On Asa Hilliard: Interview with James C. Young, Professor, Clark Atlanta University

Hakim M. Rashid, Associate Professor
of Human Development and Psychoeducational Studies
at Howard University, Washington, D.C.

Keywords: African American children, socialization, teacher education


Q. Dr. Young, please tell the readers of African American Learners about the first time you brought Dr. Hilliard to Georgia State in 1976.

A.     As a co-sponsor, I invited Dr. Hilliard to keynote a three-day conference held March 25-27, 1976, at Georgia State University entitled “DeMythologizing the Inner City Child.”  The conference examined the education, sociology, and psychology of inner city children.  Keynote speakers addressed the topic from a supportive view of the urban child.  Dr. Hilliard not only talked about myths surrounding the inner city child, but he raised eyebrows when he drew attention to the mythmakers themselves.  He asked us to identify the sources of the negative myths infecting so much of the literature, research, and current practices affecting inner city children and their families.  He described the mythmakers as:

·         relying on descriptive jargon.

·         failing to demonstrate the validity of what they were espousing.

·         Studying poor children in isolation.

·         Invested personally in their myths.

As always Dr. Hilliard called for clear-eyed action and advocacy.  He knew we had to challenge the mythmakers and his call was electrifying.

Q. You also had another “Think Tank” experience with Dr. Hilliard in 1998, right? Tell us about his perspective on “best practices” in African education.

A.     In May, 1998, while I was Chair of the Department of Curriculum at Clark Atlanta University, I was invited to be a part of a think tank directed by Dr. Hilliard.  He convened a group of African thinkers to evaluate the education and socialization of African children.  He emphatically stated that the education and socialization of any people is a prime responsibility of its members.  This was the most penetrating statement made during the three days along with a call for examples of “best practices.”  Asa saw examples of criteria for best practices in African education as:

·         A sustained history of success.

·         A broad range of measurable outcomes.

·         The results or outcomes match our vision for our children.

·         A contribution to academic achievement.

·         A contribution to cultural competence.

·         A contribution to social and political consciousness.

·         Relevance for the needs and interests of those whom we serve.

Q. Tell us about how Dr. Hilliard came to Georgia State University (GSU) as an endowed professor, and what that meant to you.

A.     I was proud to submit his name as a candidate for the endowed chair, the Fuller E. Callaway Professor of Urban Education, which he held for more than 25 years.  With his presence at GSU, I was enlightened each time we met.  His constant teaching helped to transform me into the educator that I am today.  He talked about education for liberation.  He talked about African History and culture, and how we must re-capture the socialization of African children. 

       At this time in my career, I was helping a high school principal with some challenging problems that impacted urban schools, e.g. teenage pregnancy, truancy, dropouts, drugs, low self esteem, and family concerns.  I had been going to the school almost every school day for a year.  I shared with Asa what some of the challenges were in my school.  As he so often did he raised questions about problems and possible ways of solving them.  We talked about alternatives and the possibility of inviting students to come on Saturdays.  Plans for the “Saturday Academy” for the next year began to unfold. 

       Dr. Hilliard and I directed the “Saturday Academy” in the Carver Homes Public Housing Authority for more than a year.  Our staff was composed of graduate students from GSU and undergraduates from the Atlanta University Center.  Students who attended the academy had an average daily attendance record of 65% at the public school, and were, in most cases, several grades behind in academic performance.  These same students attended our academy with 100% attendance records for a year.  Our instructional program – language arts enrichment, reading enrichment, and math enrichment – was guided by the research of Dr. Rene’ Fuller and Dr. Reuven Feuerstein.  These scholars were close associates of Dr. Hilliard.  Dr. Fuller, a physiological psychologist, developed a reading program called “Ball-Stick-Bird.”  We used it to improve low reading skills.  Problem solving, math concepts and skills were taught based on children’s knowledge and understanding of math.  The findings from the research of Dr. Feuerstein helped us to focus on mediating problems of instruction when they occurred.   In America considerable attention is on remediation.  The icing on the cake for the Saturday Academy was the weekly 90-minute presentation on African History and culture by Asa and consultants.  Students and parents were mesmerized.  In his travels Asa often lectured about our Saturday Academy.  For both of us, the academy provided validation of the ideas, principles and research of the Black Task Force and the African American Think Tank.

Q. What are some final thoughts you want to share with our readers about Dr. Hilliard?

A.     In his book SBA: The ReAwakening of the African Mind (1998), Dr. Hilliard says three things are important for those who are responsible for teaching our children: 1) preparation, 2) consciousness, and 3) willingness. Teachers who actively use these attributes to interact with every child and parent and design the classroom-learning environment will ensure that there are no limits or bounds for our children.  They will bring Dr. Hilliard’s vision to reality.  He was leading actively until his transition.  In the words of Kimwande’nde Kia Bunseki Fu-Kiau, a mentor to Dr. Hilliard, and author of the book, Kendezi: The Kongo Art of Baby Sitting , Baffour Amankwatia II, a.k.a Asa G. Hilliard III will always be with us.”



Hilliard, A. (1998). SBA: The reawakening of the African mind. Gainesville, FL: Makare Publishing.

Fu-Kiau, K., & Lukondo, W. A. (2000). Kindezi: The Kongo art of babysitting. Baltimore, MD:  Black Classic Press.