All children want to learn

Week of November 3-7

On Wednesday of this week I had the chance to spend time with seven students and two staff members at the 12th Annual It's Time to Talk: Forums on Race hosted by the YWCA of Minneapolis.

The students in attendance lifted my spirits with their thoughts and views on education. They understand the current realities of their respective situations, but they also understand that they control their outcomes. One young lady stated how important it was for her to understand her African history and that she was not getting it at school. The student’s mother provided her with an African American studies college textbook to encourage her desire to learn about her past. With the knowledge gained from her reading, this student developed the courage to share what she’d learned with her teachers at school and asked them to incorporate the information into their classes. As another student asked later that evening, "If we are all different, why are we expected to learn the same?"

Former Minneapolis mayor RT Rybak delivered the keynote speech about how disheartening it is to know that in Minneapolis you can predict the academic outcome of a child based on the color of his/her skin.  We know this isn't a phenomenon occurring only in Minneapolis, but it's something we need to change for the betterment of our city.  This effort is going to take our entire city.  We must all play a major role in the success of our young people.

All children here in Minneapolis want to learn. As educators, we must determine what it is that motivates our students, tap into it and let learning happen for everyone.

The work continues.

The horse and the water

Week of October 20-24

I'm attending a conference in Milwaukee hosted by the Council of Great City Schools on "Improving the Achievement of Young Men of Color." The Council is a collective group of America’s large, urban public school districts committed to educating diverse student bodies. 

What's clear from this meeting is that concern over the achievement levels of black males is not limited to Minneapolis. The leader of the general session keeps asking us, "What are you going to do differently?" Everything we've been doing thus far has gotten us these results we have now.

This question is the basis of why I'm approaching the work looking to jointly develop a Minneapolis solution rather than trying to force a preconceived, one-size-fits-all answer. I acknowledge that I don't have all the answers, but I know we have to approach our current situation differently. 

As I ponder the state of affairs here with Minneapolis and MPS, the question that keeps coming to my mind is, "Are we trying to solve a non-academic issue with an academic solution?" 

It brings me to the analogy that everyone loves to use ... you can lead a horse to water but you can't make them drink.  Well, (a) why is the horse thirsty and (b) what's in the water that we are trying to get them to drink?

The horse is the children and the water is education.  How and what are we doing intentionally to make the kids thirsty for the knowledge we deem necessary for them?  It's critical that we show them why the information we want them to have is necessary, clearly articulate the value this information provides and use this information to create a strong sense of self.

That leads directly to curriculum.  Are we only providing history or knowledge of self starting in 1619 when slavery started in America? What about our rich history of being architects and building the pyramids which took great mathematical skills?  We have to provide our black males with that rich history so they can see themselves as scholars and contributors, not victims.

The work continues.

Deep learning from conferences

Week of October 6-10

Last week, I was fortunate enough to attend the Ujamaa Place breakfast and hear from  Shawn Dove of about the great things they are doing with black males.  This event shed a ton of light on the plight of black males in our society. The key message I took from this presentation confirmed my thinking around the belief gap that exists in the minds of our black male students. 

In order to close the achievement gap, we first have to believe that it is possible.  This belief needs to come from all of us; every segment of society plays a role in this belief gap.  It's imperative that the messages we send our young men tell them that they are valued and are capable of achieving. It must come from a genuine place or else the lack of sincerity will be apparent to the students. As a survival mechanism, young black men learn at an early age how to read people. 

I also attended a conference on "Learning and Teaching with Fire" hosted by the Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCU) and Tribal Colleges. There were many valuable takeaways for the educators in attendance, but one in particular resonated with me -- every teacher has to teach every child. The best educators can and do get the best out of every student, no matter who the student is or what the student looks like.

To me, that concept relates directly to belief. Our job is to ensure that all of our students are provided with a quality education no matter the background. The vision of MPS is every child college and career ready. Not some or a few but every child. It's on us as educators to be vigilant in this matter.

The work continues.

The impact of trauma

Week of September 15-19
Meeting and connecting with our parents, families and caregivers is crucial to the success of our students. 

This week I attended all the area meetings to present information about OBMSA and provide an overview of the goals for the office.

These interactions allowed attendees to hear firsthand about where we are now and where we hope to go as an office and as a district in the education of our black male students. It also provided a venue for parents and families to provide feedback and ask any pressing questions they may have had about the office. I strongly encourage everyone to attend these meetings as your voice is important and needs to be heard!
Over the weekend I attended a conference at Metro State University in St. Paul titled "Empowerment through Black Man Healing Conference" led by Sam Simmons. The overarching theme for the conference was trauma. 

