety of ethnic and racial groups?
We’re trying to be a prototype. We’re trying to find the model that can reflect that dignity within humanity. We don’t quite have it, and if we have it, we haven’t found the peace that surpasses all understanding. We haven’t found that peace. We’ve still got too much hate in there. Hate is still winning and hate is of the devil and love is of God. So we got to find that language of love. We’re trying to be intentional. We want that to happen. We ain’t there.
Your mother died in poverty when you were still an infant —
When I was 7 months old —
— your brother was killed by a police officer, and you were jailed and beaten as you fought for civil rights. How did you move from what could have been a life of anger and hate to one that has focused so much on faith and love?
I didn’t find that liberation until I came to know Jesus Christ, until I realized that Christ had died for me and that God loved the little children, all the children of the world — red, brown and yellow, black and white — they’re all precious in his sight. I knew that before I was beaten in a jail but when I was beaten in the jail, I think something happened out of that beating that gave me determination to do this. I think after coming out of that jail, I found authentic love from blacks. I found authentic love from whites. I think blacks thought I wasn’t just a do-gooder, a token black, that I wanted to live for them. I think white folk came and washed my wounds. I think real reconciliation is washing each other’s wounds.
In your new book, “He Calls Me friend,” you say that friendship can help people overcome what you call “the sin sickness of ethnic hatred and prejudice.” Can you briefly explain what you mean by that?
I mean that friendship is the outliving of the good Samaritan story that said, you can get into the kingdom if you can be like that good Samaritan. That’s an oxymoron. That’s a complete change of behavior. Those Jews — and they were the religious Jews — they left that Jew there. This mixed-bred guy, this guy who saw beyond racism and color, he saw there was a human being and he affirmed, he invested in him and he invested in his future and he said, I’ll invest some more if I come back. He became a friend, and Jesus said, go and do likewise.
He called us to be friends. I’m changing my name. I’m telling you all to call me friend. My name is friend.
You and your wife of almost 70 years founded what is now called the John and Vera Mae Perkins Foundation in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1983. What was the goal?
The goal was to create (Christian Community Development Association) and to plant within it the biblical mandate. I would come every time we would meet in the morning and anchor people in the Word of God. This is our guidebook. This is our blueprint. And where I would take them would be into the incarnation, looking at the first purpose for which God came: They shall call his name Jesus for he shall save his people from their sin. They got a housing problem but they need to be saved too. Do you wait ’til they get saved to do that? No. If they’re poor, if they’re hungry, feed ’em. If they’re naked, clothe them. If they don’t have shelter, bring them to your house. You don’t wait until they’re saved to do that. Doing that might show somebody else our good work and (they may) say I want to be a part of that group.
You are turning 90 next year. It doesn’t appear, though, that you’ve really retired. What are your goals at this stage?
To finish my manifesto and I want to write one more book. I want to put these three together: “One Blood,” “He Called Me Friend” and the thought is why did James say count it all joy when you fall into suffering? I want to learn a little bit more about the vicariousness of suffering and the value of suffering, so I can get ready and get the people ready to die, to welcome his return, but also welcome death if it’s for a noble cause.
You mentioned in your new book that you yearn for heaven. How does that desire relate to your concept of friendship?
I think if we’re going to join our friends forever, we will never be separated again. I had a little theological trouble with it because (Jesus) said somebody in heaven, he won’t be married or given in marriage because I wanted to be in heaven, around the throne, I want to have Vera Mae’s hand.
This past Sunday, Kanye West appeared in front of perhaps his biggest church audience yet: Lakewood Church of Houston, pastored by Joel Osteen. West wore a blazer and crew neck sweater — a more conservative outfit than his typical fashion-forward attire. Answering a series of questions that felt more suited for a midday Christian talk show, West revealed a tidbit that goes a long way toward explaining why Kanye is Kanye.
“We actually grew with a church,” West said. “It was a pastor named Johnnie Colemon.”
