Socially Transformative Science Pedagogy for African American Males:
Dispatches from the Vanguard

Jomo W. Mutegi
Associate Professor of Science Education and Director
Urban Center for the Advancement of STEM Education (UCASE)
Indiana University, IUPUI,
Indianapolis, Indiana

Crystal Hill Morton
Assistant Professor of Mathematics Education, IUPUI and
Assistant Director of (UCASE)


    Although there is a significant body of work that underscores the importance of pedagogy aimed at being responsive to students’ unique racial, ethnic and cultural backgrounds, there is relatively little work that helps science practitioners to understand what this pedagogy looks like in practice. Drawing on Mutegi’s (2011) description of socially transformative mathematics and science curriculum and Ladson-Billings’ (1995) framing of culturally responsive pedagogy, this article describes a four-week summer science camp for African American adolescent males. The article employs the methodological approach of Critical Race Theory in order to illustrate for the reader what socially transformative and culturally relevant science instruction might look like in practice.

Key words: Culturally Responsive Pedagogy, Socially Transformative Curriculum, African American Science, Outdoor Education, STEM

     One of the most persistent problems of science education practice for at least the past 30 years has been the low academic performance of African Americans as compared to students from other racial groups. While in no way implicating African Americans as the source of the problem, differential trends have been documented at many levels. For example, African Americans have consistently comprised fewer than two percent of all practicing Ph.D.-holding scientists since these statistics were first recorded in 1979 (National Science Board, 2000). Similarly, large-scale statistical studies show that African American high school students far under-perform their peers. Muller, Stage and Kinzie (2001)report NELS data which show that the mean science score of African American 12thgraders (male and female) is lower than the mean science score of White 8thgraders.

     In this article we address the underrepresentation of African Americans in science by proposing and describing a socially transformative approach to science curricula. We begin with an examination of research literature on African American underrepresentation, as well as the lack of literature which might guide practitioners in their teaching of African American learners. We then provide an overview of the theoretical underpinnings of socially transformative pedagogy and an in-depth description of this pedagogy in practice. We conclude with implications of socially transformative pedagogy for both practice and policy.

Literature Review

     Disparities in science achievement between African American and White students have not gone without attention. There have been numerous studies (Anderson, 1989; Hall & Post-Kammer, 1987; Holmes, 1982; Norman, Ault, Bentz, & Meskimen, 2001; Riegle-Crumb, Moore, & Ramos-Wada, 2011), reports (Fetcher, 1989; Thomas, 1984, 1986), and interventions (Carmichael & Sevenair, 1991; Dickerson, 1995; Ellis, 1993; Griffin, 1990; Hrabowski & Maton, 1995; Maton & Hrabowski, 2004) aimed at addressing disparities in African American science performance. However, these efforts have not yielded a large-scale impact. In fact, an analysis of four nationally representative databases found that increases in the percentage of underrepresented minorities participating in the biological sciences are outpaced by the growth of those groups in the larger U.S. population (Lewis, Menzies, Nájera, & Page, 2009). This would suggest that the representation of these groups (at least in the biological sciences) is actually shrinking.

     The impotence of scholarship aimed at addressing disparities in African American science performance may be attributable (at least in part) to two overriding factors. The first overriding factor is the failure of extant literature to account for the social and historical influence of racism on the educational and career attainment of African Americans. In a review of literature examining the underrepresentation of African Americans in science fields, Lewis (2003) identifies three features of extant work that speak directly to the social and historical influence of  racism. The first feature is that the existing body of work employs a common theoretical and methodological approach. According to Lewis,

The general theoretical approach is to assume deficiencies in the life history of African Americans, and to interpret those deficiencies as factors that affect students’ career choices. The general methodological approach is to survey samples of students (typically at the college level) to identify and correlate deficiencies with race and/or academic major .

     What makes this approach problematic is the assumption and subsequent search for deficiencies among the population of African Americans. The second feature identified by Lewis is the assumption that “African American underrepresentation in science is the result of choices made by African Americans” (2003, p. 370). Lewis goes on to point out that rather than being explicitly stated, this assumption is foundational to the way these studies are conceptualized. The consequence is a body of work that is unable to generate findings that go beyond “blaming the victim.” Not because evidence is not there, but because few have even considered seeking an explanation outside of the victim.

