Getting the Results You Want
During Baruti Kafele’s session,"Motivating Black Males to Succeed in school and in Life," the former principal grabbed the audience’s attention with his commanding presence and no-nonsense discussions about how to help struggling black students. He started the session by asking members of the audience to share their classroom stories to create a conversation and point out common themes the educators shared.
"You guys selected this session because you are having trouble with black male students," Kafele stated. "So, tell me some of these problems."
The audience members talked about how many students had given up on college, so they didn’t feel school was important; how many students get suspended or sent home; and how many students had reading issues as challenges they faced. Kafele acknowledged that he had many of the same issues, but he overcame them through a variety of ways because he was on a "mission" to help students succeed.
"Our job is a mission and you can’t cut it off," he said. "I eat and sleep this job, and I get the results I do because of this [mission]."
Kafele told the story of how he struggled in school and didn't discover himself until he began reading books in college that changed him as a man. He stated that until then, he was just a male in a man’s body, but had no idea of who he really was. Reading, he says, transformed him. With his new knowledge, he decided he wanted to teach. Later in his presentation, he showed a slide of students, all reading books, with the caption "This must be a reality." He said that students need to read to gain knowledge and learn about history.
He went on to talk about how he travels around the country visiting schools where educators say that failure is not an option, but he asks "Is it really?" He referred to a school of 700 he visited that had about 10 percent on the honor roll and many more struggling students. He felt that failure was an option there.
"Failure seems to be an option being exercised," he said of many schools he’s visited. "As long as those students are failing, we give them a green light…. When you come to my school, you do not have that right [to fail]."
Kafele also noted that teachers must help change student attitudes about learning and help those who feel that being smart is "uncool" change their mind-sets. He says that students need to be unselfish when it comes to education and view themselves as a collective learning group.
Kafele spoke of his former school in Jersey City and how he focused on the "attitude gap" of his students. When he started to address that gap, test scores rose. Within a few years, the majority of the students were proficient. Students need to change their attitude about learning to succeed.
"My concern is the attitude gap," he said. "The ability is there…I look for those who have the will to strive for excellence and those who do not."
Communication with students is also key. Kafele pointed out that many black males identify with hip hop music, so he became a "student of contemporary hip hop" to understand the lyrics and what his students are listening to and, many times, learning from. This way he is able to make easier connections with students and work with them on their learning needs.
"The music is teaching them, so how am I in a position to counteract that?" Kafele added. "When I talk with these students, I make sure I know what I’m talking about."
Listen to an earlier interview with Baruti Kafele.
Return to story archive.