Speak Up, Speak Out

A Note for African American Males:
“Why don’t you understand…I know I’m smart!”

Dr. Jocelyn G. Drakeford, Ed.D

I know that you have pondered the world around you day after day, and you have probably tried to understand why everyone talks about you as if you were invisible. But it is not so much that they think you are invisible, but what you cannot understand, is why they think you are ‘dumb’. It makes you angry to recall the conversations your teachers have had with your mother during teacher conferences, about you not being able to focus, that you weren’t able to read (when the truth was she never called on you to read). Yet, that wasn’t the worst part. That was when they started talking about you needing all the supports of the dreaded Special Education department. How could your mom let this happen? Didn’t she know you were smart? Didn’t she know that Special Education was for “dummies”?  You’re no dummy, right? And I can imagine this just added to the growing anger brewing deep within your belly.

Can I ask you to take a little trip back in time with me? I just want to make sure you understand why I know that you are smart….very smart, in fact. I promise you that I’m not trying to open up old wounds. But this is extremely necessary for you to know that you have been right all a long. Will you trust me for a few minutes? I hope so.

Remember way back when you were about two years old (I know I’m asking a lot since you are a grand old 11 or maybe, 15, or even 18), and there wasn’t a jingle that was played on the TV or the radio (did your parents have one of those?) that you didn’t know as soon as the first notes were played. You were just like the little mocking bird, because if you heard it said, you could say it and best of all, you remembered every word.  At every opportunity you showed your mom and all of your family members just how smart you were, and you heard them whisper, “He’s really a smart boy?”   “Can you believe he knew all of the alphabet?” But you smiled, because you knew that you were smart and that you knew a whole lot more than your alphabet.  Each day, you would discover something new that you could do and you couldn’t wait to show your mom and dad and anyone who would give you a moment of time. And soon, when you couldn’t take every gadget in your house apart and put it back together again for the fifty-th time, and when you had mastered every video game and X-Box challenge, some one announced that you would be starting SCHOOL.

No one really knew how excited you were. You looked over your school supplies every night before you went to bed. You wondered if every four-year-old boy, was awake like you. You could only think about all of the wonderful things you would learn and all the things your teacher would teach you. The first day of school couldn’t come fast enough.

School finally began, and school was everything that you had hoped for. Your teacher had such a nice smile, and you wanted to tell her all of things that you already knew. You could tell that all the other girls and boys knew a lot, too. So you wanted to make sure your teacher knew that you were very smart.

At circle time, she would ask questions, and you would follow the rules by raising your hand, and she would call on Sally Ann, and then, Jane, and Bill and Phillip, then Taneshia, and Nikita, and finally, when all the questions were asked, your hand was still raised high, and you had known all of the answers, but all the chances were gone. The days began with you having hope that today will be the day you can show your teacher and everyone in your class how smart you really were.  The days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months, as with the passage of time, you realized that your teacher’s lovely smile didn’t mean that she liked you, and that she believed that you were smart. You had followed the rules, and you had waited only to be over looked, so when you decided to yell out the right answers without being called on, and without any regard to raising your hand, you were placed in time out and labeled a behavior problem.

You thought the routine would change now that you were in Kindergarten,…First Grade…Second Grade. But no it got worse…you had used up all of your time outs and now it was the visits to the Assistant Principal’s Office. Each year, you wanted the excitement of that first day of school, but it never returned. And then, everyone was saying how sad it was that “You couldn’t learn anything, because you couldn’t read, or do math.” You knew that they were wrong, but they never let you “shine.” You stopped trying to tell them, you stopped trying to blurt out the right answers, but you couldn’t stop being angry about it all.

So was I close? Did any or all of that happen? I’m sorry I had to bring it up. But I wanted you to remember because what you may have missed was not that you were “dumb” or that you needed “Special Ed.” Could it have been that the people responsible for letting you “share” how much you really did know, ignored you, and decided that they would convince you that they knew you better than you knew yourself? But I have just one question for you. When did you decide that they were “right?”

Remember you didn’t answer my question (know that you should). Everyone started convincing you that you were not SMART, and you felt like the world had decided your fate. Guess what? They don’t know the truth about you.

