Former Mpls prep standout leads the effort
During the 2015-16 school year, African American male students in the Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) were part of an innovative and creative educational initiative established two years ago by a former school superintendent visionary and a former assistant principal turned advocate.
It was then that Bernadeia Johnson (then superintendent) and Michael Walker (the assistant principal) established the Office of Black Male Student Achievement (OBMSA) to focus on the academic progress of African American males in the MPS district.
Walker was a 1994 Minneapolis Roosevelt High School graduate who starred in basketball for the Teddies before going on to play at Southwest Minnesota State University (graduating in 1998). He left his assistant principalship at his alma mater in 2014 and hit the ground running in his new position — interviewing parents, community members and educators and creating the B.L.A.C.K. (Building Lives Acquiring Cultural Knowledge) class.
“We want our Kings [students] to realize that academic success can be achieved,” Walker said before emphasizing “their academic success.”
The B.L.A.C.K. class — for which students receive academic credit — focuses on the Black male experience in the United States. “We really wanted to focus on student engagement, family, self-identity and self-worth.”
More importantly, Walker added, “We needed educators who believed in the Kings.”
Walker found two such community experts, Jamil Jackson Sr. and Corey Yeager. Jackson taught classes at Field, Franklin Middle, North High School and Northeast Middle School. Yeager taught at Edison High School, South High School and Folwell Middle School.
By the end of the year, the OBMSA had achieved measures beyond their original goal. The 175 Kings enrolled in the B.L.A.C.K. class increased their GPA during the school year.
More than 2,000 Black male students were reached through professional development and site supports. Twelve families attended later coaching sessions, and the students participated in a Historically Black College and Universities (HBCU) tour during spring break.
Ending the year on a high note, OBMSA had a “Believe and Achieve” celebration that featured student performances, an awards ceremony, and a year-end presentation from Walker in April.
Interviewed weeks after the celebration, Walker acknowledged how important it was to make sure that everyone gets their share of recognition. “It’s important to honor the contributions of students, educators, parents and community members,” he emphasized.
“And most importantly, the students themselves.”
Mitchell Palmer McDonald welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.