A decade ago, the Oakland Unified School District made a commitment to improve outcomes for young African American males and launched the Office of African American Male Achievement. In addition to analyzing patterns and processes that produce systemic inequities, the office leads the implementation of the Manhood Development Program.
The program recently received national attention for evaluation results demonstrating reduced high school dropout and increased high-school graduation rates for black males. This research confirms what educators have long known: If you give young students of color a meaningful opportunity to learn from and be challenged by caring educators who look like them and believe in their success, they will thrive.
The research also raised a question asked by The Seattle Times: “Could Seattle adopt something similar?” The answer is yes. In fact, Seattle has been implementing a similar model, called Kingmakers of Seattle, for the past three school years.
What started in 2016 with visits to Oakland by Seattle students, parents, community leaders, city and Seattle Public School District representatives to learn about this model, has grown into a proud collaboration with Chris Chatmon, deputy chief of equity at the Oakland school district, and Kingmakers of Oakland Learning Collaborative. Seattle is the first city outside of California to develop a local Kingmakers class based off Oakland’s effective model.
Kingmakers of Seattle officially launched in fall 2017 with financial support from the city of Seattle and Casey Family Programs. Kingmakers of Seattle is currently funded by the Families, Education, Preschool and Promise Levy, which will invest $282,000 in the Seattle program this school year.
Kingmakers of Seattle is an elective class for black male students, taught by black male educators. The course curriculum emphasizes black history, cultural knowledge, positive self-identity, literacy and academic mentoring. Kingmakers is currently offered at four Seattle public schools: Aki Kurose, Denny and Mercer middle schools, and one high school, Interagency Academy, serving 115 Kings (student participants are referred to as “Kings”). In the 2020-2021 school year, Kingmakers will expand to a total of six schools following a competitive funding process led by the city.
With a four-year high school graduation rate of 72% for black males in Seattle (class of 2018), the need is great to support Seattle’s Kings. Kingmakers is just one part of a citywide commitment to improving life and education outcomes for historically underserved students through the families and education levy, as well as culturally specific and responsive investments and the city’s longstanding Race & Social Justice Initiative. This effort is complemented by Superintendent Denise Juneau’s recent pledge, as part of SPS’s new Strategic Plan to intentionally focus on African American males, including the establishment of the Department of African American Male Achievement.
So, while we acknowledge the unacceptable and persistent race-based opportunity gaps in Seattle, we also celebrate the efforts underway to serve students of color who are furthest from educational justice and correct those trends. Seattle is making efforts to better serve and educate our black Kings. We are confident that programs such as Kingmakers, and other systemic commitments, will result in improved academic and economic outcomes for Seattle’s black male youth.