With those words, Kanye’s interest in political commentary and his current spiritual trajectory suddenly became clear. The Rev. Johnnie Colemon, an African American female pastor, grew Christ Universal Temple, a megachurch on the South Side of Chicago, with her famed “Abundance Campaign.”
While Colemon’s theology often gets lumped into the classic leagues of prosperity gospellers, it belongs more properly within New Thought. This is a theology, which grew out of the 19th century American metaphysical movement, that encourages material wealth as a sign of God’s blessings and a focus on positive thinking — the notion that one’s mental state can manifest into daily living. In 1974, Colemon founded the Universal Foundation for Better Living, branching away from the core of New Thought because of blatant racism.
If Kanye’s understanding of God and Jesus are understood through the lens of African American New Thought, I would argue that his egotism, ostentation and even the tangents into seeming megalomania — onstage with Osteen, Kanye declared himself “the greatest artist God ever created” — have a historical and theological context.
If Colemon’s brand of New Thought is truly the foundation of Kanye’s beliefs, it makes sense that he sees his fame and fortune as positive manifestations of God’s blessings in his life. It makes sense that he would associate himself with Osteen, a preacher of prosperity gospel. And it explains why he associates himself with President Donald Trump.
In Trump, Kanye may see a person who, with no previous political or military experience, spoke his presidency into existence, much the way West spoke his spiritual community — the Sunday Services — into being.
The danger with such a theology is that it ignores the malicious market forces that serve to encourage poverty, white supremacy, racism, Islamophobia and trenchant immigration policies at the Southern border. If this theology were true, we should tell the children who have been separated from families and placed in cages to simply think more positively about their situation in order to be reunited with their parents.
But no amount of positive thinking can save prosperity gospel’s uncritical devotion to Western capitalism, and therein lies the rub.
Up until now, most of the discussion around West, the Sunday Service choir and his most recent album, “Jesus Is King,” has been a flat discussion about generic Christian beliefs, told mostly through the gaze of white evangelicals. The way Kanye spouts his own theology and the way it gets reinterpreted in social media posts and through media reporting offer a Pollyanna Christianity.
Such a sanitized Christianity, to quote Cornel West, “is just like everything else in America: highly packaged, regulated, distributed, circulated and consumed.”
That Kanye is a black man from the South Side of Chicago, influenced by an African American woman who split from a predominantly white denomination to start her own, isn’t a trivial piece of information. Rather, it’s the fulcrum on which everything is balanced. Kanye should not be a racial prop for white evangelicals who ignore their own racial biases because he raps about Jesus. His complex story has an origin, and it isn’t the white evangelical church.
My hope is that the collective American conscience does not idolize Kanye’s self-professed conversion to the point of whitewashing his narrative. Although, at this point, such hope may already be an exercise in futility.
(The Rev. Joshua Lawrence Lazard is the C. Eric Lincoln Minister for Student Engagement at Duke Chapel at Duke University. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of Religion News Service.)
As a counseling professor who specializes in educating black children, these findings do not surprise me. I often hear education professionals and others use simplistic negative statistics to explain complex challenges facing black students.
Myth #1: More black men are in prison than college
In 2002, the Justice Policy Institute released a report called “Cellblocks or Classrooms.” The report was meant to spur policymakers to invest in college education for black males. One line resonated and echoed more than others: “Nearly a third more African American men are incarcerated than in higher education.”
Was it ever true? As I noted in an interview with the BBC in 2013, the Justice Policy Institute accurately reported the federal education data available at the time. The problem is that data was incomplete. For instance, several historically black colleges and universities, as well as my alma mater, Temple University, where I was enrolled as a doctoral candidate in 2001, reported no black male students in 2001 – which would have been impossible. Colleges have apparently gotten better at reporting race and gender data since.
When documentary filmmaker Janks Morton and I first published our 2011 response to the claim that there were more black men in prison than in college, we refuted it by showing that there were about 1.3 million black men in college and 840,000 black men in prison. By 2015, the total number of black men in college was 1,437,363 and the total incarcerated was 745,660. A chart that I produced in 2013 shows the trend in black male incarceration and college enrollment over the 10 years after the JPI report.
