Monthly Archives: September 2013

Diversity Matters: American Promise and ISDN

Greetings GCP’ers! Today we focus on several opportunities to examine and explore the impact of race on our sons’ education.

American Promise: We hope by now you have heard about “American Promise”, the Sundance Grand Jury prize winning documentary which follows the journeys of two African-American boys and their families from kindergarten through high school graduation. (Check out our earlier post on this, “’American Promise’: A Work In Progress”, February 27, 2012) The film, which will be opening in theaters on October 18, provides a rare look into Black middle class life while exploring the common hopes and hurdles of parents navigating their children’s educational journeys. (It will also air on public television stations in 2014.) Husband and wife filmmakers Joe Brewster and Michéle Stephenson recently published an Op-Doc video (an Op-Ed piece on film) in the New York Times called “An Education in Equality”, a companion piece to their film, found here. Read and view their personal account of why and how they made this film.

In conjunction with the film the makers of “American Promise” have launched a national engagement campaign, working in partnership with trusted organizations around the country to mobilize young people, families and educators to identify ways that Americans can better support black boys’ social and emotional needs and encourage people to consider the role they play in advancing success for all children. Go to for more information about this endeavor as well as the film’s release.

Independent School Diversity Network (ISDN): GCP‘s very first post featured the great work that Wendy Van Amson and Esther Hatch are doing with ISDN in New York City. (“What Parents Can Do: Wendy Van Amson”, February 7, 2011). ISDN is an alliance of parents and educators dedicated to developing and supporting diversity, equity and inclusion in school communities. It creates opportunities for interschool partnerships in the New York City area and provides parent support as well as student empowerment/leadership programming. This week ISDN is launching an exciting new parent group in NYC which promises to be interesting and informative called “Why Do We Need To Talk About Race?” This parent group will meet in the evening once a month starting Wednesday October 2 to focus on the following issues:

How do race and privilege affect children in school?
How can we address and focus on the issues of race in our communities as well as acknowledge the multiple identities of people of color?
Why are discussions about race important for ALL students?
How can parents work with their schools to create more inclusive communities for families?
How can parents best communicate with schools and become allies with educators in order to improve all students’ school experience?
How can we promote cultural competency in our communities?
How can parents support each other?

If you live in the NYC area and want to join this group, please go to for details and more information. If you live outside of the NYC area, consider organizing a parent group in your community to discuss these issues. The NYC parent group is structured following the principles of the “Undoing Racism” workshops offered nationally by The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond. ISDN suggests that participating in a workshop is highly recommended if you would like to organize (or participate most effectively in) a parent group. You can find out more about these workshops and when one will be offered in your area by going to the institute’s website here. Parent groups like these are safe spaces to share experiences, and talk about the difficult and sometimes uncomfortable issues of race and privilege. If you decide to start a parent group, please let us know how it is going.


Filed under Academics, Ages 0-5, Ages 13-15, Ages 16-18, Ages 5-7, Ages 8-12, Entertainment, Films, Parents, Resources

Some Good News from Chicago

Much of the recent news about the fate of young black men and women in Chicago has been dismal. The FBI released crime statistics earlier this week which showed that Chicago, with 500 murders in 2012, had officially become the “murder capital of America”. Seventy seven percent of the 2012 homicide victims were Black, and the median age of all victims was 25. Three days after this report was released several gunmen bearing military assault weapons shot and wounded 13 people (including a 3-year-old boy) at a South Side park in what police believe was a gang related attack. Although Chicagoans are quick to respond that the number of homicides in their city is lower than it was this time last year, it is hard to be optimistic in the face of this recent tragedy.

In the midst of all of this trauma there are rays of hope. One such bright ray comes from Chicagoan Phillip Jackson and his Black Star Project. The Black Star Project, which Jackson founded in 1996, is committed to improving the quality of life in Black and Latino communities of Chicago and nationwide by eliminating the racial academic achievement gap. Its mission is “to provide educational services that help pre-school through college students succeed academically and become knowledgeable and productive citizens with the support of their parents, families, schools and communities”. It does this through a myriad of great sounding programs, including mentoring and tutoring programs, “Parent University” (which teaches parenting skills), The League of Black Parents, and the Father’s Club.