The breakout sessions were very informative and dug deep into the trauma black people in general and black men in particular have faced throughout their lives.  I also learned that trauma has a huge impact on our daily decision making. 

That got me thinking about young people in our schools and how the trauma that they may have witnessed or experienced impacts how they navigate through our school system.  In addition, I thought about how earlier generations engage our educational system and what impact their prior experiences have on today's students. 

I don't have the answers to these thoughts, but I'm definitely going to set up a time to connect with Mr. Simmons to gain some knowledge around trauma in hopes of being more responsive to the needs of our students and families and to be able to inform others who work directly with our them on a daily basis.

The work continues.

Presenting OBMSA and Acceleration 2020

Perceived as monsters

September 8-12

This has been a very busy and informative week. 

As I work toward building a plan at the conclusion of the first 100 days in this office, I have continued to engage black male students in MPS schools to hear their perspective. This step is critical and cannot be overstated. I want to ensure that their voice is represented in the development of whatever plan is put forth for approval and review.

The young men had tons of valuable information to share. In order for us to hear the uncut truth, I asked at each of the schools we attended if they wanted school staff to be present during our conversation. At each site, they asked for privacy and anonymity so they could speak their minds without fear of retribution. This step was the start of creating a safe space where the young men could be free to express themselves fully and without penalty. Providing them with the power of making a decision from the start in this process appeared to gain their trust and allowed for the real, honest and heartfelt conversations.

There were many statements that nearly brought tears to my eyes when hearing them. One student, in a few words, summed up the attitude and feedback I heard time and again by saying, "No matter where we go, we are looked at as monsters." 

When I asked a follow up question seeking additional comments, the stories just came pouring out of how they were perceived as monsters in many situations where they were just being kids. Tellingly, another student stated, "Because they think I'm going to do something, it makes me want to when people expect it." 

We must have high expectations for all of our students.  No matter how low or high we set expectations, these young men will reach them.

The work continues.

Meeting with young men at South High. Sept 8

Meeting with MPS family & community liaisons to talk about the Office of Black Male Student Achievement. Sept. 9

Meeting with local businesses, asking them to open their doors to black males and help them to accomplish their dreams. Sept. 10

Feedback from students

Week of September 2-5

We've moved beyond Back to School season and we're moving full speed ahead.

This past week has been great! I've had the pleasure of meeting ans speaking with a group of students between the ages if 17-21. The information they provided about their educational paths and stories of their struggles within our educational system was very enlightening.  Out of the conversations came some interesting suggestions, including:
  • Promote more cultures as well as women
  • Have every student take one culturally relevant course
  • Break the mental crutch, don't use that victim mentality
  • Change the curriculum and viewpoint from one that is based off of white middle class America to standards that reflect the realities of today's society.
The young adults also deatiled what allowed them to be successful in the educational system.

  • "Learning from my mistakes"
  • "Learning about our history from the civil rights research tour on equity"
  • "Having a vision of who I wanted to be and looking toward that now in order to get there"
  • "Understanding the media has filtered what we see"
  • "Being put in leadership roles made me check my actions"

These are just a few of the many statements that the young adults wanted me to be aware of as I commence on this work. One student left me with this statement, "It takes a leader to bring some leaders."
I also had the pleasure of meeting representatives from Generation Next, the Search Institute, and Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC). These organizations are similarly committed to achieving postive outcomes for young black men here in the Twin Cities. We had great conversations and brainstorming sessions that will assist in moving us forward.

The work continues.

Meeting with dads at Lucy Laney to talk about hopes and dreams for their sons.

My first post

Week of August 25

Greetings to all supporters and interested readers.  This is Michael Walker, director of the Office of Black Male Student Achievement (OBMSA) for Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS). 

This blog is designed to chronicle the work being done by OBMSA in support of over 4,000 black male students in our school district. I want to inform the broader community of the many workings of OBMSA and provide information about upcoming activities and reflections on work thus far. 

The plan is to be transparent in our approach and outreach to members of the community. This blog is part of my commitment to be accessible and responsive.  I also encourage you to follow me on Twitter (@MPS_BlackMales) for the latest news about what we're doing. 

If you have further questions or concerns on the workings of OBMSA or just have feedback for me as I move forward in this endeavor, please email me at

Thanks for stopping by and supporting the OBMSA! The work continues.

Barbershop conversation on Aug. 15 at Dimensions in Hair

At a "Meet & Greet" hosted at the Davis Center, Aug 12