The State of the [Black Education] Union: No One Is Coming to Save Us

Mar 18, 2024 4:13:00 PM


Ladies, gentlemen, and fellow citizens, the state of the Black Education Union is not strong. The nameless and faceless “system” is still failing Black students. To be clear, they are failing nearly every significant subgroup, but especially Black students, and add on poverty, or a disability, or any other subset, and the numbers get worse in regards to literacy and numeracy.

For quick context, it was reported that in 2019, 36.9% of Black students nationwide were proficient in 8th grade language arts. Also, according to the same Department of Education, while Black people make up roughly 13% of the US population, we represent 26% of all U.S. adults with low levels of numeracy skills. I haven’t even discussed disproportionate discipline, chronic over and misdiagnosing of special needs, and more.

For this State of the [Black Education] Union, we will focus on the Awareness, Navigation, and Duty Plan or the A.N.D. Plan. As you dive into the following, remember that your awareness builds your capacity for navigation, which is the bedrock of your actions as you live out your sense of duty. Let’s break it down, piece by piece.


  1. Be aware that if you are a Black student or the guardian of one, there is a high statistical probability that they are receiving a low-value education. Know for sure! Ask questions about proficiency regardless of the grades you/your scholar brings home.

  2. Be aware that the plurality of financially able parents, regardless of race, engage in parent choice in some form or fashion. However, it may be under a different moniker, such as “buying a home in a good zip code,” “enrolling in a private school,” or “having access to a magnet school,” etc. The list goes on. Be aware that the topic of choice is a private one. That is your child, and nothing or no one should stop you from ensuring your child receives the education they deserve.

  3. Be aware that regardless of the type of school in whatever city or town you live in, your/your child’s education is always a full-contact sport. You have to be involved. You must engage! If you saw your child or best friend being bullied by a gang, would you leave that child to fend for themselves? No? Well, if I just showed you historical stats of failure at our feet for generations, you NOT showing up is doing just that, leaving young people to fend off a hellish system where money is attached to their heads, but failure is constantly allowed you, my friend, are leaving your scholars alone in that alley.


Regardless of how feeble the nameless and faceless “system” is, many of us still have to navigate it. Here are some ways we begin to change the state of Black education.

  1. Build a plan with solid, attainable, and time-bound goals you want from the “system.”

  2. Build, rebuild, or reinforce your village. Utilize local nonprofits, find mentors, and extract wisdom from your elders. Take advantage of free city/town resources like libraries, museums, parks, etc. This has nothing to do with the school system; you control it. All of these things may not be available, but utilize what is.

  3. Plan your field trips! Be on a mission to quarterback your/your scholar’s educational journey. Remember that a large amount of this academic journey will take place away from the school building.

These are just a few navigational tips, but I wrote an entire free book on the topic called The Agentic Black Parent. Go there for more.


Once you have more awareness and navigational knowledge, you must activate what you have learned and share it with others in need. A true patriot in this struggle to improve the state of Black education has a sworn duty to share their learnings because the “system” benefits from collective confusion and a lack of action.

  1. Continue to push the “system.” Every system, regardless of whether it is traditional public education, public charter education, private education, or anything else on the axis, requires pushing and disruption on behalf of our community. The numbers suggest that no system in America loves you. You have to treat these systems as the delivery models they are, not to love them, because how could you love a nameless and faceless entity?

  2. Interrupt the faceless nature of the “system.” Be intentional with your critiques, almost to the point of being surgical. When pushing and negotiating with these “systems,” never show up with a blank sheet of paper. Show up with solutions that work for you and yours, and come ready to negotiate.

  3. Now that you understand that these “systems” will likely not be fixed in time for your or your scholar’s best interests, you have a duty to insulate your scholar to the best of your ability. Use the internet and any other tool to ensure you or your scholar get what you require. You have a duty to yourself, your scholar, and your people.

Awareness, navigation, and duty work together to help you combat a system that may only sometimes have your best intentions prioritized.

Systems are built to sustain themselves. How are we building amongst each other to sustain and grow ourselves?

While I may have written this to my specific group, these words support everyone. The state of my people regarding education is abysmal, and if you are part of a different group, I am willing to bet with high confidence that your situation is not much better.

This is not an attack on good teachers who get up every day and give their best. It is not about offending a superintendent. An honest superintendent would agree, seeing as they battle the “system” daily. Educators are people with families they love, just like you and me. They battle the nameless and faceless system just like you do. So, this is not about disparaging educators at all.

This is a discussion about the state of education and what we can do to improve it together because, and hear me well, NO ONE IS COMING TO SAVE US.

But now that you are more aware, have some navigational tools under your belt, and have been bestowed a new sense of duty, we can all do our part.

As in all of life, there are counterarguments. They may include further discussion of the role poverty plays or racist testing. They may also include the need to acknowledge underfunding in education. I am not here to dispute any of that, and I support your fight. This is a discussion amongst people who are tired and frustrated. We are fighting people who have shown up constantly to help build this country. Simply put, this is yet another call to arms.

Students, parents, grandparents, and communities take up this fight every day and have taken from this system what they require for the success they have defined. But we do have to take it. And if we take it more, the next generation's fight might be less difficult.

Look, I am not a leader. I'm not better than anyone. I have my problems just like you. As a kid, I had to do much of this alone. I clumsily fumbled through it, but it made a huge difference. I am not vying for some sense of acclaim from our people. I’m just someone who got a raw deal education-wise, whose parents got a raw deal education-wise, and who sees the same excuses and broken promises that have been constant for my 40 years on this earth. At some point, enough is enough, and your first step is to raise your awareness, sharpen your navigation, and fulfill your duty.

That is the State of our Black Education Union.

Charles Cole III

Charles Cole III is an educator and media producer focused on the advancement of all youth of color, but more specifically Black males. The passion comes from his own experiences growing up without proper support. His life’s goal is to better the communities he grew up in through his work. He has served as a social worker, a director for Teach For America, the vice chair of the California Young Democrats, Black Caucus and at a director’s level at various youth-focused nonprofits. Charles is a national speaker and writer and can be found in Oakland and around the country working with youth on how to equip themselves appropriately to lay the groundwork for a bright future. He is currently finishing his first book aimed at Black males titled, "Stop Hustling Backwards." Charles decided to return to work for the district he grew up in, as a community engagement specialist. There, he worked closely with the community to help drive policies that lead to educational transformation. Charles blogs at One Oakland United, Education Post, Citizen Education and Huffington Post, as well as other outlets.

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