In the past several weeks, Seattleites have been marching, protesting and talking about the nationwide Black Lives Matter movement while trying to dismantle the long-standing racist systems that oppress Black people. But many leaders in our community have been working on these issues long before these protests began.

One sign of progress in the movement to support Black lives comes in a recent announcement from Seattle Public Schools and the Alliance for Education: Seattle’s local philanthropic community has committed more than $1.8 million in funding to SPS’ Department of African American Male Achievement in an effort to better serve Seattle’s Black male students.

The Department of AAMA was created in order to ensure Seattle Public Schools has the culture, conditions, competencies and community connections in place for all Black and African American boys and young male students to be successful.

To that end, AAMA is committed to increasing the skills, knowledge and awareness of all educators to effectively teach and reach Black boys and teens.

This will require ongoing integrated training on implicit bias, institutional and structural racism, cultural competency and a focused effort to increase the number of Black male educators and leaders in the district.

Student voices are at the heart of the program. Selected on a yearly basis, a group of SPS students make up the AAMA Student Leadership Council to help guide the program’s work, give meaningful input from their own perspectives, and help hold the district accountable.

AAMA program alumni Ajala Wilson, 18, said about his experience as a Student Leadership Council member that “being a part of AAMA was the first time I felt included and actually important at school, it was the first time I felt wanted and represented in my education system.”

“My voice was always elevated and held weight in any conversation we had whether it revolved around Black youth or just youth and the education system in general,” he continued. “I am extremely grateful to be a part of these platforms and groups, helping my community make change from the ground up by including those of us who are affected by the systems we’re reforming.”

What lies ahead is exciting but also requires work from all of us.

While this funding milestone is a good indication that the local philanthropic community is committed to better supporting Seattle’s Black students, as a community we need to step up to reject and replace the deficit framing, racism, and white supremacist ideologies pervasive in our schools.

Each one of these contributes to an unjust system that blames students for our failures, when the reality is that the adults in the room must take responsibility for changing the racist structures and systems that hold students back from supporting and educating every student.

We know that to ensure every African American male student in Seattle feels the same sense of belonging as Ajala did, we will need to listen to and learn with students, families, and the broader community.

During the next few months we will conduct focus groups, interviews, and surveys with Black boys and teens in order to get a clear understanding of their experiences in Seattle Public Schools and what they need to thrive.

To ensure we meet the broader needs of our community, we will partner with Black families, elders, community members and Black-led community-based organizations in surfacing experiences, successes and needs that are going unaddressed.

We will also gather feedback from school leaders and staff about school culture, learning and systems and learn more about how they currently support African American boys and teens, so we can make the changes that will have a positive impact on our students. Stay tuned for more information about opportunities to engage in sharing your collective wisdom through our website, social media channels and more.

Our work setting the foundation for the Department of African American Male Achievement is just getting started.

We welcome additional investments in the philanthropic fund to support this important work, and we look forward to engaging with the community as the Department designs its strategy. For this work to succeed, we will need to build on the current momentum and energy in support of Black lives.

We’re excited to build a new collaborative community-wide vision for support for Black male students to learn, grow and thrive in our schools and beyond.

Our hope is that the Department of African American Male Achievement will inspire the broader community to prove — through the actions we take together — that Black Lives matter in Seattle.

 

 

— Dr. Mia Williams is the executive director, Seattle Public Schools Department of African American Male Achievement; Lisa Chick is the president and CEO, Alliance for Education.