Not only is “more black men in prison than college” false, it may lead to bad policy and practice for black boys. In my view, educators who believe their black male students have a better chance of ending up in jail than college might focus more on preventing delinquency, rather than preparing helping them realize their college potential.
Myth #2: Black students lag in reading ability
During a panel discussion, I once heard a principal of a predominantly black high school state that “100 percent” of the students at her school were reading below grade level. Another panelist added the common myth that low reading scores in the third grade help prison builders calculate the need for future prison beds. But assessing reading ability involves much more than using standardized tests of reading proficiency.
For instance, scoring errors, lack of motivation, fatigue, resentment and attention deficits can reduce the accuracy of standardized reading test scores. These sources of error may be more prevalent in predominately black schools with substandard conditions.
Before writing off an entire school because of test scores, educators should become familiar with the specific assessments used, the circumstances by which the test was administered and the basic concepts of testing theory. Consider Orange County School Board member Rick Roach who – in a quest to understand reading tests better – took Florida’s state test for reading comprehension. Although he has two master’s degrees, he failed. Rick Roach’s experience backs up research that recommends educators look for beyond the tests to assess achievement.
Myth #3: Single mothers are to blame for problems among black students
In a training, a teacher told me that single mothers were the “number one” reason for black boys getting suspended. When I asked the teacher what research supports this conclusion, he insinuated that it was common knowledge.
In my book, I detail the research that I have conducted and reviewed on the connection between parents and academic success. Although 69 percent of black children live in homes without both biological parents, there’s little conclusive evidence that household composition determines educational outcomes.
In my 2013 analysis of more than 12,000 parents who completed the National Household Education Surveys-Parent and Family Involvement Survey, I found that parents who were black and Hispanic, non-native English speakers, lived in unsafe neighborhoods and had less than a high school education were less likely to visit school for conferences with teachers and administrators or school activities. My study found that this lack of involvement with school was statistically associated with lower levels of academic achievement among their students.
The study also found that parents of black students received less frequent and more negative communication from their child’s school. Specifically, parents of black students were the most likely to receive phone calls from school because of a problem with their child’s behavior or academic performance. Parents of white children were the most likely to receive regular newsletters.
My book details three parenting factors that increase students’ academic functioning regardless of marital status.
The first is academic socialization – that is, lessons around the goals and purposes of education and strategies for success.
The second is positive parenting, which is when parents frequently tell their children they love them and are proud of them, and reinforce good behavior.
The first step to correcting a problem is to acknowledge that it exists.
In my opinion, BS is pervasive in educational settings for black children because educators want quick and easy ways to understand longstanding and complex issues. People should question negative statistics, like those I discuss in this article, and seek a better and more nuanced perspective of the issues, instead of just accepting BS as proof of failure.
Derrick Davis in front of his Home Technology Pros of Metro Detroit business truck.
When Derrick Davis launched his television career as a video engineer 35 years ago, it wasn’t uncommon for him to be the only brother on the production truck crew. Things haven’t changed much as he travels to various venues all around the country at 57, still in the field covering network sports as a broadcast maintenance engineer for WXYZ-TV in Detroit, an ABC-TV affiliate. Davis wants to change that. He promised his late father he would.
“You know what, you’ve got to stop complaining and do something about it. God Blessed you with a gift. Now that you know what that gift is and your purpose, why don’t you start training young people to do what you do?'” Davis recalls his dad Maurice telling him.
Davis pondered the idea for decades, strategizing with this dad over the years on how to make that kernel of insight into a feasible concept. He had a lot of ups and downs, setbacks and heartbreaks before soaking his 401K and feverishly saving for five years. In 2019, he launched a technology school, The AV Technology Institute, and a companion franchise business, Home Technology Pros of Metro Detroit. The goal of the Detroit-based school is to help young people who aren’t college-bound and are struggling with what they want to do in life. Many of Davis’ potential students will soon be entering the workforce out of high school or possibly coming out of the prison system. The franchise, which helps people install home theater systems, home networking and more, will give those who finish his program the opportunity to gain hands-on experience as interns. Unfortunately, his dad died before he could see the vision become a reality.
