By Ryan Velez
In a time where white boys are three times more likely than Black boys to be reading at or above grade level in the fourth grade, one D.C. area program is trying to equip Black boys with the skills and mindset they need to succeed. The Boys Institute (TBI), housed at D.C. Scholars Stanton Elementary School in Southeast Washington, D.C, is an initiative of the D.C. Public School System (DCPS) designed to address and close the literacy gap. The initiative provides at-risk boys of color, who define each other as Kings, with literacy instruction and the skills to pursue racial justice in the communities.
“Empowering black boys in the age of Trump is about more than reading and math skills. It’s about teaching them to develop and apply an entrepreneurial mindset to challenges that are specific to their communities,” says Kezia Williams, founding director of Black upStart, a social enterprise designed to teach Black Americans how to start profitable and successful businesses. Williams’ reference to Trump is more than just a side reference, as the kidpreneur program actually started the day after Trump was elected.
“Most mornings at Stanton Elementary, we start with shout outs,” said Marshall Pollard, director of TBI. “Today, after I literally wept heading into work, wondering how I look in the eyes of my students and be light, a 5th grader stood up and said: “I have a shout out for all of the people protesting the results of yesterday’s election.” Other students shared their input in a safe and honest conversation regarding the results.
One King responded, “He [Donald Trump] sees me as bad because my pants sag and stuff.” Another added, “people are just coming to America to have a better life. He [Donald Trump] wants to send them back. He [Donald Trump] probably wants to send me back to Africa.” Another mentioned that “I have a shout out for Hillary. She visited houses of white and black kids to tell she liked them.” This conversation led to the beginning of the training program, which both empowered and mobilized the boys to start businesses that were not only successful but created value and positivity in their communities.
One such example of a lesson was solving a real-time problem, where Black upStart was hosting an event but there was nothing for the adults to drink. One King suggested creating and bottling infused waters with fresh fruit and vegetables to sell to guests. “We will sell this water to make being healthy cool in our community,” he noted. They subsequently created and bottled 150 bottles of water at the Young, Black and Innovative event hosted at Teach for America headquarters in Washington D.C.