Jackson and his Black Star Project may be most well-known for their annual Million Father’s March, which he inaugurated in 2004. On the first day of school each year since the march began, Black fathers, relatives, men, and significant male caregivers are asked to take their children to their first day of school. Fathers, grandfathers, foster fathers, stepfathers, uncles, cousins, big brothers, significant male caregivers and friends of the family have participated in the event here in the U.S. and in countries around the world. This year’s march took place in Chicago on Monday August 26th, and it was part of a national effort: More than 500 cities signed up to participate in the march this year. As a recent article on this year’s march found here notes, programs which expand fathers’ connections to the school (e.g, where they spend the day at school or become a school volunteer) have grown out of this march.

You dads may have missed it this year, but check out the Black Star Project website found here and figure out how to be a part of this exciting movement for next fall!

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Filed under Academics

7 Reasons You and Your Children Must Watch “The Watsons Go to Birmingham” on Friday, September 20th

GCP went to the movies last night, to see a screening of “The Watsons Go To Birmingham”, a movie based on the award-winning young adult novel written by Christopher Paul Curtis. We had high expectations, considering the source material, but we were blown away by how good it was. Engaging, entertaining, moving, made us laugh and cry (literally). In the spirit of (a site that loves lists), here are 7 Reasons why you and your family must watch this movie tonight, Friday September 20th, when it premieres on the Hallmark Channel on at 8pm (EST):

1. It is a Superb Adaptation of a Wonderful Book. We often cringe when we hear that a favorite novel is going to film, as we fear that no movie can best our imaginations when we are enjoying a good read. But the director (Kenny Leon, recently heralded for his direction of “A Raisin in the Sun” on Broadway and television) and the writer (Tonya Lee Lewis) put those fears to rest with this movie. They bring the book to life in an engrossing and inviting way, so that whether you know the book inside and out or have never read it you will be equally charmed by the members of the Watson family and moved by their story.

2. It is Timely and Topical. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the story, Daniel and Wilona Watson decide to drive their three children from their home in Flint, Michigan to Mrs. Watson’s childhood home in Birmingham, Alabama in the summer of 1963. They head to Birmingham to spend time with Wilona’s mother, time which they hope will positively influence their oldest son Byron, who seems headed for serious trouble on the streets of Flint. We watch the Watsons struggle to adjust to being in the segregated South. Actual footage of marches, demonstrations and political speeches which happened during that time are interwoven throughout the story. As the nation focuses on the last 50 years of our civil rights movement, these images are particularly relevant, and seeing them gives us an opportunity to tell our children what we remember or heard from our relatives about this time period. The Hallmark Channel also offers an educator’s guide that parents can use to facilitate conversations about the film, which you can find here.

3. An 11 Year Old’s Birds-eye View of Southern Life in 1963 is Illuminating. The story of the Watsons and their summer in racially tense Birmingham is told from the viewpoint of Kenny Watson, the 11-year-old bookworm. From the moment you meet him you are happy to follow this nerdy, awkward, adorable, pesky, well-meaning youngster throughout the Watson’s adventures. His heart-warming and heart-breaking experiences in Birmingham give you a perspective not otherwise found in stories about the civil rights movement.

4. It is Great to See a Close Knit African-American family on Television. The Watsons are a loving nuclear family. We don’t often get to see a loving, happy, close-knit two parent African American family on the large or small screen. They exist in real life, and we need to see them on our screens.

5. You will Delight in the Sets and the Music. Whether you were around in the 60’s or just a fan of the ’60’s, you will certainly enjoy seeing the cars and costumes and hearing the music of the era. The Watson’s car, “The Brown Bomber”, is featured prominently in the film. Seeing this vintage auto (and one of its accessories) will be a hoot for you and your children.

6. The Watson Brothers Have a Realistic, Well Developed Relationship. The relationship between Kenny and his older brother Byron is rich and complicated in this film, and the actors do a terrific job conveying all of the complexities without letting us lose sight of the family’s closeness and the characters’ love for one another. Stereotypes are judiciously and successfully avoided. This gives parents and children watching an opportunity to have good and productive conversations about the characters’ relationship, and sibling relationships in general.

7. Bringing “The Watsons Go to Birmingham” to Television is a Story of Perseverance. It took producers Tonya Lewis Lee and Nikki Silver nine years to get this film produced and on the screen. Nine years. (More on that in our interview with Tonya Lewis Lee, coming soon.) But they kept the faith, got it done, and got it done well. Inspiration for us all.

Be sure to tune in 9/20 at 8pm(EST) on the Hallmark Channel!

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Filed under Entertainment, Films, Resources

What Works: Vernon Young, Jr. 

This is the first in a series of profiles of young men who successfully navigated adolescence, academia and adversity to become interesting and productive citizens of the world.  Their stories of what worked for them can offer inspiration to our sons as they contemplate their future, and to parents as we try to guide them along the way. GCP contributor Kareema Pinckney brings us Vernon’s story.