I have had the awesome pleasure of working with Smart young African men just like you. And the thing that I discovered over the 30 odd years of teaching and administration is that you are  “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). You may not understand the phrase, but what it really means is that there are gifts and talents that have been placed inside of you. These gifts and talents have been waiting to be released in you, but you have to believe that they are yours to share.

All this may be new to you, but please know that you have always been Smart, ever since you were two years old.  The anger that you have had to endure was not of your own doing. It was generated by those who were expected to protect your heart, mind, and spirit.   LONG   ago, your creator stated that you “were the apple of His eye” (Psalm 17: 8) And because you are “the apple of His eye” (Psalm 17:8) He says that “He knows the plans He has for you, plans to prosper you  and not harm you, plans to give you HOPE and a Future (Jeremiah 29:11). So you would have to be very smart for your Creator to have these marvelous plans for your life.

I know that you may still be very angry about all of the things that stole the joy of your school experience but what’s more important is for you to believe in yourself again, and to know that you can do amazing things because you are SMART.  I would like for you to begin with learning a special verse for me, and it is,  “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13). Whenever those negative thoughts start in your head, just say the verse out loud, or if you are in a crowd, whisper it again and again. You should know that as we continue to meet on these pages, you will find your voice, your gifts, and your talents. You were made SMART because there are people waiting for your SMARTs to resolve their problem.

Dr. Jocelyn G. Drakeford, Ed.D
Education Consultant/Assist Professor
Contact at:

For some people, setting and achieving dreams comes easily and naturally. Many of us, however, get lost or distracted along the way. If you use the following steps as a road map, all you will need is the effort to reach your goals fearlessly.


Step #1 – Establish your objectives

You accomplish goals by first choosing a small task you want to accomplish.  This is your objective. Objectives can be anything from losing weight to earning a degree. Many people confuse objectives with goals. Objectives generally are the big picture while goals are the small steps that need to be completed in order to reach the big picture.


Step #2 – Create your goals

Now that you have an objective, it is time to break it up into smaller goals. Goals must be specific and measurable. If losing weight is your objective, then losing 10 lbs could be a goal. If earning a degree is your objective, then enrolling in school would be one of the goals needed to get you there. Losing 10 lbs and enrolling in school are both specific (not general), concrete (not vague), and measurable so you can evaluate your progress as you move closer to the goal.


Step #3 – Make a plan

Having a goal is generally not enough to help you reach your objective. You also need to have a plan to achieve the goal. Your plan will work best if it is realistic, taking into account the other responsibilities and happenings in your day-to-day life. Plans that are not realistic set you up for failure. To lose 10 lbs you will need to exercise and/or change what you eat. You could develop a plan that has you exercising daily and eating no more than 1,200 calories per day. You would lose 10 lbs in no time, but for most people, that is not realistic. A more realistic plan might be to exercise three times a week, replace soda with water, and eat fruit instead of cake for dessert for three months. The more time and thought you give this step, the more likely you are to be successful.


Now that you are clear on the relationship between objectives, goals, and plans, choose an objective. Start small and work your way up to bigger achievements. Set your goals and make a plan. If you have trouble reaching your goals, try not to get discouraged. Instead, examine the barriers so you can find ways around them. Look at your plan and attempt to make it more realistic to your life and circumstances.


No one plans to fail, but you are guaranteed to fail without a good plan.

“The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather, a lack of will.”        

 ~ Vince Lombardi

You have identified an objective. Now, you should divide your objective into achievable, measurable goals. Your plan is feasible. The last step you need to make your dreams a reality is never to stop moving toward them. You have to act on your plan continuously to achieve your goals and make progress toward your objective. Many people start out to achieve their dreams with vim and vigor and then lose steam along the way. There are few guarantees in life, but you are guaranteed not to reach your dreams if you stop moving toward them. Below are the three keys to staying motivated so you can keep moving forward.


  1. Stay positive – Surround yourself with positive reminders that you can achieve your goals. Supportive friends, affirmations, mottos, and stories of others who have achieved their goals can all help you stay positive and keep plodding forward until you reach your dream. I enjoy reading about the challenges other authors faced before they “made it.” Stephen King wrote about having his first book, Carrie, rejected 30 times before he found a publisher.


  1. Take control of your fears – In my book, Metamorphosis: Journaling the Path from Domestic Violence Victim to Victor, I tell a story about overcoming my fear of heights by flying high on a trapeze. Pushing past my fear to swing 25 feet in the air serves as a reminder that I can do anything I put my mind to.


