Build Capacity!

When we arrived in Pittsburgh for the State of Black Learning 2019, I immediately assumed that the franchise QB of the Eight Black Hands Podcast, Dr. Charles Cole, would host our live podcast.

My role on the podcast is the anarchist. Charles has coined me as “The Dennis Rodman of Education reform.” So, when Charles said,” Bro, you’re hosting, right?” I knew I had huge shoes to fill.

The State of Black Learning was an unapologetically Black space. I commend the organizers of the event for creating a venue that emulated “Black Dopeness.” However, in “Black spaces” where white folks loom, there is always the potential for messages to become convoluted. That said, I believe in building capacity even through confict.  If we can’t have difficult conversations about the state of Black learning, then very little progress will be made.  Given we are entering a new school year, what better way to bring in the year than by advocating for the opportunity to build capacity in teachers.

How Are The Children?

I never once questioned #HowAreTheChildren at the State of Black Learning. I agree with my podmates about the energy of the room. From the beginning to the end, that feeling rang true. I think every major metropolitan city should have this outing to explore the challenges and nuance associated with accommodating the learning of black students and their families.

An essential goal of the Eight Black Hands podcast is to stay on message. Often with four strong-minded black males, keeping folks on task becomes a challenge within itself.

When The Show Doesn’t Go As Planned.

There were several instances when the live show did not go as planned. One example was when the State of Black Learning’s Resident Artist began to speak his truth. While enamored with the Brother’s courage to speak his honesty, his response did not necessarily align with the flow of the show.

In pure form, we used his testimony as a teachable moment and an opportunity to reflect on the message. Sharif was very supportive of the artist and said, “All learning comes from Art.” My only hope is that the artist was left inspired by the Hands.

Moreover, the second instance was near the end of the show. My podmates accused me of purposely glossing over a black woman who had a question, to take a question from a white woman to end the show. For the record, I don’t see color said no Black man ever.  Statements such as “I don’t see color” point to the character of a person.  It’s hard to build capacity in color blind folks.

I wanted to hear her question because white women make up 80% of teachers in the United States. Given the number of teachers that interact with Black and Brown kids on the daily, we need to take all opportunities to engage to ensure learning is happening for all children.

The question asked by the white teachers was, “How do we MAKE” families become more involved? Chris inserted his Minnesota niceness and tried to help the teacher reframe her narrative but to no avail. I give the brother credit for “shooting the teacher bail.”


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An excerpt from Chris’s #HowAreTheChildren Weekly Blog on Ed Post.


There were several ways that the question could have read. We have also gone back and forth on how folks would have reacted if it were a black person that asked the same question.

No matter the question or the response, on Monday morning that teacher and her colleagues that think like here are going to be in a room full of black kids.

Building Capacity in All Teachers.

The best possible outcome from my perspective was to lift the teacher in a knowledgable and respectful way. A way in which she walked away knowing that she asked the wrong question, but even with the question asked, there was an opportunity for growth. I am not sure that she left the State of Black Learning a better teacher. In that respect, I feel like I failed her as the host of the show.  I should have had a better plan to help this teacher and her colleagues build capacity.

I received a great deal of criticism for walking over to hug the white teacher after the Q&A. We are all human. And even though she insisted that she did not want pity, my nurturing response was not because I pitied her. I responded the way I did because come Monday morning, she’d be in front of Black kids. Folks need to see the same kind of forgiveness and latitude afforded to them with the hopes that they will pay it forward to their students.  I wanted to “Build Capacity.”

Being a member of the eight black hands podcast has influenced me is by allowing me to accept differences of opinions. When you surround yourself with folks that agree with you all of the time, it limits your learning. Whereas, as a group, we continuously push each other to think critically about issues that we would normally dismiss.

My concluding thoughts are pure. The beauty of being a member of the Eight Black Hands Podcast is that I am surrounded by three strong black males that are not afraid to push my thinking. Often we surround ourselves with friendly folks. The best opportunities for growth come when we challenge ourselves beyond the status quo. My takeaways are always positive. Our podcast has become part of my professional development.

Published by Raymond J. Ankrum, Sr.

Mr. Ankrum is the current Superintendent of the Riverhead Charter School. Mr. Ankrum has gained notoriety as a school turnaround expert. He is enthusiastic about helping students from low (SES) find ways to end generational poverty through educational advocacy. If you believe PoC can end generational poverty by exercising educational opportunities, you have an ally in @Mr_Ankrum.

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