     The third feature identified by Lewis is that the body of work employs no model that would explain the salience of race. According to Lewis,

While extant research has identified numerous factors, which correlate with students’ career decisions, such as the number of mathematics and science courses taken (Thomas, 1984), and the influence of mathematics and science teachers (Griffin, 1990), this body of research has failed to explain how these factors are tied to race. What is it about being African American that leads a student to take fewer mathematics and science courses, or to be differentially influenced by mathematics and science teachers? (2003, p. 371)

     These three features underscore a fundamental shortcoming of extant work. With few exceptions (e.g. Contraras & Lee, 1990; Lewis, Pitts, & Collins, 2002), extant literature on African American science education fails to account for the social and historical influence of racism. What is especially problematic is that there is solid evidence from the broader body of scholarship that could be brought to bear on research in science education. For example, there is evidence that racially determined institutional structures generally work against the academic achievement of African Americans  (Kozol, 1991; Margolis, Estrella, Goode, Holme, & Nao, 2008; Oakes, 1986, 1995). Research could explore the degree to which these structures work against African American science achievement. Similarly, there is evidence that racial bias both implicit (Schmader, Major, & Gramzow, 2001; Steele, 1997; Van Den Bergh, Denessen, Hornstra, Voeten, & Holland, 2010; Wolfe & Spencer, 1996) and explicit (Feagin & Sikes, 1994; Nadal, 2011;Sue, Nadal, Capodilupo, Lin, Torino, & Rivera (2008) works against the achievement of African Americans. Here also research could explore the degree to which these structures work against African American science achievement.

     The second overriding factor to which the impotence of this scholarship may be attributed is that relatively little scholarship supporting successful African American science performance finds its way into the science classrooms of African American children. Three of the more popular publications for science teachers are Science and Children (written for elementary level science educators), Science Scope (written for middle school science educators), and The Science Teacher (written for secondary science educators). These journals have widespread national readerships and are produced by the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA). An ERIC search by the authors for the term “African American[i]” in these journals over the last 25 years (1984 and 2011) yielded a total of eight articles. In the ERIC system, the total number of articles for these journals over these years is 7,078. This means that just over one tenth of one percent (.11%) of the articles in these journals addresses African Americans in any way whatsoever. Of the eight articles that do address African Americans, only two give classroom teachers a concrete idea of how science instruction can be tailored to meet the needs of African American learners. The lack of articles aimed at showing teachers how science instruction can meet the needs of African American students is a glaring omission in science education research and practice. The present article is aimed at addressing that omission.

     In recent work Mutegi (2011, in review) argues that the histories of colonialism and enslavement have uniquely positioned African American students; and that science curricula should grow out of and address that sociocultural experience. Ladson-Billings’ (1995; Ladson-Billings & Henry, 1990) scholarship on culturally relevant pedagogy add credence to this perspective. In her foundational work on the practices of exemplary teachers of African American students, Ladson-Billings (1994) identifies a range of practices that she characterizes as “culturally relevant.” These two bodies of work are useful frames of reference for addressing the previously described omission.

     So this paper conjoins the theoretical arguments laid out by Mutegi and the pedagogical perspectives laid out by Ladson-Billings with the methodological approach of critical race theory. The purpose of doing so is to describe an educational experience (taking the form of a summer science camp) that grows out of our effort to address the sociohistorical condition of African American students, specifically African American males.

     The description is presented in light of six traits of culturally relevant teaching that were presented in Ladson-Billings’ (1994) Dreamkeepers: (a) reconceptualizing African Americans as intellectual leaders, (b) establishing a community of learners, (c) incorporating students’ experiences into the intended curriculum, (d) broadening our conceptualizations of science, (e) associating academic pursuits with social struggle, and (f) reconceptualizing the teacher’s role as political.


     Critical Race Theory (CRT) provides a framework for examining racial issues and is enjoying increased use by educational researchers. In a cogent essay on the methodology of CRT, Solórzano and Yosso (2002) identify six commitments of the framework. First, CRT “…foregrounds race and racism in all aspects of the research process.” Second, CRT “…challenges the traditional research paradigms…used to explain the experiences of students of color.” Third, CRT “…offers a liberatory or transformative solution to racial…subordination.” Fourth, CRT “…focuses on the racialized…experiences of students of color.” Fifth, CRT uses an interdisciplinary knowledge base to explore students of color . Sixth, CRT uses narratives and storytelling as methodological tools.

