I am a woman of African descent. I am a teacher. I am a mother. I am an activist. I have a love for myself, my people and humanity. I taught eight years in the Minneapolis Public Schools.
Far too often, school colleagues would ask, “Why aren’t Black children successful in school?” They would proceed by answering their own question with “poverty, drugs and gangs,” yet I saw something different. I saw the need to give youth an educational experience that embraced their circumstances and use culture as a vehicle to move them forward academically. I saw the deficit model, which was used by schools as ineffective and contributed to the continual failure of so many African-American youth.
I left the classroom to create an education achievement model that demonstrates the brilliance of Black children. I started WE WIN Institute (WE WIN) whose mission “dedicated to the academic and social success of all children.” Youth at WE WIN learn and teach their community about the incredible accomplishments of their people. The youth who participate at WE WIN are surrounded by Black accomplishments from ancient Africa to modern day Minnesota. They learn that their people have contributed tremendously to the development of the world.
“I am a deserving young African! I deserve all good! My New thinking becomes my new experiences. I am deserving! I accept it! I know it to be true!” is from the African Deservability Statement* that girls in WE WIN’s Women of Distinction program recite to teach them that they are African, that they are brilliant and there is nothing they cannot do if they give their best.
The African Deservability Statement is a component of the program rituals that include a set of words and actions that students practice consistently. Rituals are the foundation of Women of Distinction, a girls mentoring program that promotes an understanding of themselves, including cultural sacrifices, and honors their ancestors. When they recite the ritual, “We are an African people, and don’t you forget it,” it supports their collective memory that reminds them that although they live in America, their ancestors came from Africa. Students learn that their ancestors were brilliant — they created the pyramids, and they were the first people to read, write, and do mathematics and science. The girls know that the first universities were created in Timbuktu, which is in Africa.
Black girls see their greatness through the eyes of African she-roes who led the way. They study and learn about great African women that look like them. Girls learn about Queen Nzingha of Angola, who was the leader of her country and fought the Portuguese from enslaving her people. They learn about African greatness in Minnesota through the examples women like Dr. Josie Johnson. She was the first African-American appointed to the Board of Regents at the University of Minnesota in 1971. They learn about Dr. Nekima Levy-Pounds who demonstrates that they can be mothers, lawyers, writers, and activists if they put their minds to it.
This academic achievement model creates greater success for African-American girls. WE WIN participants are graduating from high school and going to college. They are becoming better readers, writers, and learning that they can and will succeed in school and in their lives.
*Adapted from Louise Hay, Deservability Statement
Titilayo Bediako is an award winning teacher. She was the Minnesota Steppers Association Community Leadership Award recipient in March 2018, and is the founder and executive director of WE WIN Institute.