The Future of Afrikan American Education:
A Practitioners View

by Mwalimu Hannibal Tirus Afrik

(Reprinted invited address: given at the American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting, 4/15/93)


A. Traditional Afrikan Concepts of Education
It takes a whole village to raise a child-Afrikan Proverb Among Afrikan people. The role of education was and is highly regarded in both informal and formal structures. Education began at birth with the mother as the primary teacher for socialization and cultural development. When children reached adolescence, they were introduced to the Bush School or age-grade training. For several years these children learned the skills of manhood and womanhood so that they could be presented to the community as qualified adults.

Cultural development was manifested in the social conduct of the entire community through reverence for the ancestor, respect for elders, and adherence to traditional family and community values. Children were evaluated by their social behavior which was a direct reflection on the cultural aptitude of their parents. In reality, Children are the reward of life.

Creative and technical development were acquired by a process of apprenticeships which allowed youth to learn their skills at the feet of master craftsmen. Through formal institutions such as the temple, secret societies, and universities, students received technical and philosophical knowledge that was refined by a series of rigorous examinations before graduation.

In general, education was holistic and communal with the goal of harmony between humanity, nature, and the supreme creator spirit. Education, therefore, was designed to prepare individuals to seek ways of improving the community. The Afrikan principle encourages everyone to do the greatest good for the greatest number based on righteousness and reciprocity. Individualism was subordinated to collectivism and a reverence for traditional Afrikan mores and spiritual consciousness.

B. Consequences of the European Slave Trade: Dehumanization of the Afrikan Personality
Nowhere in human history is there a parallel to the nefarious and deleterious effect on Afrikan people as the consequences of the European slave trade. Not only can the inhumanity be measured in death statistics but in the psychological impact of its survivors.

Walter Rodneys analysis in How Europe Undeveloped Afrika, calculates demographically that the Afrikan continent was depopulated by up to 500 million inhabitants during the 400 years of the European and Arab slave trade. Subsequent research suggests that as many as 60 million Afrikan people died either during the slave-capturing wars, or while held hostage in coastal slave forts, or on board ship during the infamous Middle Passage, or in the slave Seasoning camps in the Caribbean, or subsequently in the forced-labor plantations throughout the western hemisphere in the United States, Central and South America.

The physical dehumanization and atrocities have been well chronicled in slave narratives and academic research. Certainly, the chattel slavery era has been the focal point for commercialization in a variety of ways, even attempting to dignify the rationale of Manifest Destiny.

However, the emotional trauma that has been perpetrated upon Afrikan Americans generally is ignored, obscured, or minimized. The enormous impact of scientific racism in western civilization still is not fully explained except to acknowledge the psychological changes attributed not only to the victim but also the victimizer.

C. Casualties and Benefits of the Segregated Public School System
"An ignorant man is always a slave."-Proverb
The American legal system justified racially segregated schools in order to appease the Southern slave holders and restore these states back into the United States. Since the Negro slave was considered only 3/5 of a human, the racist mentality persisted that racial co-mingling was injurious to white people.

It legitimized the biological inferiority of Negro Americans and divided society into contrasting arenas of inequality, subjugation, racial discrimination, and police-state intimidation.

Nevertheless, even in the midst of these distinctly oppressive conditions, Black people established their own criteria for educational competence that went beyond academic achievement and incorporated racial pride and self-esteem. Throughout the segregated schools in the South, Black administrators, teachers, and community leaders adhered to the concept that education is our passport to freedom, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.

The drive to excel academically and become a positive role model in the community was reinforced by parents in the home, clergy in churches, professionals in civic and social agencies. As a consequence, most of the Black students graduating in higher education received their elementary and secondary education in the separate and unequal Southern schools. In addition, the historical Black colleges and universities contributed the majority of all Black graduate students in the country.

Consequently, the evils of racial prejudice and legal segregation did not circumvent the resilience of the black community to utilize every resource available to obtain and maintain educational opportunities. Their communal cohesiveness enabled teachers, parents, and community leaders to instill, motivate, and nurture Black youth to overcome societal obstacles.


Due to the fact that there has long been a legal protest against racial segregation in this country, the persistent efforts by the NAACP and other civil rights groups challenged the legality of the public school system before the U.S. Supreme Court. In the historic 1954 decision, the court ruled that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional and it must be remedied with all deliberate speed.

Interestingly enough, the decision, though hailed as one of the major civil rights victories, provided another justification for racial inferiority. The challenge to the Supreme Court was, in part, based on the premise that whenever Black children were legally prevented from attending integrated schools with white children, those Black children were being deprived of a quality education.

