The Brothers Reaching Brothers Community Forum organized by Rev. Dr. Kevin Cosby, senior pastor of St. Stephen Church and president of Simmons College of Kentucky, and Dr. Ricky Jones, chairman of the University of Louisville Pan-African Studies Department held recently at St. Stephen Church was a blessing and answer to a prayer. I believe one solution to decreasing violence in the community lies in eradicating the self hatred that has resulted from youth not being taught African American history in the public school system. The need to call such a forum at this time only helps to prove that 30 years of court-ordered desegregation has amounted to travesty of justice. It was painfully obvious as I hosted the forum live on WLOU that the African American culture omission from classroom coursework in the public school system for some 30 years has helped to perpetuate black self hatred and keep Louisville racially divided. Our youth have so much more than “their music,” but like me, how can they know what they are not taught.
Despite graduating near the top of my class from Seneca High School in 1979, I left court-ordered desegregation's first four-year graduating class culturally illiterate, spiritually malnourished, and financially unable to afford college. For many years, I was emotionally ill-equipped to navigate the waters of an American society that demanded a level of self assurance, motivation and confidence that can only be developed by knowing who you are and whose you are in Jesus Christ and in history. Over the years, I have perused my high school yearbook, and I have asked God about my being the only African American from west Louisville in the advanced program, and in National Honor Society and BETA Club photos at Seneca High School. His answer to me has helped me understand that African American children are not inferior, but that court-order desegregation has left much to be desired.
Jesus says in Matthew 18:20, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am in the midst of thee.” Jesus’ words pertained to church discipline, however, they serve as a model on all spiritual matters for the church is not brick and mortar. My National Honor Society group photo reflects three African Americans, however, only one of them was bused from the inner city, me. It is curious that Jesus’ words follow His warning against the mistreatment of children. For He says in Matthew 18:6, “But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” God is offended when his children are mistreated by the adults and systems that are supposed to serve them.
I was offended, yes, and provoked to wrath in my youth by not being brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord as instructed in Ephesians 6:4. African American children are provoked to wrath whenever they are not taught the entire truth of the Word of God and entire truth of their heritage, the two being inextricably woven. There was much discussion about Plato, Aristotle and Socrates during those early years of busing, but no discussions about Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. DuBois, and Malcolm X. To be taught a water-down version of the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. does not equate to an education in African American history.
It wasn't until I began taking Pan-African Studies courses at the University of Louisville in the early 1990s, and became a member of St. Stephen Church in the 1992 that I was taught African and African American history. After taking a course called “The Black Church” taught by Rev. Kevin Cosby at the University of Louisville, I was amazed at how I could have reached adulthood without knowing anything about the life of Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois, Malcolm X, and so many fathers and mothers of black church history. I received cultural grounding and spiritual nurturing through the Pan-African Studies Department and the black church, and I bless God for that.
In terms of resources for a college education, there were none offered to me. This was the most heartbreaking aspect of my experience during those early years of busing. My Western Middle School counselor called me into her office and ensured my placement in the advanced program at Seneca. My high school counselors could have called me into their offices and ensured my placement on the scholarship awardees list, but didn’t. The school system, in my opinion, was obligated to ensure that deserving, disadvantaged inner-city students received scholarship assistance, particularly during those early years.
White Americans have not been mandated to learn black culture, and black Americans have not been mandated to know themselves. The sad fact is that perceptions of what it means to be African American have been shaped largely by television. This is very evident by the outraged expressed by many African Americans over coverage in the mainstream media referring to the citizens of New Orleans, largely African American, and “refugees,” and depicting blacks as “looters” and whites as “finders” of survival goods, and President Bush’s slow response to the disaster.
For all of its promises, court-ordered desegregation did not teach me what I needed most, knowledge of self and the God who created me, and that was a travesty of justice.
Note: An abbreviated version of this article was published in the Fall 2005 edition of The African American Journal.
This article published in the Jesus Saves Ministries Newsletter - September 2005.
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