Resources for Leaders

COSEBOC Passages

by Kamau Ptah

Kamau Ptah, Executive Director of Akoben Enterprise and COSEBOC’s Professional Learning Facilitator and Consultant, has spent the past 15 years shaping and implementing rites of passage curriculum and practices for COSEBOC. His commitment to centering youth voice through the rites of passage approach has left an indelible mark on COSEBOC’s mission and the experiences it offers boys and young men of color.

It is with great excitement that we launch this new blog through the Coalition of Schools Educating Boy of Color (COSEBOC). It is centered on one of the most ancient transformative learning systems known as initiation rites or rite of passage. Our focus will be to present conceptual frameworks from this indigenous method and explore effective practices that can be integrated into 21st century schools, organizations, and homes that are interested in creating the optimal educational and socialization systems for boys and young men of color.

A rite of passage marks the significant stages of growth that take place in a person’s life. This experience ushers in a new way of doing and being and helps to clarify one’s life calling, purpose, or mission. These intense experiences help guide people to an enlightened state of awareness about their personal powers and indwelling strengths. In this metaphoric journey from an old to new life, there is a symbolic death that occurs when the initiate (student) transforms and embraces a calling that leads to new privileges and responsibilities.

The rite of passage journey involves dying to one’s old self, entering into the unknown, and returning to take a new life or direction. These stages of growth, whether through formal or informal experiences, take people through a series of challenges where, upon completion, a person will be wiser, stronger, more purpose-driven, and resilient.

In the absence of this ceremonial rite, young people, particularly boys and young men of color have been without a way to acknowledge meaningful life transitions. As a consequence, adolescents can pursue life oblivious to the passages into adulthood. The intrinsic need for some kind of initiation is so important that if it does not happen consciously, it will happen unconsciously, often in a dangerous form. The reality of the absence of passages is best articulated by Malidoma Some’s book, Ritual–Power, Healing and Community, in which he asserts, “Where ritual is absent, the young ones are restless or violent, there are no real elders, and the grown-ups are bewildered. The future is dim.”

Just imagine if our boys and young men were in schools that focused on identifying, claiming, and living according to their cultural legacy and distinct purpose. Just raising the question begins the quest for the realization of the essential self. For children of color identity is paramount for beginning the process. When this quest begins, the relevance of school and the significance of learning becomes paramount. The renowned educator, psychologist, and historian Asa Hilliard once asserted that in educational reform there has never been an effort to create the process of identifying purpose, our very reason for being, as a foundational precept or practice in the learning arena. Research has revealed that learning about identity through culture increases academic outcomes for children of color.

In-school rite of passage experiences have the capacity to guide young men to the threshold of their authentic self, where they are given essential tools to manifest their sacred missions. Once this mission is identified, these boys and young men embrace their vulnerabilities, take risks (personal and academic,) and confront their fears as they journey through life and school with new intelligences and sensibilities to support their affirmative development and transformation.