Resources for Leaders

Want Black Boys to Achieve? Create Space for Them to Heal

by Aziah Siid

Word In Black

April 11, 2023

The essential question is contained in the title”Want Black Boys to Achieve? Create Space for Them to Heal.”

Picture a space full of Brown and Black skin — tears flowing as teens and men embrace one another, heal from their past traumas, and have a multi-generational conversation about who they are, and who they want to be.

That’s what both adults and students who participate in programming offered by the Coalition of Schools Educating Boys of Color experience. The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based national nonprofit organization works to “connect, inspire, support, and strengthen school leaders dedicated to the social, emotional, and academic development of boys and young men of color,” according to its website.

For Ron Walker, founding and executive director of COSEBOC, the desire to feed students’ minds and souls has been fueled since the 1950s.

“I was 9-year-old when I saw Emmett Till’s battered body, and I swore I would never go to Mississippi,” Walker says. However, he ended up walking on what “may have been some of the soil that Emmett Till walked on, and I moved into education.”

That shift led to Walker teaching in all-Black schools, dedicating his life to uplifting Black boys and men, prioritizing their social and emotional learning, and founding COSEBOC in 2006.

Through professional development courses for educators and community leaders, and interactive work with young boys of color, the organization specifically focuses on educating and empowering multiple generations of Black boys and men. An individual school, district, or community organization may choose to enroll teams of educators in any of the courses provided by COSEBOC.

Through its programming — an annual in-person gathering, training workshops, and rites of passage initiatives — COSEBOC has reached thousands of adults and youth nationwide. The training workshops alone have directly served over 900 student leaders, educators, and parents and benefitted more than 11,000 students.

Standards for Schools Educating Boys of Color

Schools nationwide follow the Common Core standards —the uniform academic standards for K–12 math and English language arts. But according to COSEBEC, Black boys need more to be successful. That’s why the organization developed the seven COSEBOC Standards — what it calls the “Uncommon Core.”

As the COSEBEC website puts it, the research-based framework enables a “healthy transformation of schools and community environments necessary for successful learning outcomes for all students, especially boys and young men of color.”

School teams identify strengths and challenges in seven areas: School Leadership; Parent/Family/Community Engagement Partnership; School Organization; School Environment and Climate; Curriculum and Instruction; Assessment and Evaluation; and Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Support.

Then, using customized data pulled from a specific district or school, participants can create an action plan for their students.

Discovering Rituals, Understanding Manhood

When you think of a drum, do you hear the melodies that come together with hands or drumsticks? Is it the way the bass makes you close your eyes, and feel the beat course through your body? Or, is it the discipline it takes to master the instrument?

At COSEBOC, it represents so much more to them than just the physicality of it all.

“D.R.U.M.” is that metaphor,” Timothy Jones, a professional learning facilitator with COSEBOC since 2018, tells Word In Black.

The organization’s “D.R.U.M.” program is an acronym for Discovering Rituals and Understanding Manhood. “But it’s really what a physical drum represents, as well as your heartbeat,” Jones explains.

Jones says attending the Million Man March in 1995 caused him to do some soul-searching and realign his career to education.

After he found out about COSEBOC, “I was like, wow, that sounds dope,” Jones says.

“There’s an organization focusing on Black boys? In America? And is it legal? That’s kind of fly!”

Kamau Ptah, a program designer and facilitation specialist at COSEBEC, explains that “D.R.U.M.” was birthed out of this idea of really preparing the men, or engaging the men to raise the child, and to prepare the young men for manhood.”

Rite of Passage

After witnessing a traditional African rite of passage ceremony “that left an imprint,” Ptah says he felt a strong need to understand his identity, and how the past plays a role in a full understanding of that.

“I was completely transformed, because, of course, this type of information wasn’t learned in school,” Ptah says. “I started to reflect on my life from the lens of rite of passage looking at my formal and informal experiences.”

Ptah began going to various “seminars, activities, and ritual practices that were governed and led by a community who had a need for us to restore identity and were pointing us in the direction of our roots in Africa.”

Now Ptah spreads that knowledge through COSEBOC’s Sankofa Passages program. The school-based rites of passage program provides the “optimal conditions for the health education, socialization, and identity development of boys of color,” according to the COSEBOC website.

Along with taking Black male middle and high school students on the journey of self paths, cultures, and rituals, COSEBOC’s programming also enables older Black males to be provided with informed history through the Sankofa teachings, to heal, and ultimately rethink what they know and how they view life as a whole.

The “Footprints and Footsteps” facilitator course is also a part of COSEBEC’s rite of passage focus. Designed for middle school and high school educators, the program — also rooted in the teachings of Sankofa — introduces participants to one’s essential history, values, practices, and rituals.

Indeed, as Walker has written, “Where formal passages and initiations are not established by men of integrity, adolescent boys will take their proclivity toward risks and create misguided trials that can be hazardous to their overall well-being.”

An Authentic Vision of Blackness

Jones says the work answers a key question: “What is the most organic and authentic vision for our children, and ourselves?”

Overall, COSEBOC wants to give young men of color the knowledge and tools to redefine their definition of manhood, and be able to succeed — especially if they’ve grown up in tough environments.

“That comes from doing a deep dive reflection on passages, formal and informal, the trials we’ve mastered, the pain narratives that we are managing,” Ptah says.

We have to figure out “how we are intergenerationally coming together and finding what manhood is in our community,” Jones says. We have to find “the practices that help us to realize what manhood looks like.”