This presumes that Black children suffer form racial isolation and the only way to compensate for this deficiency is to sit next to white children. Again, the black child is seen as the victim, unable to succeed without racial integration. Therefore, a stigma of inferiority was being reinforced when the courts mandated that black children had to be bussed into previously all white schools without requiring white children to be bussed into previously all Black schools.

If racial integration was the preferred objective, then dual efforts should have been mandated. However, school integration of students turned into school desegregation based on limited racial quotas in order to avoid violent reactions from white parents and citizens. In spite of the noble intent, the racial stereotype persisted that being Black denotes an innate badge of inferiority that required paternalistic gestures from white superiors as a compensation.

Additionally, the 1954 court decision eventually caused the disintegration of the Black public school's prominence, wholesale demotions and firings of qualified Black administrators and teachers plus a major disruption in the social cohesiveness of the Black community. Twenty-five years later, research statistics documented that there was more racial isolation in public schools, both Northern and southern states, due to de facto neighborhood and housing segregation.

Continuing today, there still remains most urban centers with sharp demographic characteristics of racial isolation despite efforts to monitor desecration of public school faculty and students. The underlying factor in this multi-decade battle is that Black people lack the power to integrate public schools. As more Blacks gradually move into previously all white neighborhoods, white flight or the exodus of homeowners out of those areas continues to escalate.

When whites flee to private schools or city-wide magnet schools or suburban communities, the educational resources previously available to the neighborhood schools are withdrawn until these schools become racially isolated and educationally deficient. However, the argument is still debated blaming these conditions on the Black student victim instead of the societal forces that created urban ghettos.

Ironically, Kenneth Clark summarizes in Dark Ghetto, that any educational system that fails to educate all of its members to their maximum potential is, in reality, educating those students to fail. This is an indictment against the dominant forces in society that use public education as a barometer of social injustice.


A. Mainstream Approach
This strand is characterized by a deliberate movement for inclusion into American society through a reform of the public educational system. It challenges white Americans to become moral and practice the ideals of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution with people of Afrikan descent. Furthermore, it suggests that the conscience of racist Americans needs to be transformed into accepting Black people as equal citizens.

As urban centers grew and became increasingly non-white, the quality of education decreased until, in 1983, a national commissions report stated that the U.S. was indeed A NATION AT RISK. In order to restore confidence in public education, various strategies have been legislated in order to reform school policies and practices.

However, most of these strategies address issues of school governance and structure rather than equity of funding and instructional support. In the final analysis, most public schools have been required to do more teaching and socialization activities with less economic resources under their control.. The strong labor union movement has mitigated against radical changes in the practice of teaching when reform has threatened to dilute or eradicate previously attained benefits by power negotiations, direct action and work stoppages.

What the result has been is that Black youth are still disproportionately underachieving, dropping out and penalized through school disciplinary measures, and misplaced in learning disabled programs as early as elementary school. There is adequate research to demonstrate that typically, Black pupils enter primary school with the capacity to learn and to progress as well as other students until third grade. Between third and sixth grades, all children slow down in rates of academic achievement but for Black pupils, they lag farther behind and rarely close that achievement gap.

This indicates that the instructional methodology practiced in public schools is not meeting the needs of its clients, and for Black children it is systematic educational genocide the longer they remain in school. According to the 1983 report A NATION AT RISK, the majority of Black high school graduates, seventeen years and older, would be classified as functional illiterates.

For example, in the 1992 Chicago public school standardized test results of reading proficiency, Black elementary students scored at the bottom comparatively. Even worse, 85% of all Black males in elementary schools placed at the bottom of all students city-wide. This occurred in a city where nearly 2/3 of the public school enrollment is comprised of Black students.

The high school dropout rate for Blacks is reported at 49%, but statistics on school leavers show that over 75% of a high school entering class will fail to graduate four years later. Also, the majority of those graduates will be females, yet there is evidence showing that the IQ of male high school dropouts exceeds that of those remaining in school. Unfortunately, the national picture is not improving and, in many states, the prospects for quality education in public schools are being undermined by organized resistance to equality in funding between urban and suburban districts.

In a recent analysis of the current American educational system for students of Afrikan descent, Dr. Kofi Lomotey, Associate Professor and Department Chair, Louisiana State University, Exclaimed, The state of miseducation is persistent, pervasive and disproportionate. Our students are being prepared, not to serve society, but to be misfits. It is no accident. There is a gap between what they should have learned and what they know. Afrikan American students, by middle school, are labeled mentally retarded, then what happens is they dropout.

Lotomey further states, That there is no school district in the U.S. where the performance of Afrikan American students is consistently overwhelming. America is still a monolithic society. We still do not appreciate other cultures. Afrikan Americans students are encouraged to shed one cultural identity and adopt another.

