The parent is the first teacher


The home is the first classroom and the community is the testing lab for cultural values and other home training


Atum Azzahir
Atum Azzahir

The future struggle for the African is a cognitive one. Cognition is a word that includes two words “with + knowledge.” With innate knowledge, my parents were strategists, managers, and entrepreneurs. I was taught how to think my way through severe life challenges by my mother, father, older brother and the entire family of aunts, uncles, and grandparents.

The enemy that I was prepared to face was not just “White people” but White people’s way of thinking. Everything we knew burst forth from spirituality. With no formal schooling in the valleys and shadows of death of Mississippi, my parents retained the capacity to create symbols of strength and deep peace in our souls. They were completely proficient at producing soul food, soul music, rhythm and blues, and songs of sadness and joy.

Many lessons were taught to me about standards of behaviors for and in the interest of Black people. For them, this meant to bring peace and harmony to Black people. Because of the directness of the hate from White people and the systems that supported the hate — all institutions including schools, employers, politicians and business owners — direct attempts were made to negate all that my parents were and all that my family and my people were.

With this as the contextual field for my/our development, my parents showed me ‘Blackness’ as a way of being in harmony with my maker. They showed me through direct teaching that our people did have a way of being that was full and complete and could hold and sustain us.

Life’s lesson plans were executed without words: I watched, I learned what worked, and I experienced the successes or failures of what I was being taught in my daily decisions across my life. Frantz Fanon states, “I feel within myself a soul as immense as the world, a master being forced to adopt the humility of a slave.”

In the public schools across the country, our children are fighting for their psychic life. They are being forced into servant-hood and are being forced into this psychic space of separation from themselves and their souls.

We send them into these spaces where they are going before angry people who have a direct lineage to the hate and sadness of thought of the historical forces that stripped us of our beingness. Our children are asking us to hear them cry. They are asking us to read the facts of the pipeline to prison. I saw and heard them in the schools where the Cultural Wellness Center, of which I am the founding director, is working to bring them relief.

Educators at this time have been indoctrinated to make implicit assumptions as to the “failure” of our African children being due to the working class background that they come from, parents not giving encouragement, or the incapacity to learn as the result of a genetic deficiency.

One researcher tied the Black child’s failure in her school in math and science to “their non-standard use of the English language. She stated, “Children who speak Black English at home are saddled with the time-consuming and frustrating problem of translating concepts back and forth between their dialect and the Standard English used in math and science and the language they learned in childhood.”

She concluded that the problem was a conceptual flaw by nature. This then was problematized as pathological. The solution became special education services for Black children.

We wish to state emphatically that the knowledge given to our children in the schools and universities of modern European thought must be recognized from its very inception as defective. The failure is not in the children; it is in the curriculum, the methods of delivering the knowledge, and the de-spiritualized knowledge itself. For an alternative future in education, we have to return to a spiritualized knowledge that is where we originated from in the first time or the beginning of time for our people.


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