“Literally three days before he passed, we were sitting at the kitchen table, and out of the blue he said, ‘Did you start that school yet?’ and I said, ‘no,'” Davis recalls.
His dad responded, “What are you waiting for?”
Davis answered him, “I don’t know.” That conversation, so close to his dad’s death, haunted Davis and spurred him into action. “From that point on, I made it my sole mission to make sure that I got this tech school off the ground to give back to the community. I have funded everything I’ve done thus far. It’s all or nothing, and I believe it’s for the glory of God to do what He promised me, that vision that He set in me.”
The idea of being an educator was a hard one to adjust to, even though his dad, a pastor, and former middle school band director, had told him previously that it was in his DNA. Davis’ mom, who also has passed away, was a second-grade teacher. Several people in his family are educators, principals, teachers, and counselors.
His hesitation possibly was because Davis himself struggled in school.
“I was labeled the black sheep in the family. I was the most likely not to succeed. But I used that as a sense of motivation. The TV station that I work for is literally a half-mile from the high school where I graduated from,” said Davis, who turned a negative comment from a school counselor into motivation for success after he completed a career assessment test that revealed he could not be the cameraman he aspired to be. The counselor advised him to be a food service worker or a dietician. “I gave her a few choice words, got kicked out of school, got home, and told my dad the counselor said I couldn’t do what I wanted to do because I’m not qualified.” His dad understood his frustration and didn’t get upset with him about the incident. Even his mom saw in him what a lot of people didn’t. “She knew that I wasn’t a book genius, but she also knew I wasn’t stupid either.”
It took Davis awhile to find his way after high school. He went on to attend Tennessee State Unversity for two years, followed by earning a certificate in Radio and Television Production from the Nashville School of Broadcasting. He decided to join the Navy and was able to obtain a Certificate in Electronic Technology while there through correspondence courses.
“As a radioman in the Navy, I dealt with the radiofrequency transmission. That’s where my interest in electronics started. I worked quite a bit alongside electronic techs on the ship, and they mentored me along,” said Davis, who said that after four years in the Navy he decided to take his chances in civilian life. He worked at Dow Chemical for ten years but stayed involved in community television as a volunteer. Davis’ first TV gig was as a master control operator, and he was able to climb the ladder into roles of increasing responsibility. Now married with kids, he went back to school part-time and after six years earned a bachelor of science degree in electronic engineering technology from the New England Institute of Technology.
Inside a classroom at the AV Technology Institute.
“It wasn’t easy…it was a struggle. I learned so much by having mentors, guys that were my supervisors or ahead of me and working hands-on in the field. You learn more when you are actually doing the job than when you are reading about a job. But my degree helped me advance my career. It helped me 20 years later get into the television station that I was told I never could get in to as a kid,” said Davis. He has four adult children and six grandchildren, and his 28-year-old son Deshon is following in his footsteps. “Today, he’s me. He does network sports, doing the same job I did when I got out of the Navy. He started from the bottom as a utility guy pulling cables and worked his way up.”
Davis’ school is in a building owned by the nonprofit Life Remodeled, which repurposed a former elementary school building into a hub of educational and vocational organizations for children, students, and adults in the community called the “Durfee Innovation Society.” In the building, Davis has two classrooms for lab work and instruction. However, his Home Technology Pros of Metro Detroit business is a virtual office and a truck.
“Right now, our country is leaning back to trade schools and trades. That was a missing demographic for years. Everybody pushed college, college, college. This is a basic low-voltage technology that builds the foundation. If you catch on and you are serious about it, you will run with it and take it to the next level,” said Davis, who, in honor of his parents, has an annual scholarship fund dinner to provide resources for aspiring young adults seeking a career in technology. “It’s been a lifelong struggle for me, but I’m blessed. I can’t complain. I thank God every day for His mercy and His grace for what I’ve been through and where I’m at now.”