Professional photographer Vernon Young Jr. is a visual storyteller who uses his photographic skills to capture the most intimate moments of life.

Much of his work depicts his love for people and the human condition.  His passion for photography makes him sensitive to the beauty that is all around, capturing the essence of each subject in every session. He loves his work, and is thrilled to be able to devote so much of his time to pursuing his passion.

Vernon never thought joining the military would be key to his finding his passion and following his dreams.

Twenty-seven year old Vernon is a native of Pittsburgh, PA.   As a child he lived with his two parents and six siblings in a low-income housing development.  He witnessed other family members’ struggle with addiction, friends’ deaths, and felt the stress of limited resources.

It wasn’t until his parents decided to move the family to the South Side of Pittsburgh and regularly attend Lighthouse Church that his life would change forever. Vernon explains:

“I hated moving at first, but I now know it was a greater plan for my life. This move opened my mind and my heart to be influenced in ways that I had only dreamed about. With the clarity that I received from church, I was able to get through some of the more difficult decisions in my life.”
Vernon’s first love was football, and he nurtured childhood dreams of pursuing a college scholarship and one day entering the NFL.  However, he ultimately determined that he was more interested in attending college for business rather than pursuing a sports scholarship. But the daunting financial obligations of college convinced the young man to follow in his father’s footsteps and serve in the U.S. military.

Vernon’s belief that the military was his best option didn’t eliminate his skepticism about what he was getting into.  He notes,
“I thought these wealthy congressmen were sending young people to be killed for a war I knew nothing about at the time. I was uneducated about the methods of war, the tactics we used as a country and why we were in war at the time. “

However, it wasn’t until Vernon was exposed to photography in the Air Force that his perspective drastically changed.  “I wasn’t supposed to be a photographer in the Air Force. I was actually selected to be a services apprentice.” In his third week of training  he required emergency surgery, and was switched into the photography unit during his recovery.  He was quite happy about the switch.  “I felt this was a blessing in disguise because I wanted to be a photographer, not a cook.”

Vernon quickly discovered how much he loved photography, and that he had a real talent for it. In 2008, he was selected to Syracuse University’s S.I Newhouse School of Public Communication’s Military Photojournalism program, which is designed to equip military photographers with the tools necessary to document high level missions. 
Through his military service Vernon was able to express his love for storytelling through photography. He learned how to look for the emotions in his shots, and take the shots in difficult mixed lighting situations.  Vernon currently serves in the U.S. Air force as a full-time photographer.  He also takes time to use his gift to capture intense heartfelt moments outside of work, which can be seen here.  

Vernon is proud of his decision to join the military.   “If I knew then what I know now, I would do exactly what I did. I’ve gained experience with some of the top professionals in the world, received a college education to further my ability to complete my mission, and am able to spend a lot of time with my family. The military has enabled me to learn, become passionate about my work and improve my overall quality of life.”

Vernon further advises young men that when considering the military or any important decision, to always make sure you have a plan.

“If you go into a situation without a plan, you plan to fail. I would advise a young man to join the military to learn to serve first and then to achieve his personal goals in finances, networking and education. The military has set my priorities straight, while some of my friends never got around to developing a healthy balance in their lives. If one is afraid to join because of war, one must realize there are just as many murders in the U.S. as there are deaths in the war.“

For Vernon, joining the military yielded wonderfully positive results.  Have you and your sons considered this option? Should parents be concerned about preparing our sons to go to war in order to give them an opportunity to advance their education?  Or do you feel that the potential benefits outweigh the risks?   Have any of your sons had great educational experiences through their military service? GCP wants to know!

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Filed under Guest Bloggers, Interviews

Jump-Starting the School Admissions Process for Your Child

Even though school has barely begun, if you are looking for a new school for your son or daughter to start next fall, particularly if it is a private or highly sought after public school, you are likely starting the search and application process now. Today’s post comes from writer and editor (and GCP contributor) Rachel Christmas Derrick. In this article, which was originally posted in Let’s Talk Schools, Rachel offers some great tips to parents who may already be feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of finding and applying to the right schools for their children.

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Do stories of parents applying to seven or ten different schools keep you up at night? Does the thought of filling out all those applications make you want to pull the covers over your head each morning? Does the prospect of writing the essays and parent statements seem as daunting as applying to college or for a new job?