     These commitments resonate well the theoretical arguments identified by both Mutegi (2011, in review) and Ladson-Billings (1994). Both bodies of work foreground race and racism in an effort to better understand and improve the educational performance of African American children. Both bodies of work challenge traditional research and pedagogical paradigms. Both bodies of work prioritize liberation or social transformation as an ultimate goal for African American education. Both bodies of work address the unique needs and experiences of African American students, and both bodies of work draw from a broad base of interdisciplinary work to explain the educational attainment of African American students.

     The sixth commitment of Critical Race Theory, which is especially germane to this article, is the use of narrative and storytelling as a methodological tool. In a review of CRT literature, Dixson and Rousseau point out that “voice” or the recognition of the experiential knowledge of people of color is central to CRT. They go on to point out that, “One of the important functions of voice and stories in CRT scholarship is to counteract the stories of the dominant group” (2005, p. 11) .

     Solórzano and Yosso (2002) identify three general forms of CRT stories (or counter-stories). The first of these is the personal story or narrative. Personal stories are firsthand accounts of the author’s experience with various forms of racism. The second of these is other people’s stories or narratives. Other people’s narratives are third person accounts that are used to reveal the role or manifestation of racism and various responses to racism. The third of these general forms is the composite story or narrative. Composite stories draw from various forms of data to recount the experiences of people of color. The data presented in this article most closely represents the composite narrative described by Solórzano and Yosso.

     The narrative that follows is a description of a summer science camp for adolescent African American men. The primary objective of the camp experience is to prepare young African American men for leadership and responsibility in Black communities. Should they learn parts of the science canon along the way, it is an added bonus. This narrative is intended to illustrate for readers one model of socially transformative and culturally relevant science instruction in practice.

Sankoré Vanguard - Overview

     From the Director’s Journal (Day 3) - Omar sat quietly at the wooden dining table as he slowly ate his oatmeal. Sitting quietly was all that he could do. His legs felt like Jell-O; and his back ached. It had never ached like this before. He was sleepy; and his mind was grasping desperately for understanding, for ideas; like a child in a dark cave grasping for something solid to hold. He didn’t know what time it was, but he knew it was early; too early for him to be awake. And it was certainly too early for this daily run. The ground was still wet with dew. Omar didn’t know what would happen today; this was unlike any science camp he had ever imagined. There were no computers, no laboratories, no telescopes, microscopes, no test tubes, and no lab coats. There were just a lot of guys, a lot of reading and memorization and a lot of wilderness: woods, fields and ponds as far as the eye could see.

     Sankoré Vanguard is a summer science camp for adolescent African American men. The purpose of Sankoré Vanguard is to prepare young men for responsibility and leadership in African American communities. Given the increasingly technological world in which we live, Sankoré Vanguard places special emphasis on leadership in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

     The residential camp runs for four weeks and is open to young men entering grades 8 through 12. The theme of the camp is survivalism and participants study nature through a study of basic survival skills such as fire craft, water purification, animal trapping and processing, plant identification, orienteering and shelter building. In addition to studying nature, the participants also learn life skills, African American history, and conflict resolution. The curriculum is designed to be hands-on, experiential, and holistic. It is also designed to give students grounding in the types of knowledge and dispositions that are conducive to success in STEM.

     Throughout the camp experience young men are subjected to a range of physical challenges. The daily morning run described in the director’s journal is one such challenge. These challenges are not designed to be punitive. In fact, the opposite is true. The challenges serve as vehicles through which young men can celebrate their strength, role and responsibility as African American men and leaders of African American communities. This celebration is modeled by the counselors and the director who participate in all physical challenges alongside the young men. Success in the face of a physical challenge is a clear and concrete referent that is often used to teach young men the importance of fundamental life skills such as teamwork and perseverance. For example, young men are encouraged to apply the principle of perseverance to an academic task, while being reminded of the success that came from persevering through a physical task. Another central principal is viewing African Americans as intellectual leaders.

Reconceptualizing African Americans as Intellectual Leaders

     From the Journal of Omar Walker (Day 9) - “Brothers, how long does it take us to make a shelter?” Baba[ii]always sang his questions in a loud and stern voice. “Seven minutes, Baba!” We sang back in unison. I always laughed inside when we answered this question because after one week and lots of practice assembling tents, and lean-tos I have yet to build anything in seven minutes. In fact no one except for Baba has been able to build anything in seven minutes. And why seven minutes? That is an odd number. Why not five minutes or ten minutes? “Mr. Walker, why do we build shelters in seven minutes?” Baba looked squarely at Mr. Graham as he asked me this question. I suppose the answer was really intended for Graham. “So that we can provide protection for our community,” I replied. “Thaaaat’s Right!” he sang. Until this experience, I had never thought it was my job to protect my whole community. That would be a big responsibility; but it makes me feel good to know that I can.

