Rev. William Curtis on the Robert Morris University Uzuri Think Tank that Is Exploring Academic Success Among Black Men

4798We frequently hear about Black males failing in school; what can we learn from the stories of Black men who have been academically successful?
Robert Morris University's Uzuri Think Tank recently presented "Perspectives: A Community Focus Group On Black Male Educational Success". It was an evening filled with stories about struggle, overcoming difficulty, and the ingredients of academic success.

Spoken word performer Leslie "Ezra" Smith set the mood for the evening by performing inspirational verse. Then Robert Morris' Assistant Dean of Communication and Information Systems, Rex Crawley, interviewed Reverend William Curtis of Mt. Ararat Baptist Church, Larry Davis, the Dean of the University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work, and Alex Johnson, former President of Community College of Allegheny County to explore their road to academic achievement.

One of the things all three men had in common was that some of the adults who were closest to them made it clear that they believed in them. Johnson grew up in Concord North Carolina under segregation. The Black community he grew up in encouraged academic achievement, providing a foundation that he could draw upon once he entered more racially hostile environments outside of his neighborhood. Adults in Concord encouraged Johnson by pulling him aside and telling him what they thought his capacities were. Over time Johnson began to recognize strengths in himself that he would not have seen otherwise.

Reverend Curtis had similar experiences. Curtis recalls the importance of words in shaping his self-image. He says we have to be careful what we tell young people about who they are because this shapes what they will become. Curtis said he subscribes to "the law of first mention". When the truth is first revealed, he said, this plants seeds of encouragement that help young people endure difficulty and fulfill their potential.

Curtis said that although the neighborhood he grew up in was insular, he and other children had everything they needed for physical and emotional support. "All the adults [in the neighborhood] raised you," he said, "After school you went to the house that had food ... All the teachers lived in the neighborhood ... the community protected [us]."

Curtis said that Sunday school lessons also strengthened the capacity of young people to learn. The children learned history, literature, and math during Sunday school lessons. A child's whole perception of the world was shaped by his or her social interaction on the block, in the school and in the pews. Curtis noted that today there are many other influences on children's lives, through mass media and the internet, which distract and weaken them.

Davis, however, found considerably less support for achievement in his community. He relied on his immediate family for support. He said he was the only one, among his group of friends, who graduated from high school. Davis said that he sometimes feels "survivor's guilt" because so many of his friends wound up in prison. "I feel like I walked through a mine field and was lucky to make it."


Source: New Pittsburgh Courier Online 
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