He continues, The quality of the education depends on who is being schooled. Schools serve to control people to maintain a stratified system. European students are being prepared the run the world. There is no mistake that the national special education budget has quadrupled in the last four years.

As for educational administrators and teachers, they have to be held accountable for their actions or lack of action. Lotomey says, That to fail to develop the social, academic and political skills of Afrikan American students is to participate in the genocide.

B. Independency Approach
Wherever a man goes to dwell, his character goes with him.-Proverb
From the initial arrival Afrikans in the western hemisphere, efforts have always been made to establish our own institutions, organizations, and societies in order to serve the primary needs of our people. In education, even during chattel slavery, our ancestors taught themselves to read and write, as well as others, although forbidden by law in these illegal schools.

As they escaped or purchased their freedom, Afrikans organized free schools and learning centers, in order to acquire and master the intellectual skills commensurate with social and racial upliftment. This nationalistic strand challenged Black people to do for self and create educational opportunities through self-determination and self-reliance.

With a distinctive emphasis on racial pride, leaders such as Marcus Garvey, Carter G. Woodson, Edward Blyden, Bishop Henry NcNeal Turner, Elijah Muhammad, among others provided tangible models of educational excellence and social advancement. Throughout the South and North, following the racial migrations, Black independent institutions were established.

As civil rights movement escalated in intensity and support, Freedom Schools became the foundations of self-reliance during public school boycotts. With the subsequent Black revolutionary period, college students again led the protests to establish Black Studies departments and programs on campus and in the community.

With autonomy over curriculum and administration, these culturally-specific programs produced a new generation of scholars and activists equipped to not only produce relevant instructional materials but also to challenge the scholarship of white academia.

In the late 1960s, the national movement for community control of schools generated a mobilization of parents, teachers, and community leaders to redefine quality education for Afrikan Americans. Through numerous challenges, confrontations, and skirmishes, came the genesis of free-standing alternative schools in store fronts, personal homes, church basements, and community centers.

The viability of empowerment enabled community residents to create a network nationally that ushered in the Council of Independent Black Institutions (CIBI) in 1972. A mandate was issued to organize educational institutions into a uniform pattern of educational achievement devoted to correct political objectives and dedicated to excellence.

Since the condition of Black people in this world must change radically, CIBI believes it is apparent that we collectively become more self-determining and unified in our struggle for national liberation. CIBI embraces a Pan-Afrikan direction of defining our history, ourselves, our values, and our future. Inherent in these goals is the realization that we must create a new world order and a new day.

Therefore, it is necessary for Black people to build formal and informal educational institutions which will enable our people to prefer and support a new system. CIBI has been developing what is referred to as the new Afrikan-centered methodology as collective response to the task of Nation-building. This methodology will become the body of knowledge which will give impetus to a complete educational system conceivably from pre-natal care through professional school. In addition, this methodology should provide a guide for the continued development of Afrikan-centered educational institutions in communities throughout the world.


Education Versus Schooling
Education without dignity is invalid
Sooner or later most Afrikan American educators and parents are going to raise some serious questions about the effectiveness of this countrys public school system for our children. All around us, through constant media barrages, we are being told that Black youth are not achieving up to their maximum potential.

Surveys are taken, studies are made and research is conducted by highly trained professionals. Based on the conclusions drawn, there are scores of theories to explain what has been observed. Simply stated, the evidence shows that something is wrong with the way education is being packaged and delivered to urban youth.

Dr. Mwalimu Shujaa, Assistant Professor, SUNY at Buffalo, has developed a critical analysis of education versus schooling. His premise clearly shows that schooling is a process intended to perpetuate and maintain the societys existing power relations and the institutional structure that support these arrangements. While, as contrast, Education is the process of transmitting, from one generation to the next, knowledge of the values, aesthetics, spiritual beliefs, and all things that give a particular cultural orientation its uniqueness.

The significant role that cultural orientation plays in shaping our critical analysis of society is key to our understanding the national dilemma Afrikan American youth face in the public school system. Realizing this, it is inappropriate to expect the former slave owner's school system to provide for the achievement of ethnic pride, self-sufficiency, equity, wealth, and power for Afrikans. This is essential if we are going to successfully resist political and cultural domination to produce a new egalitarian social order for our children.


Education is, by definition, culturally referenced in order to perpetuate the culture, government and the socio-economic political order. Kwame Agyei Akoto, in his work Nation Building: Theory and Practice in Afrikan-centered Education, states that it is rooted in the unique history and evolved culture of Afrikan people.

CIBI's perspective is that initially, we must acknowledge that all human experience occurs in the context of culture. Learning and instruction are very much culture bound and determined. In fact, formal learning and teaching are critical components in the perpetuation of culture.