     The first practice of culturally relevant pedagogy addressed through Sankoré Vanguard is the reconceptualization (or conceptualization) of African American students as intellectual leaders, using cultural norms as strengths rather than deficiencies. Throughout the four-week experience, the young men are consistently reminded of their role in and responsibility to the African American community. Their job is to provide for and to protect their families and their communities.

     This is the rationale for much of the science learning. It is the reason we build shelters, make fire, learn navigation, purify water, trap animals, and forage for food. This is the rationale for many of our behavioral standards. It is the reason we are respectful to one another, show courtesy, and practice teamwork. To be sure there are many other good reasons for both the science learning and the behaviors. However, by associating the learning and behavior with manhood responsibilities, we simultaneously garner their buy-in for the learning and behavior and give them direction as they move towards manhood.

Establishing a Community of Learners

     From the Journal of Baba Adofo (Day 5) - On Thursday morning of the first week I led the men on their morning three-mile run. After the first mile we noticed that the group had been decidedly slow. Baba Fanon, who had been running up and down the line motivating the men to keep going, ran up beside Baba Adofo and asked, “Mr. Adofo, is the pace slower today?”

     “Yes it is. I am not sure why but they are not keeping with me today. Usually, Mr. Wilson and Mr. Moore would keep up.” After a half mile more Baba Fanon returned. “They’re all huddled together so they can help Mr. Turner.” Hearing this I could not help but smile. Mr. Turner is the only man who had not been able to complete the run without stopping. So without any specific instruction or provocation, they decided that he would finish his run and they would finish with him. They are quickly coming together as a unit.

     The second practice of culturally relevant pedagogy addressed through Sankoré Vanguard is the establishment, creation, and support of a community of learners wherein African American students are full participants making meaningful contributions. Throughout the four weeks of this camp experience young men are instilled with the idea that success or failure belongs to the entire unit, not to any individuals within the unit. The common maxim we use is, “When one man fails, we all fail. When one man succeeds, we all succeed.”

     To give this maxim weight, young men are given authentic challenges that no individual can accomplish without the group. One example is a challenge course where men are taken to an island in the middle of a large pond and given materials with which to build a raft. Their task is to construct a raft and return safely to the mainland. Exercises such as these help to create an environment of shared interest and collective work. 

Incorporating Students Experiences into the Intended Curriculum

     From the Journal of Jabari Thomas (Day 19) - There I hung on the high ropes course. All eyes were on me. I was not afraid, or even embarrassed. I just really felt that I could not complete it. Baba Adofo was right behind me and looking at him I said, “I’m going down. I can’t reach it.” He wouldn’t move to allow me down. When he looked at me his eyes seemed to be hands reaching forward, “Somebody said it couldn’t be done. Now this is your obstacle, and you will navigate it.”

     That was like a burst of new life. All of a sudden the poem that we memorized a few days ago began racing through my mind. “Somebody said it couldn’t be done. But he with a chuckle replied, that maybe it couldn’t but he’d be the one who wouldn’t say so ‘til he tried.” With this poem racing through my head and with Baba Adofo refusing to let me down, I finished the high ropes course. I did not think I could do it, but I did.

     The third practice of culturally relevant pedagogy addressed through Sankoré Vanguard is the incorporation and validation of students’ culturally unique lived experiences into the intended curriculum. The curriculum on which Sankoré Vanguard is based does not grow out of the need to teach particular science content. Instead, it grows out of the need to prepare African American male adolescents for success in science. In this way the focus is less on teaching science and more on teaching adolescents. This practice is represented in the vignette which describes a student navigating a high ropes course and alluding to a poem that he had memorized.

     Neither of these experiences is clearly related to traditional science learning. Both of these experiences help us to instill experiences (e.g., overcoming a tremendous obstacle) and habits of thinking (e.g., perseverance in the face of adversity) in the youth who participate in Sankoré Vanguard. More importantly experiences and habits such as these better position African American male youth to be successful when faced with the challenges that accompany STEM learning.

