Oakland Schools Tackle Racism, Get Results
Robert Warren

In 2010, the Oakland Unified school district implemented a groundbreaking initiative, the Manhood Development Program, which set out to decrease suspension and incarceration rates, and to narrow the achievement gap by increasing attendance, graduation and literacy rates for Black boys. Five years later, the district is seeing results.

“Oakland dared to name institutionalized racism—and not the children—as the problem,” said Vajra Watson, University of California-Davis director of research and policy for equity, in the report. “MDP turned a vision into a reality, a theory into action—school districts across the country now have a model for African-American student success.”

MDP pairs Black students with teachers in classes dedicated to promote leadership. Since its inception, the program’s enrollment has jumped from 50 young men to more than 600. Graduation rates among the district’s Black male students have risen to 57 percent from 42 percent. Additionally, 82 percent of MDP students said that their school makes them feel proud to be Black, compared to 59 percent of non-MDP students. 

“When students begin the program, many of them define Blackness in America to be ugly, to be bad and all of these negative attributes,” Watson said in a press release. “And then after being a part of the program, and the brotherhood and learning about themselves, they start to identify as young kings, as scholars.”

Though any student can participate by having a parent sign him up, there is currently a waiting list. Program administrators are currently working to expand the program into more schools and they hope to integrate the curriculum into junior and senior level high school classes.

“Finishing high school can mean the difference between life and death, between a dorm room and a prison cell,” continued Watson. “Education is a gateway to survival—so it is through school that we can, and must, make the greatest impact.”