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Summit seeks to address issues in education for black students, teachers

The Summit on Educational Excellence for African Americans was held Friday as part of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans. (Miriam Bribiesca/Daily Bruin senior staff)

By Pei (Bonnie) Ni

June 29, 2015 2:01 a.m.

Sy Stokes, the creator of the viral YouTube video “The Black Bruins [Spoken Word]” who graduated from UCLA in 2015, was among those at a summit of black students, educators and community activists who shared their struggles to attain quality education.

At the summit, Stokes talked about the impact he thinks counselors have on students. He said his high school counselor discouraged him from applying to UCLA and that he was only able to attend the university because his mother submitted his application behind his back.

“Sometimes you do feel alienated,” said Stokes. “You need moral support, not only from your peers but also from your teachers,” he added.

The event Friday was part of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans, which President Barack Obama signed in 2012. The initiative is the latest of six White House initiatives intended to improve education among various ethnic groups, said David Johns, the executive director of the initiative. The summit is one in the series of summits that has happened across the country in the past three years, he added.

The audience, including black UCLA students and faculty and the executive board of the initiative, filled the California NanoSystems Institute auditorium at UCLA. Over three hundred people RSVP’d to the event, said Marcus Hunter, an assistant professor of sociology.

Hunter said he pitched the idea of holding a summit at UCLA to Johns. He added that he thinks public universities like UCLA are charged with providing education to diverse populations. Holding the summit at a public university also reflects the initiative’s intent to impact varied communities, he added.

Johns said the initiative seeks to bridge the gap between the quality of education black and Caucasian students receive by hearing the perspectives of black students and teachers.

The panelists discussed ways to allow more black students to obtain high-quality education, including training teachers on black cultures, increasing the number of black students and teachers and emphasizing public education for blacks.

Esché Jackson, a recent graduate from University of Southern California, who struggled with domestic violence and incarceration, said it is important for educators to understand the challenges students face outside of school. She added she thinks educators should consider turning a learning institution into a healing institution.

“Thinking about ways to heal kids can expand their capacities to learn the lessons,” she said.

The panel discussion also included the topic of increasing the number of black students, faculties and administrators.

Gary Green, a nontraditional UCLA student who came to the university after having a child and who graduated in 2014, said he thinks many don’t believe black students can achieve academic excellence because they are not given enough positive examples.

“We need to see what black scholarship looks like,” Green said.

The organizers said they aimed to hear from black students who said they were struggling with obtaining higher education.

“We want (the students and teachers) to tell us what has been working and what they need,” Hunter said.

A summary of the discussion from the summit will be incorporated into a formal report that will be submitted to Obama and Arne Duncan, the U.S. secretary of education, Johns said.

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