  1. Don’t overwhelm yourself – “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time” ~African proverb

Our objectives can be overwhelming. So big and looming that we can’t imagine how we will ever achieve them. I first encountered this experience at the end of graduate school when it was time to write my dissertation, an approximately 200-page book about my unique research.


Success is more about persistence and tenacity – the word I keep up on the wall in my office to help me stay motivated – than about anything else. The lessons learned from early failure are just part of the path to success.

“People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.”

~ Zig Ziglar


Rocking natural hair is much more than a beauty statement.

By Victoria T. Davis

Fashion and beauty trends come and go, but one on the radar for several years has been the natural hair movement. Thousands of women have decided to embrace their natural kinky and curly hair texture as hundreds of hair products have been marketed toward women hoping to pull them onto the bandwagon.

While some say caring for their natural hair can be time consuming, it is simply more than a beauty statement. As the natural hair blogger at, I find it has much more to do with self-discovery than any hair product or tool.

Meet 17-year-old Mikala Johnson who desired to discover her natural locks although her mother was not very fond of the idea.  “For some people it may be about creating the perfect twist out or growing waist-length hair, but for me, I feel it will help me appreciate myself more for who I truly am than this,” said Johnson who showed off her artificial fingernails and tugged on her long hair extensions.

As an individual who decided to embrace my natural hair more than five years ago, I went from long, straight hair to a short afro in just 14 short months, and despite the nasty looks I received from family and some friends, it was one of the best decision I’ve ever made. In many ways the process can be compared to stripping one’s self of outer impurities, which later have in impact on one’s inner confidence. Without the hair extensions, false fingernails, eye lashes, and layers of makeup…there is nothing left but one being. For myself it was the realization of, “this is what you have, and make it work.” This was also a time to study not only my physical features to see what new characteristics I was soon to fall in love with, it also provided a time to dissect pieces of my personality to determine where improvement could be made. This is my experience and that of many other women and girls as well.

Whether you decide to embrace your natural hair texture or not, dedicate time to truly unlock and learn the purpose you hold. Whether it is helping others, becoming a community advocate or becoming a school leader, you will appreciate and fulfill the role much more when you accept who you are currently and who you’d like to be.



3 Simple Exercises You Can Do To Improve Your Self-Esteem


Use sticky notes: Are you a lover of inspirational quotes? Find time to gather a dozen of your favorite quotes from books, role models and the Internet and write one quote per sticky note. Post these notes in a place you will see them each day (bathroom or bedroom mirror, closet, etc.) to give yourself a little boost daily.


Recognize your favorites: Instead of focusing on the things you don’t like about yourself, try recognizing physical traits you love in the mirror each day. Each morning, stand in front of your mirror and identify three things you like about yourself. They can by physical items or personality traits.



Focus ahead: Nothing says a person has low self -esteem more than the way they carry themselves. Remember to stand up tall with shoulders up right when walking. One of the most important factors: make sure your head remains at eye level and avoid looking down when walking or talking to someone. Focus ahead.

It may have been over 40 years ago, but it’s a moment that shaped me in ways that I could not have expected.  After weeks of learning about the Presidents of the United States, my second grade teacher assigned the class to write a biography of a president and draw a picture to accompany it.  The writing assignment was easy but I was no fan of art or drawing – being the overachiever that I am.  I decided to put my all into it.   I selected George Washington as my topic and once I completed my biography of him, I jumped on the drawing eager to be the first one finished.  The response to my drawing from my teacher was, well, a reality check.  She pointed to the nose of my rendition of George Washington and said emphatically, “This is NOT what he looked like!  Now go back and fix this!”  Just writing this takes me back to that moment.  In my aim to please and achieve I was confronted with something I didn’t know, but definitely felt.  I had a choice to make and this was on my terms.

I returned to my seat, erased the nose I drew, which looked like mine, distinctly African, but mine.  I stared at my teacher, who was white, and drew a nose that resembled hers, stared at it, then erased it.  It was at that moment I decided that I had a right to my perspective of me and how I saw the world, and more importantly, how I would walk in it.  I returned the drawing to my teacher with out a word.  She looked at the paper, looked at me, and went back to the group she was working with.

