An African American culture class in Virginia aims to help Black boys stay in school

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An African American culture class has transformed the lives of Black boys at city schools in Roanoke, Va. for the past 14 years. Now, it’s available to the public for the first time.

An organization called Total Action for Progress (TAP) first introduced the class titled “African American Culture and Contemporary Issues” (AACCI) in 2008 with the goal of keeping young Black males from dropping out of high school, The Roanoke Times reports.

TAP’s youth services and education manager, Lateefah Trent, said the most common reason students drop out is because of their grim outlook on their future.

“They don’t feel like they’re going to really live past [the] age of 21 or 25, or that they’re not going to amount anything, so ‘What’s the point?’” Trent told The Roanoke Times.

The new free public class launched on Sept. 17 at the Roanoke Higher Education Center (RHEC), for anyone age 15 or over. The effort was made possible after TAP received a grant from Roanoke’s Gun Violence Prevention Commission in May. According to The Roanoke Times, some of the funds were used to extend the class and make courses available for parents and community members.

“We’ve had several parents and people in the community say, ‘Hey, I heard about my child or grandchild in this class. This seems very interesting. Is there something like that for us to go to?’” Trent explained.

“That’s how we came about with the community one that we’re having on Saturdays,” she added.

“The biggest thing that we love about this is that it’s allowing different ages, across all spectrums, to come together and learn about the African American culture and the history of it as a group, as a team, to build community awareness,” she added.

According to TAP’s official website, the topics in the public class include meditation techniques, community bonding, and developing critical thinking and leadership skills. The AACCI class also teaches Black youth that their lives matter.

“The culture has gone through so much of society saying, ‘You’re not worthy,’ Trent said. “You are worthy. You are important. Everybody has a purpose, and everybody has gifts. How do you want to utilize yours and contribute to your community, to better your life and become the best you can be? That’s a lot of what the class offers.”

The class also encourages “open dialogue discussions,” Trent said, “so that people can understand it’s okay to have different opinions, and respect the other person’s opinion, and be able to do it in a healthy manner.”

In January 2019, there were about 25 students enrolled in the AACCI class at William Fleming High School. As word spread about the positive impact the lessons and conversations were having on Black male students, enrollment increased.

Currently, about 75 students are enrolled in the class. The demand was so great that the course was offered to both male and female students for the 2021-22 school year, according to The Roanoke Times.

“We talk about the importance brotherhood, friendships, understanding the importance of knowing the difference between a friend and a partner in crime,” Antonio Stovall, an instructor at both William Fleming High School and the RHEC, told The Roanoke Times.

“When you have friends, you want to make sure that you’re holding your friends accountable, and your friends are holding you accountable,” he added.

Credit: theGrio Staff

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