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"We Dare Say Love": Supporting Achievement in the Educational Life of Black Boys


reviewed by Amy Samuels & Alvin Taylor

coverTitle: "We Dare Say Love": Supporting Achievement in the Educational Life of Black Boys
Author(s): Na'ilah Suad Nasir, Jarvis R. Givens, & Christopher P. Chatmon (Eds.)
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807761079, Pages: 160, Year: 2018
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“We Dare Say Love”: Supporting Achievement in The Educational Life of Black Boys presents an enlightening analysis of an innovative initiative designed to address the academic, emotional, and social needs of Black male students who have been consistently disfavored and marginalized in schooling experiences. “Through a dynamic interplay of low expectations, anxieties around Black male criminality, and racialized educational tracking, Black boys are pushed out of schools and into prisons at alarming rates” (p. 2). As such, editors Nasir, Givens, and Chatmon, along with contributing authors, eloquently argue the need to critique and challenge structural inequities and target interventions related to academic achievement, counseling, and mentorship that promote the educational success of Black male students.


Offering an example of how such interventions can be carried out, the book provides a comprehensive examination of a program created in the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) in 2010 called the African American Male Achievement Initiative (AAMA). Through their introduction of the AAMA, the authors emphasize four major challenges the initiative sought to address: (a) Explicitly acknowledging the past failures of schools to meet the needs of Black male students, (b) attending to the social-emotional trauma experienced by Black male students, (c) making an unyielding commitment to care about students in ways that validate their experiences, and (d) being willing to build unconventional structures of support to meet the needs of students based on their needs as children and as a distinct group of learners.


The AAMA was created by community activists and educational stakeholders within the Oakland community who were concerned about the impact of low-quality schools, disciplinary systems, policing practices, and decreased employment opportunities. In addition, Oakland’s rich history of Black activism and African-centered educational programs made the city an ideal place for creating the AAMA Initiative, particularly since it was the first school district to establish an office to support the needs of Black male students. The programming is particularly innovative given the willingness of the school district to demonstrate an awareness “that there are very real issues of structural oppression that exist with the organizational contexts of schools, and in a district’s stride toward addressing it within its infrastructure” (p. 3). Consequently, AAMA accepts ownership for the role of schools in perpetuating structural and institutional racism and inequities, challenges the narrative that Black males are the problem, and recognizes the responsibility of educators to actively challenge practices and policies that perpetuate structural and institutional inequities.


The book explores strategies employed by the AAMA that include culturally relevant curriculum, professional learning centers for both teachers and students, and a robust recruitment technique for attracting and retaining Black male teachers. The AAMA currently serves over 800 students across 24 schools in the Oakland area and is also utilized as a model for more than 10 schools in California and Washington. Authors provide a comprehensive overview of the Manhood Development Program (MDP), a critical component of the AAMA. The MDP is a course-based curriculum designed to support students within the school system by offering an environment that consistently provides “identity resources” as well as a different approach to traditional behavioral expectations and consequences for students. In terms of identity resources, the AAMA/MDP employs pedagogical strategies that reimagine how Black masculinity should look and teaches students they should not accept stereotypes that society unfairly and inaccurately purports. Instead, MDP educators’ pedagogical approaches consistently reinforce that students are valuable people who deserve love and compassion, and who have the power to define and redefine their identity as Black males.


The reader has access to detailed information concerning the pedagogy and curriculum that powers the AAMA and MDP. For example, the authors discuss the blueprint utilized to train educators. Known as the 10-Point Pedagogical Mindset of Transformative Educators, the framework includes components that each educator who joins the program must demonstrate with proficiency. Components include: (a) Teacher Roles, (b) Multiple Modalities, (c) Transformative Educator, (d) Beyond Pygmalion, (e) Classroom Leadership, (f) Curriculum + Relationship = Success, (g) Collective Genius, (h) Culture and Rigor, (i) Asset-Based Practice, and (j) Teaching as a Calling. The book also provides a thorough overview of the curriculum known as “Khepara,” an Egyptian term that means “to change,” that is strategically designed to promote rigor, encourage, engage, and empower students.  


We Dare Say Love argues that Black males need to be shown by Black male teachers that their identities need not be based on society’s preconceived assumptions and expectations, and that they have the power and authority to define themselves. A thread woven throughout the entirety of the book relates to the inequitable conditions and educational disparities that influence the schooling experience of many Black male students as well as the preconceptions and biases of far too many teachers that lead to increased marginalization and decreased academic access, opportunities, and outcomes. The AAMA and the MDP acknowledge and actively counter these disparities. The book emphasizes that “[teacher] expectations, bias, and self-efficacy are major factors in classroom success” (p. 43). However, many teachers employ a paradigm of deficit thinking and have already developed a solid positioning that many Black male students are less capable, violent troublemakers who require harsh and frequent discipline from the moment they walk into the classroom. The AAMA strives to challenge this false narrative and counter this type of environment by providing students with teachers who exhibit love, understanding, and a genuine care and commitment to their success.


While there are numerous policies and programs that have been created to address the needs of Black male students, the AAMA is unique in that it seeks to reteach students and schools that Black male students are not a problem that needs to be fixed, recognizing that external forces play a significant role in the challenges and inequities consistently faced by students. The book also encourages readers to reflect on how the framework developed by the AAMA and MDP can be applied to other marginalized groups. There is a chapter dedicated to examining why we must also create space in the current educational crisis to actively address the struggles of Black girls and proactively provide support.


The editors and their team of authors promote an honest dialogue in that they do not believe there is one singular strategy for addressing existing challenges. Their words inspire readers to imagine how district policies and practices can be changed and how multifaceted approaches can be implemented to create affirming, engaging, enriching, empowering, and trusting learning environments that promote rigor, high expectations, and love for all students, particularly students who have been historically marginalized. We Dare Say Love is an invaluable tool for those who are committed to improving educational access, opportunities, and outcomes for Black male students and advocating for educational change to promote equity and excellence for all students.


Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, 2019, p. -
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22933, Date Accessed: 7/19/2019 8:49:27 AM

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