Broadening Our Conceptualizations of Science

      From the Journal of Anthony Ellis (Day 27) - I stood looking at the strange contraption. Two poles (five feet high) on either side of a fire pit each holding one end of a string. The string ran the diameter of the pit. “What is it for?” I wondered. Just then Baba gave the directions, “You will have 3 matches to start a fire. The first man whose fire burns the rope will be the winner.” With that a light bulb went off. “Go.” He commanded. As I raced for the tree line I knew exactly the type of wood I needed. This contest would be over quickly so I did not need long burning fuel. I needed long, thin and very dry kindling. Besides that fuel would be too heavy to get back to the fire pit.

          One thing I enjoyed about camp was the way we got to test the skills we learned. We had spent several hours learning all about fire. What size wood to use for different stages of the fire, what types of fire we might need to create, what types of wood to use to create different types of fire, how to control the amount of smoke and hissing in a fire. Who knew there was so much to learn about fire? Now we had another chance to test our skill. As it turns out, I was the last one to get my fire started, but the first one to break my string. I’d be sure to show the others how I did it.

     The fourth practice of culturally relevant pedagogy addressed through Sankoré Vanguard is broadening the notion of what constitutes science in order to support students in asking and answering culturally and personally meaningful questions about the natural world. The structure of Sankoré Vanguard meets this practice in that the first year has an explicit focus on the study of nature through the lens of survival skills. Students do not typically learn to make fire in science class. However, the study of fire craft positions students to be much more adept at learning foundational science principals such as energy transformation.

      Why is it necessary to “change” what counts as science for African American students? Actually, the curriculum does not change what counts as science. Instead, the curriculum is designed to provide rich experiences that African American adolescent males would not generally have otherwise. For example, African Americans have many fewer experiences having meaningful interactions with the natural world (Johnson, Horan, & Pepper, 1997; Sheppard, 1995). Moreover, science is at its core a study of the natural world. Also, this approach helps participants to develop an empathetic understanding of a range of concepts that pervade all of scientific practice, including: transfer of energy, properties of matter, and structure and function of living systems.

 Associating Academic Pursuits with Social Struggle

     From the Director’s Journal (Day 24) - Derrin was excited as they began to read the last chapter of the text. It was the first time that he could remember actually reading a book and enjoying it. What’s really funny is that he did not enjoy the book at all for the first few chapters. After a while however, he began to get excited about the story. He had never heard of Black people fighting a war to free themselves from slavery. So this story was very intriguing. In fact all of the stories they read caught his attention, because each story showed how Black people worked to make life better for themselves. He could not wait to get home and tell his mother some of what he had learned. Of course the most exciting part was the feeling that one day he could be like one of these great people from history. Baba Kilanji was always telling them that learning was important because it was necessary to make life better for themselves, their families and their communities.

     The fifth practice of culturally relevant pedagogy addressed through Sankoré Vanguard is the association of academic pursuits with social struggle and characterized by collective commitment (parents, community leaders, teachers, and students) to engage in that struggle. One of the ways this practice is accomplished in Sankoré Vanguard is by helping participants see where they are in historical context. To this end all participants read brief biographies of noted African and African American historical figures and discuss how they contributed to the civil and human rights of African people. The participants also read a historical essay on the Haitian Revolution (Carruthers, 1986).

     Participants read daily in small groups. Instructors coach them along with the technical aspects of decoding the text as well as with comprehension of text. These discussions often conclude with a treatment of what it means to us. We question how we could use our opportunities to learn and then practice science to contribute to the well-being of African Americans.

Reconceptualizing the Teacher’s Role as Political

     (Day 30) - Baba Fanon and Baba Wilson pushed back from the table after having lunch. They sat in quiet reflection on the challenges and triumphs of the past four weeks. They would soon need to begin making modifications as they prepared for the next year. Baba Fanon’s smile was a concession. “Your call on the counselors was right on the money. It would have been very difficult without this group."

     Baba Wilson nodded in agreement. “We were lucky. I did not know how important their commitments would be.” Prior to hiring the counselors Baba Wilson and his assistant director, Baba Fanon had a cordial disagreement on a hiring decision. There were a set of applicants who had more nature experience, and more extensive knowledge of science. There was a second set of applicants who did not have the same level of nature experience or science knowledge, but who were more committed to the advancement of African American people. The second set of students had formed a student-led study group at their university and they had forgone summer internships for the opportunity to work with African American adolescent boys. During the hiring process Baba Wilson commented, “In the four weeks we have, I can teach them about nature and science. I can’t teach them to love Black children.” It turns out that this call was a good one.

