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Challenging system that hinders black males

Keynote speaker: Ty-Ron Douglas

“Instead of asking what’s wrong with our black males, perhaps we need to ask what’s wrong with the systems that they must survive and thrive in.”

This is the view of Ty-Ron Douglas, who grew up in Paget and now works as an assistant professor at the University of Missouri’s Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis Department.

Dr Douglas will be a keynote speaker at the Fifth Annual International Colloquium on Black Males in Education, which runs from tomorrow to Friday, with events taking place daily at The Fairmont Southampton.

Colloquium chairman Jerlando Jackson agreed with his peer’s assessment.

“That’s actually spot on, and it’s the kind of discussion that the colloquium allows us to have,” said Dr Jackson, professor of higher education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

One of the education system’s predominant problems is the lack of access to opportunity it offers black males, he suggested. Barriers include a scarcity of mentors and distractions such as potential safety concerns and financial difficulties.

“It cuts across the spectrum,” he said. “And until an organisation decides to look at the disparities, you’re resting purely on self-advocacy.”

This means that, to become successful, black males must overcome the system as statistical outliers, rather than being aided by it, Dr Jackson added.

Dr Douglas argued that this long history of suppression can have a demotivating impact on black males, given the sometimes “toxic” state of the education system. “We can never forget that people make choices in context, based on what they believe they have access to, and what they see as possible,” he said.

The Bermuda College alumnus pointed to the Mincy Report, which in 2009 revealed that more than half of Bermuda’s young black males drop out of high school early.

“That’s the power of coming together as scholars and leaders who are passionate about these issues,” he said. “You begin to connect the dots to ask new questions.”

Dr Douglas will launch his third book, Border Crossing Brothas: Black Males Navigating Race, Place and Complex Space, on his return to the island for the colloquium. The book sees 12 black Bermudian males detail their experiences in education and life, and looks at the roles of the barbershop, the neighbourhood, the Church and the sports club in black communities.

“I’m very passionate about understanding community-based leaders,” he said.

“These people in our sports fields and barbershops are educators, but we don’t recognise them because they don’t hold chalk in a classroom.”

Dr Douglas experienced the escalation of racial tensions at the University of Missouri last November, as students protested after a series of racist incidents.

“The intensity of those events, which made national and international headlines, has calmed,” he said. “But the conversations are ongoing and the university seeks to build on them.”

Forum aims to bridge pathways to success

The theme for the Fifth Annual International Colloquium on Black Males in Education is Educational Transitions and Life Trajectories: Bridging Pathways to Success for Black Males.

As well as Ty-Ron Douglas, other keynote speakers during the four-day forum will include Shaun Harper from the University of Pennsylvania, who was appointed to Barack Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” advisory council last year, and black psychology pioneer Joseph L. White from the University of California, Irvine.

Local educators Cordell Riley, Llewellyn Simmons, PhD and Lou Matthews, PhD will also share their thoughts.

Members of the public can attend the free “Colloquium Conversations” event at The Fairmont Southampton tomorrow from 6.30pm to 8.30pm.

The next day, the colloquium will open formally at 8am in the same venue, featuring speeches, research paper presentations and round table discussions.

The event, held on the island for the first time, is organised by Bermuda College, the Ministry of Education and the University of Wisconsin-Madison,

Registration costs $50 per day.

See www.globalcolloquium.org for further details or e-mail cmoss@wisc.edu