Within CIBI schools, the Nguzo Saba (seven principles or value system) serves as the focus of personal and collective values, traditions and actions within the Afrikan and Afrikan American cultural experience. It is uniquely suited to serve as a vehicle for the expression and consequently, the teaching of those values central to our overall mission of attaining real self-sufficiency for our people and building a more beautiful world in the process.

An Afrikan-centered education would facilitate the cultural development of our children. It would foster the firm self-concept and clear sense of direction and purpose that are included in a culturally appropriate curriculum designed within a self-reflective learning environment. Even though a curriculum is Afrikan-centered, its content and design do not prejudge or understate the significance of other cultures. It does, however, firmly place the cultural dynamic of Afrikan people in its proper place among the worlds cultures.

Furthermore, Dr. Mwalimu Shujaa articulates the need for continuing personal and collective study. The impact of white-supremacist ideology on our lives has meant that becoming Afrikan-centered for us has been a process of individual transformation. We are constantly deconstructing the European-centered world views. Determinations of what constitutes Afrikan-centeredness are always determinations about the nature of our cultural knowledge. These kinds of determinations are not for individuals to make as individuals. They must be arrived at collectively because cultures exist through the collective understandings among their members about their sacred identity, history, aesthetics, mythology, ethos, and so forth.

B. Challenge of Rebuilding A New Society: Future Projections
Up you mighty race; you can accomplish what you will.-Garvey
The laudable work of Ron Edmonds and the Effective Schools Movement has poignantly addressed the dilemma between our capacity versus our commitment. Edmonds said:

"It seems to me, therefore, that what is left of this discussion are three declarative statements:
  1. we can, whenever and wherever we choose, successfully teach our children whose schooling is of interest to us;
  2. we already know more than we need to do that;
  3. whether or not we do it must finally depend on how we feel about the fact

that we haven't so far."

Therefore, members of this prestigious organization can chart a course of social action to directly influence the future of Afrikan American education. Among the task areas that can be addressed are:

  1. Conducting teacher retraining institutions in order to prepare master teachers for urban public schools who would be good role models. Also to train prospective teachers in the kinds of schools where they would most likely be employed.
  2. Re-writing school curricula to enable Afrikan American learners to become empowered as decision makers rather than educational commodities.
  3. Acquiring and disseminating funds for support of exemplary non-public and public institutional models.
  4. Inviting relevant scholar-activists to campuses by promoting seminars, workshops and forums through discourses on radical issues of inner city education.
  5. Seeking truth in scholarly research and then conveying the history and cultural achievements of ancient Afrikans through every subject, discipline and class organization.
  6. Becoming more involved with the development of alternative community models such Saturday Academies, After-school Tutorial programs, educational mentorships and full time independent schools
  7. Collaborating with inner-city public schools for university-school partnership to improve student learning, revitalize veteran teachers, introduce prospective teachers to the field and provide a laboratory for research in education.
  8. Collaborating with educators in independent Afrikan centered schools to help tell the stories of these pioneering institutions and the people working in them.

Mwalimu Julius Nyerere addressed the people of the newly-independent nation of Tanzania with a profound challenge: Only when we are clear about the kind of society we wish to build, can we build an educational system to serve our goals.

As we consider future projection in the new society we wish to build, the principles of Education For Self Reliance should be included. Implementation would ensure:

  1. Equity and respect for dignity.
  2. Sharing of the resources which are produced by our efforts.
  3. Work by everyone and exploitation by none.

What educational self-reliance means is that relying on ones own efforts is primary and decisive while outside aid is secondary. Afrikan Americans must take the responsibility for the educational destiny of our children and not depend on state governments or philanthropic white liberals. We are still at the junction in urban education when Black educators, parents, and community people must decide whether education for our children will help them to accept the values appropriate to our future development as a people and not those appropriate to our colonized past and present oppressive conditions.

Education is an integral part of true freedom, for a truly educated mind is a liberated mind. As a people, we must face the rising sun of a new day begun and march on till victory is won.


The future of Afrikan American education is in the hands of our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and community residents. Together we can design and work tenaciously to build a new society where justice, harmony, righteousness, and reciprocity serve as the hallmarks of human endeavors. The educational system that will be required to fit that new society will have to prepare its students for national liberation through vigorous self-determination.

The ultimate quest for empowerment is educational liberation; of our bodies, minds, souls, and consciousness. However, the task ahead will not be easy nor without sacrifice, but we must clearly understand:

In a racially oppressive society, Education for Liberation is a subversive activity.

(Together, we will win.)

Hannibal Tirus Afrik is an educational consultant for School Tech Services in Chicago, Illinois, a public relations specialist for the Council of Independent Black Institutions (CIBI), a member of the Chicago chapter of the National Black United Front (NBUF), and a frequent contributor to the Chicago Defender.