The choice I made to advocate for myself was not realized in that moment, but has been fostered well before that in my house, by my family and parents, who at this time were divorced raising two young boys.  My ability to self-advocate was rooted in a sense of self with expectations to achieve,  two concepts that would continue to be called upon throughout my educational and professional journey.  It was then that I realized the difference between education and learning and I would come to know and understand it.

This scenario, to lesser and greater degrees, is one that we can presume plays out in our schools today, either innocently or intently.  For over a half century, the effort to close the achievement gap has been a focus for school districts across the country.  A recent study by professor Nicholas Papageorge of Johns Hopkins, Who Believes in Me? The Effect of Student-Teacher Demographic Match on Teacher Expectations, found that white teachers had significantly lower expectations of black students than black teachers.  Before anyone jumps to conclusions, this study did not assign any specific reasons for the findings, nor am I.  However, given the scope of the study and its findings, it provides a platform for reflection on how parents of minority students prepare children for the evolving school environment, as well as reflection for teachers and school leaders regarding the efficacy of expectations.  This information comes at a time when our nation is undergoing one of the largest demographic changes in our schools systems to date.  As minority students are becoming a majority population in schools across the country, teacher demographics remain overwhelmingly white.

No individual is free of bias in any form.  The media plays a role in shaping our perceptions of how we see ourselves, and others. Black students are presented with positive media images of Black males as musicians, actors, and professional athletes and negative images that evoke fear and project their criminality.  When parents of minority students send students to school to receive an “education”, they submit children to a system that may have a different view of not only who your child is, but also what their capacities are.  By definition,  a system is an orderly way of managing, controlling, organizing or doing something.  Like any system, education has outputs, goals, and in today’s educational reform, movement.  Those outputs are measured in test scores and charter expansion.  To be “educated” is to become a part of a system, bound by its measures, its objectives and whatever it deems is appropriate to meet the needs as it defines it.  When we examine the achievement gaps that the educational system purports to address, we see little significant change, yet the educational system survives and expands.

It was days after the “George Washington” incident that I began to realize what allowed me to move my mind quickly to address the bias I was confronted with.  I was pleased with myself that I took control of my response by holding my “space”.  A space which was created for me at home.  That space informed me of what to expect, but more importantly focused not on what would happen, but how to respond, how to “be”.  This is when I learned that going to school to get an “education” was far less rewarding than going to school to “learn”.  I knew that I had the capacity to not only accomplish what was set at the table (my parents expected that), but how to see, hear and engage in an environment that was a resource to my destination beyond school.  That encompassed everything that I might encounter that could impose its will on my identity, beliefs, and goals.

Over the last 50 years we have learned much about the disparities that exist in our educational system ranging from overrepresentation of minorities in disciplinary matters and special education.  We see similar disparities in the underrepresentation of minorities in gifted programs and advanced placement courses.  These disparities are weighed and measured by the system in terms of numbers, outputs.  The response of the system is to repair structural parts to address the problem, not the human element that may be influencing them.

When we limit improvements in the educational system to it’s structural components such as curriculum, policies and procedures, we miss the true essence of the learning process, and that is the human element.  If we are to close the achievement gap, we as parents should begin with teaching the concept of advocacy.  Identifying and railing against the patterns we’ve seen over the years has not demonstrated any significant change in the structures or outcomes that benefit children of color collectively, but has elevated disparities and tensions.  When we prepare children to “become” by reinforcing them as worthy, relevant, and capable, we prepare them to meet challenges with surety and confidence.  The learner defines learning, particularly when they have a purpose beyond the goals of education. Young people may not know what they want to do or become, but they certainly will want to be prepared when they do.  When the purpose of learning is left to the system, then students will acquire an “education”.

Decades after my experience in second grade, I earned my doctoral degree in educational leadership.  I found it ironic that I earned it from an institution named after the subject of my second grade assignment, The George Washington University.  It isn’t enough to tell children to “be good”, “follow directions”, or “listen to the teacher” in preparation for the learning environment.  These are compliance expectations, not purposeful nor a component of self-advocacy.  When expectations are forged in concepts of dignity, self-awareness, and self-respect, the opportunity to move children from solely interacting with an environment to using it to their benefit increases.  Schools call it “engagement”.  I call it, “becoming”.  Whatever you call it, when you see it, it will become as clear as the nose on your face.


