The entire nation is buzzing over the newest Marvel installment, “Black Panther”—especially Black folks. Aside from fantasizing about what it would be like to live in Wakanda and be a superhero, there are some critical messages that I believe the movie connects to Black education.
Hungry for Role Models
Black America’s excitement about this film is paralleled to those who love Star Wars and Star Trek. But ours is rooted in starvation. We are so desperate and hungry for images of beautiful, strong and powerful Black people that a fictional hero in a magical land gets us united in ways that no one could have imagined. Much like film and television, Black students are hungry to see themselves represented in schools. In many schools around the country, Black students are not reflected in the curriculum nor in the makeup of the teaching staff. Compounded with that, discipline policies continue to push out Black students, narrating that they do not belong. Schools should be places where all students feel like they belong in the academic community. Here’s two questions we should be thinking about:
How can schools move beyond the conversation about diversity, equity and inclusion and take action?
Have you examined your curriculum deeply to identify the identity gaps?
Women in STEM
While the main characters were men and the centerpiece was The Black Panther, the actual star of the movie was the technology. And at the center of the tech was Black Panther’s younger sister, Shuri. To see a young Black woman leading the country’s technology movement will hopefully inspire more women to infiltrate STEM related fields. My journey to and through engineering was devoid of Black people, particularly Black women. Seeing a girl be a problem solver and critical thinker should not be a stretch because that is the essence of what being a woman is, but characters like Shuri help to continue to enforce that Black girls in fact are magic. This exposure to STEM for girls is all of our responsibility. It means turning over every rock to find Black women math and science teachers. It means pushing girls into honors and AP math courses if nothing else but for the exposure to complex content. It means cultivating partnerships for in-school and afterschool programming that allows girls to experiment with their scientific brain. Imagine the artificial intelligence age led by the grit, perseverance and ingenuity of Black women.
Gentrification = Colonization
The movie was not shy about the use of the word “colonizer” and it made me think of modern day colonization: gentrification. The disinvestment of communities of color shows up when we examine the schools in the community. We can look at housing practices, development efforts and police practices as some of the causes of the state of some Black communities and schools. We can blame government agencies, gang violence, drug epidemics or the disappearance of the Black middle class. Because of this act of abandonment there are miles of neighborhoods with little to no amenities. From vacant lots, to abandoned buildings, our communities are missing more than schools. As Black people under 45 attempt to repopulate neighborhoods like Bronzeville, South Shore, and Englewood, gentrification efforts are increasing. My questions are:
What does reinvesting in Black communities look like without gentrification?
How do we make the neighborhoods safe, develop quality schools and add thriving business enterprises, without pushing Black people out?
The Voice of the Community
The ceremony to officially install the new King of Wakanda was an intense fight scene. The would be incumbent and a challenger fight to the death or surrender to decide who will lead the kingdom. This challenge scene was a show of strength, tradition and pride. More than that, it was about stakeholder voice and commitment to move the community forward with a strong leader. We all know that a school’s success is hinged on the
talent of the leader. This talent is not just about academic prowess, but about the ability to galvanize a community in order to maintain order, push excellence and grow. The foundation of all of this is a common language and understanding of the current community assets as well as the community needs. As we work to push our community forward, here are some questions we should consider:
How can schools become the center of community galvanization?
How do you move the work of school leadership outside of the walls of the school building?
How do principals become the leaders we rally around if we truly believe that the children are our future?
What I am hoping is that this momentum inspires our most talented to lead in ways that will makes our country great. This is not just a movie for us…it is a movement.
LeeAndra Khan is CEO of Civitas Education Partners. Previously she served as a middle school principal in Oak Park, Illinois, and formerly spent 10 years in three Chicago high schools as a principal, assistant principal and math teacher. Before beginning her journey into education, she spent 10 years as a civil engineer designing roads, highways, gas stations and bridge inspections.
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