Take a deep breath and prepare to be pleasantly surprised: Applying to schools for your child doesn’t have to be an ordeal. In fact, with some planning, organization, and guidance, exploring how you and others see your child and your family can actually be big fun.

Here are some tips to help you jump-start the school admissions process:

1. Do your homework! School websites can give you a sense of what makes each educational environment different from the rest.

2. Don’t apply to a school simply because everyone you know is applying or it’s on some Top Ten list. Remember, there are lots of excellent schools out there—and you’ve never heard of many of them.

3. See if your family’s values match those of the school. For instance, do you believe that allowing learning to be incidental to having fun can be detrimental in the long run? Or do you think that rigorously training a young child in the basics can have a negative impact?

4. Keep an open mind. Even if you’re positive you want a co-ed school, for example, consider single-gender schools. If you’re convinced that a progressive education is the way to go, visit a more traditional school or two.

5. Consider the neighborhood. If you live in Manhattan, you can certainly send your child to that phenomenal school with the main campus miles away in Riverdale. However, make sure you’re comfortable with what that will mean for play dates, birthday parties, and long bus rides for your young child.

6. Once you identify the schools that interest you, attend their tours and open houses. Take detailed notes of your impressions of each school, including the demeanor of teachers and other staff, the classrooms, the cafeteria, gym, and auditorium, the hallway artwork, the outdoor spaces, even the bathrooms.

7. Feel free to ask administrators and teachers questions—but not those whose answers could easily be found on their websites.

8. As you walk through each school, can you visualize you and your child as part of this community for the next 6, 9, or 13 years? Do teachers look happy? Do students seem engaged? Are children well-supervised?

9. Remember, the “best” school is the one that feels right for your child and your family.

10. Tailor your application essays or parent statements to each school and explain why YOUR child and YOUR family could be right for THAT particular school. A quick way to turn off an admissions team is to submit a generic essay, one that could be written to any school about any beloved child.

11. If you’re applying for financial aid, don’t put down “$0” when asked how much your family can contribute to tuition. Schools are drawn to families who understand that your child’s education is a partnership that both you and the school have a stake in.

12. Apply early! (Applications go online at the end of August or right after Labor Day.) Schools like enthusiastic, organized families who plan ahead. Even before you know what schools you’re applying to, get started on your basic essay. You’ll then be ahead of the game when it’s time to adapt it to the questions asked by each school.

Rachel Christmas Derrick is a widely-published writer and editor whose Words Rule! program helps guide families through the essay-writing process for school applications. For details, contact her at


Filed under Admissions, Ages 0-5, Ages 13-15, Ages 16-18, Ages 5-7, Ages 8-12

Back-to-School with GCP

GCP is back! After a brief hiatus to focus on family matters both sorrowful (the loss of my mom) and joyous (my oldest son’s transition to college), GCP is back in action, ready to provide more information, inspiration and resources for parents of African American boys. Stay tuned for regular postings and please tell your friends to visit us as well.

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Happy Labor Day! The end of summer, the beginning of a new school year for our sons, and a great time to focus on how we can help our boys start the year well. Here are some good sites to check out as your family readies for the first days of school:

Back-to-School Tech Questions: Common Sense Media, a non-profit organization which offers great resources for learning about the impact of media (hardware and software) on our children, recently featured “Parents’ Top 12 Back-to-School Tech Questions”, offering parents back-to-school advice, guidance, and solutions for managing technology in school and at home. If you have been wondering what’s the right age for your son to bring a cell phone to school, or whether you should let him bring an iPod to school, or if reading on the iPad or Kindle counts towards his daily reading time, you can find answers to these and other good questions here. The Common Sense Media website, found at,is always chock full of interesting and thoughtful parenting tips. Check it out regularly and follow them on Twitter at @CommonSenseMedia.

Back-to-School Organization Tips:
“Nine Steps to a Smart Start”, found here, is a brief but comprehensive guide to helping our children get organized for school and stay organized throughout the year. These tips are courtesy of Great Schools, a national non-profit organization whose mission is “to inspire and support families to champion their children’s education – at school, at home and in their community”. Check out their website at; there is a lot to explore on this site.

Back-to-School Educational Websites: GCP’s September 2012 back-to-school post listed several academically focused sites to help us inspire our sons as they started the school year. We’ve just looked over these sites again, and they are still relevant and helpful. You can find “Check Out These Back-To-School Parenting Websites” here.

Any tried and true back-to-school tips that work for your family every year? Share them with us! Here’s to a great school year for our boys, and to our doing all that we can to support them in their efforts.

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Filed under Academics, Resources