     The sixth practice of culturally relevant pedagogy addressed through Sankoré Vanguard is the reconceptualization (or conceptualization) of the teacher’s role as political (at least in part) and a commitment to take political positions and engage in political action that promotes African American excellence. In a sense, there is no specific event or activity that illustrates this practice. Rather, the whole project illustrates this practice in action. To conceptualize a science camp that places equal emphasis on developing African American male adolescents into productive citizens and teaching scientific principles is a strong political commitment. Moreover, the commitment of the staff to consistently work towards and sacrifice for the social advancement of African Americans whether through a study group or a summer science camp suggest that this pedagogical practice is more a way of being than an instructional strategy.


     There are two themes that run throughout the narrative presented. Both of these themes have implications for educational policy and practice. The first theme is the importance of prioritizing students over subject matter. This theme is evident throughout. For example, when making hiring decisions, it is more important to hire counselors who have a demonstrated commitment to African American children over those who have a demonstrated commitment to subject matter. Similarly, when determining how to allocate instructional time, it is more important to provide students with meaningful foundational experiences than to continually indoctrinate them with the cannon

     In our experience teaching pre-service and in-service teachers of science and mathematics, one of the more frequent reasons offered for resisting culturally responsive teaching is that it violates the canon. “Professor I do believe ever so strongly in what you are saying. However, I cannot teach these many other things as I am required to prepare students for the ISTEP.” In this way, teachers of African American students often subordinate the task of preparing students for life beyond school to the task of preparing them for the next test. The unfortunate reality is that far too often African American students end up without adequate preparation for either.

     In terms of practice, the previously presented narrative helps us to see that a practitioner’s first responsibility is to meet the needs of the students in her charge. When students come to an algebra class unable to multiply fractions, it is the algebra teacher’s responsibility to teach those students to multiply fractions whether or not multiplying fractions is in the algebra curriculum. Without this foundational skill the students will not be able to master algebra anyway. Plowing ahead into polynomials, scientific notation and linear equations without attention to the students’ need to master foundational skills is not only counterproductive, it is an injustice to the students themselves.

     There are also implications for policy. Policy should be such that it supports teachers’ efforts to prioritize students over our subject matter. Educational administrators and supervisors can support teachers’ efforts in many ways. For example, one way that they can provide support is by advocating for flexibility in curriculum development and implementation. Flexibility need not mean that “anything goes.” However, teachers could, with increased flexibility, tailor their curriculums to better meet students’ needs without fear of reprisals. A second way that administrators and supervisors might help is by implementing assessment that measures the degree to which teachers respond to student needs. Teachers are often evaluated by administrators throughout the year. These evaluations could readily be modified to address ways in which a teacher’s pedagogy works to prioritize students’ needs while covering predetermined subject matter.

     The second theme is closely related to the first. It is the importance of prioritizing racial progress over racial parity. By this we mean that the ultimate goal of our educational endeavors is to improve the condition of African American people. This ultimate goal stands in contrast to the goal of leveling inequalities or producing equal numbers of African Americans in a given occupational space. So throughout the narrative there is a clear emphasis on preparing young men for responsibility and leadership in African American communities. For the designers of Sankoré Vanguard, producing young African American men who raise strong families and are a supportive presence in their communities is a much higher priority than producing a certain percentage of African American biochemists. While the two goals are not necessarily mutually exclusive, the first is a more direct indicator of racial progress whereas the second is a more direct indicator of racial parity. The first goal meets the needs of the African American community, whereas the second goal may be said to meet the needs of those who seek an image of equality.

     In terms of policy and practice, the narrative helps us to see that there is a need to redefine what constitutes success. So, Omar Walker’s reflection on knowing that, “it was my job to protect my whole community” and that, “it makes me feel good to know that I can” represents a great success. In many ways it is a much greater success than being able to provide the formula for photosynthesis. Unfortunately, at present there are few educational spaces where Omar’s success is acknowledged as success.

     There is much that educational researchers can learn from the young men who participate in Sankoré Vanguard. Some of which is described in this article. The greatest lesson, however, is yet to be realized. In much the same way that young men are presented with the challenge of a daily run or a ropes course we are presented with the challenge of re-envisioning and refining the educational experiences we provide to African American children. It is only after facing and successfully meeting that challenge that we will have Jabari Thomas’ satisfaction, “I did not think I could do it, but I did!” 


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[i]The author used related terms (e.g. Afro American, Black, Negro, etc.). These did not produce more articles on African American/Black children.

[ii]Baba is the title used to address camp counselors. It is a Swahili word used by younger people to refer to older men.