Renaissance

An outgrowth of REAP’s work with black male students dating back to 2005 and serves as a “pull out” gender/culturally program to offer increased and specific interventions exclusive to black male students. Their unique needs have risen to the surface of our inclusive program services and require more specialized support. Renaissance is a newly formed year around leadership development program designed to respond to the staggering academic and social needs specific to black males between the ages of 12-18.

Our vision is to affirm the positive identity and self-worth of young black men. We accomplish this by promoting positive images of black males, developing their leadership potential and innovative abilities. Our young men model leadership through peer mentoring, civic engagement, business innovation and public speaking.

The academic and social outcomes for black male youth nationally and locally paint an alarming picture of systemic and societal failure. REAP understands the state of black youth to be a community health issue. On most significant indicators of performance and status, black males are doing worse than any other ethnic-gender group. For example,

  • Of our local ninth grade Black students, it is estimated only 18 in 100 will complete a post-secondary education.
  • Exclusionary discipline is three and a half times more likely for Black students than white students. Many incidents resulting in suspension or expulsion are discretionary conduct issues, not for violence or weapons in school. The numbers are higher for black male students
  • Disproportionate numbers of Black males are in our child welfare and justice systems,
  • Foster care population that is more than 21 % Black, even though the child population in Multnomah County is just 11% Black.
  • The average cost to serve a young person in an Oregon juvenile correctional facility for a year is $79,935 or $219 per day. The average cost per prison inmate in Oregon per year (2009) is $30,828

Renaissance is facilitated at,

  • David Douglas High School
  • Madison High School
  • Centennial High School
  • Aloha High School
  • Harrison Park Middle School
Meet Jesse…

 

By the time Jesse entered high school, race began to set him apart. His skin color impacted his life on a daily basis. Jesse says, “People either had Black friends or White ones, not both. Black students said I wasn’t Black enough. And there were strains with White kids who didn’t already know me. Some people would use the word ‘niggah’ in front of me—not cool.” I started to rely on factors that were outside my school environment to drive my ambition—especially my mother. “Even though my mom was a teen parent, she was able to turn her life around by going to school and getting a degree. This let her get a job, and we always had food and the other things we needed. On top of that she always told me, ‘You can do anything you want to do.’ I struggled to find a social niche and racial identity while simultaneously focusing on his academic performance.

One teacher in particular made my life more difficult. “My science teacher was losing the papers I turned in and giving me zero’s for work that I had done. It wasn’t just me, though; this happened to other Black kids too. When I questioned her about it, she said she didn’t have the papers. So I went to my counselor and got him involved.” A meeting was set up for everybody to discuss the issues. “I’ll never forget it,” he says. “When my mom and counselor were questioning her, my science teacher just walked out. She said that she wasn’t dealing with it. In the end, she did change my grade from a D to a B. But I still had to go to my counselor again at the end of the term because the biology teacher wouldn’t sign off for me to take a chemistry class as a sophomore that was harder than another class. She said I wasn’t ready for it—but I wound up getting a B in chemistry.” High school became an evolving life lesson in racial dynamics as they play out in expectations, perceptions and isolation. “I rarely raised my hand in class because I felt everyone was waiting for me to mess up. I never really felt comfortable in class. Teachers never asked much of me. They always just asked me the easy questions. I definitely felt like they didn’t expect that much.”

Jesse says his turning point came only when his guidance counselor convinced him to take a Black Studies class facilitated by REAP. “For the first time I was in a class where most of the kids were Black and people really thought of me as smart. I started to speak up in class and all the shyness I’d had as a kid seemed to go away. I felt like what I said mattered and I really fit in. Every school needs a Black studies class. Black Studies consisted of all black students. This brought a major realization to me. I realized that I felt insecure in classes that had few African American students, because I truly did feel inferior. This feeling was not intentional, and honestly, I had never even noticed that I kept to myself as much as I did in these predominantly Caucasian classes.

When I was a part of a class of all black students, I felt that I was on an equal level with all of my peers. This sense of comfort led me to my realization that my performance in my “normal” classes was not my full potential. It became clear to me that, for some unknown reason, I felt that I was not as good as the white kids, and therefore, I would be reluctant to participate. Although there is no solid proof, I believe that my overall performance in my normal classes was not my full potential, due to this feeling of inferiority. Again, I have no idea why I felt this way or why I would react in this way. I did not tell myself that “I’m black, and therefore, I’m not as good.” Yet this is what I did feel. The point of this explanation is to address what REAP changed about my mindset.

REAP staff brought in many professional African American speakers to tell us their stories. These stories usually consisted of their struggles and how they overcame problems to be successful. The class was based on a discussion format, where every student would give their opinions on the different issues that were presented to us. As time went on, the class became more united, and it was like we were all family. Imagine a class where you truly feel that your classmates and teachers value you and everyone else for who you are and where you stand. It was an incredible experience.

Like everyone else, I began to get more comfortable with expressing my opinions openly in this class. I truly felt that the students and teachers wanted to hear what I had to say. This boosted my confidence in myself in a way that I have never felt. Soon, Mark had me speaking for the school board, MC-ing our school’s African American student Conference, being interviewed by PBS, and even receiving a scholarship from the Black United Fund. The environment that REAP and the black studies class maintained helped me to discover my true potential”.

Today, Jesse is a proud graduate of Grant High School and recent graduate of University of Oregon. “Every school needs a leadership program like REAP.” – Jesse Pipe-Cade, REAP Alumnus