Monday, August 31, 2009

Back to School; Black to Basics
By Gary L. Flowers
Executive Director & CEO
Black Leadership Forum, Inc.
August 23-30, 2009

This week, many students returned to school for another academic year. They did so after two and a half months of summer vacation. Vacation? People who are employed take vacations from work (but that is another column for another week). Students study. Let’s stay right there, According to most educational indices African American students—especially Black males—underperform their classroom counterparts. Thus, as Black students return to technology-filled schools, educational stakeholders (parents and school administrators) should go Black to basics.
Prior to directing the Black Leadership Forum, Inc., I served as a vice president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition in Chicago, IL. Reverend Jesse Jackson, Sr., under the PUSH for Excellence (PUSHExcel) Program, developed a 7-point educational plan that speaks to a central element of the educational equation—parental involvement.

The idea was to ask parents to:
1. Take their children to school;
2. Meet their children’s teachers;
3. Exchange home numbers with their children’s teachers;
4. Pick up report cards at the end of grading period;
5. Turn of televisions 2 hours per night;
6. Read to their children at least 1 hour per night; and
7. Take their children to a place of worship once a week

While not to sound sanctimonious and exclaim, “when I was a grade-school student my parents did all seven without encouragement”, my parents did so. Notwithstanding other societal factors facing today’s parents (economy, technology and others) adult involvement outside of school is critical to a student’s learning curve.
Take you child to school – Children remember more of where a parent takes them than what a parent purchases for them.

Meet your child’s teacher – Children’s academic performance tends to dramatically improve when parents meet their teachers
Exchange personal contact information with your child’s teacher – As cell parents share phone and email information and teachers information may be shared without the necessity of physical presence of parents outside of report card pick-up
Pick up report cards each grading period – The presence of parents in retrieving their child’s report card reflects their concern for academic accountability
Limit television viewing by your child – Television in most instances slows scholastic skill set development

Read to your child one hour per night – Reading is still fundamental. A child who reads well tends to excel in most subjects.
Take your child to a place of worship – Many behavioral problems student exemplify suggest the child is never in an environment that requires discipline. Places of worship demand discipline. Discipline and diligence determines a path to a degree.
Some parents react to such plans by rerouting responsibility to school administrators and external factors. No. The lenses through with a child views the world are focused by family. Yes, many poorer children have family members who lack educational skills, but that is no excuse for finding people or institutions that are equipped to assist.

Within the Black Leadership Forum, for example, the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, National Council of Negro Women, 100 Black Men of America, and National Pan Hellenic Association (Black fraternities and sororities) have excellent programs designed to assist all students, regardless of socio-educational make-up of a particular family.
As for public policy, this nation cannot codify concern by parents. However, we can pass a Constitutional Amendment for an individual right to an equal and high quality education for ALL students (Black, White, Red, Yellow, and Brown), raise teacher pay, reduce classroom sizes, and equalize equipment in all public schools. Passage of such legislation would improve the educational climate, but parents alone must be equal partners.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Awareness of African Ancestry
By Gary L. Flowers
Executive Director & CEO
Black Leadership Forum, Inc.
August 9-16, 2009

Many African Americans beginning with this writer have wondered exactly where in Africa our roots can be traced. I had a heritage honor last week to present to my mother’s side of our family DNA results of our origin on the Motherland. Words cannot express my feelings in learning the most probable basis of our family’s lineage.

In 1976, as a thirteen year-old I watched with fascination Alex Haley’s Roots. I remember entire families—of all ethnicities—collectively musing about their family origins. For African Americans, Roots began, in earnest, a nationwide discussion of exactly where on the Continent of Africa we originated. My paternal uncle used “property” records, church records, and Census data to proceed on the avenue of ancestry. However, Roots symbolized the on ramp the genetic highway of heritage.
I began my DNA journey by researching companies offering DNA testing. I found that most of the DNA companies began to test in 2003. I remember viewing television shows on which celebrities were tested and their results aired publicly. Among the several options of DNA companies I selected one that focuses on mitochondrial DNA (tracing DNA of the mother’s side of the family). My rationale was that since European men raped an untold number of African women during the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade the most reliable predictor for African origin would be found in the DNA of African American women.

As a good researcher I also probed in to doubts of companies’ methodology. For example, mitochondrial DNA is widely thought to be reliable for identifying a region of origin and not necessarily a specific people (tribe). However, most scholars find that DNA research combined with genealogical tools such as historical records, archeology, and folklore provides families with the best chance of identifying their ethnic origin.

As the second part of our ancestor recognition at my maternal family reunion in Richmond, Virginia, my cousin and i unsealed the results: our matrilineal (mother’s side) roots are most probably connected to the Balanta people of the nation of Guinea-Bissau, and to the Mende people of the country Sierra Leone. Our patrilineal (father’s side) people of origin are most likely the Bamileke people of Cameroon. A sacred silence permeated the family gathering upon learning one more piece to the puzzle of our people’s past.

Relatives were provided research material that pulled demographic information form African countries genetically connected to our family. However, one of my cousins wanted to know: How are the genetic results read? Not being a scientist I explained that DNA is read in sequences. Because most humans have similar sequences (i.e. TGTACG an TCTACA) the DNA symbol that is different is considered a mutation. DNA mutation place in the sequence is then matched with a mutation in the same place of the DNA sequence found in African countries, and among specific regions and ethnic groups. Whew, that is as simple as I can make it!

Therefore, I recommend that ALL African American families purchase a test from some DNA company and dig deeper into their roots in African countries. As my cousin stated, “I was always wanted to know how to answer the ‘ancestor’ question without merely saying my people were ‘from Africa’. Now I can not only answer with a Continent but a country and a community.”

Awareness of African Ancestry is awesome!