Dr. Thompson is the President and CEO of EmpowerED, an educational Consulting firm specializing in organizational systems development. His company has worked with schools across the country from rural districts to some of the largest and most challenged such as the Los Angeles Unified School District. In 2009 Dr. Thompson was an invited member of the International Exchange of Scholars to assist the University of South Africa, the fourth largest university in the world, in revising its educational curriculum.
 Dr. Thompson received his Ed.D. degree in Leadership & Policy Studies from The George Washington University, an M.ED in Administration & Supervision from Virginia Commonwealth University and a B.A. in Psychology and Education from Randolph Macon College in Virginia.
Twitter:  @DrTeducates


Tea Time With Kstar

Inspiring teens to want better,
Live better,
And strive higher.

Let’s talk about the “teenage image”, what teens wear, how they act, and what they say. Even though these things seem small and unnoticeable, you’d be surprised to know how many people are analyzing you. The way you carry yourself as a young adult could be the deciding factor of being seen as a troubled, or as a mature teen. Television portrays teenagers as moody, troublesome, dramatic, and difficult. Even though that can be true it doesn’t have to be.

Kids and teenagers are ruder and wilder and more irresponsible than ever before. This is the conclusion that could be drawn from a recent national study by a public policy research organization based in New York. The study, titled “Kids These Days: What Americans Really Think about the Next Generation”.

90% of the respondents said youngsters have failed to learn values.  Only 12% of the 2,000 adults surveyed said it was common for children to treat people with respect. Only 12%?  That’s not a lot. Now 46% of kids in the U.S come from good homes but this means teens from good homes still act out. When you’re out of your parents’ sight, for example; school or just hanging out, you should still behave as if they were there with you. Acting wild in front of strangers doesn’t only make you look bad but it also makes your parents look like they don’t know how to parent you. Remember, you’re a representation of your parents. And, someone is always watching.

Sometimes teens take on the traits of the people who are in their lives on a daily basis. This isn’t always a good thing.  Some teenagers may have the wrong friends and they will start to act like them. Or, they will do things that will make them seem “cool” to their friends. Teenagers aren’t always at fault for how they act. That’s right!  I’m talking about you Mom and Dad. It’s your job to help your child grow into the amazing person they were meant to be. Some people say it’s not good to be a helicopter parent, but let’s look at the definition of helicopter parent.

Hel·i·cop·ter par·ent
Plural noun: helicopter parents
a parent who takes an overprotective or excessive interest in the life of their child or children.

Parents believe that you shouldn’t have to “hover over” your children. But, there’s a difference between hovering and smothering. As a parent it’s your job to keep your child safe.  That’s what you agreed to when you had them. That includes monitoring them and who they hang out with. Most parents don’t notice a change in their child’s behavior because they aren’t giving them enough face time.  This doesn’t mean you need to try and act like a hip teenager.  You don’t have to hang out with your teen more.  It just means you need to ask them how their day was at school, and actually listen. Or, just talk to them and give them hugs. Parents need to be more involved in their child’s life. Then, they aren’t wondering why Billy is skipping school and doing things he shouldn’t be. This can also help avoid the 7 words us kids dread to hear: “You weren’t like this when you were younger.”

Back to the teens. It’s easy to get sucked into things when you want to be “cool” or “fit in” but you have to think to yourself…why would you want to fit in? And if you just be yourself people will think you’re cool and they might just start following you. Now, if you don’t believe me, when I say it’s great to be different, think of a school of fish.  They all look the same and they huddle together and swim in large groups. In real life this would be a bunch of kids who “fit in.” And, they might seem cool but remember schools of fish are more likely to get caught in a net or in a kid’s case, more likely to get in trouble. However, a different fish (or teen) isn’t trying to be something they’re not.

Ever heard of the saying, two birds of a feather flock together? Well if you continue to be yourself you’ll find friends who like what you like and then you won’t feel so different or weird anymore. It’s time to stop being afraid to be yourself and stand out from the crowd. I know how it feels to have people say that I’m weird because I’m different, but being different got me where I am today. And so far, I think I’m in a pretty good place. Not caring about the latest trends is a good place to start on the road to being yourself. If you didn’t notice most trends are actually made for 18+ not really for 12-16 year olds. Try and stay in your age range when it comes to clothing, as my mom has said multiple times, “THERE IS A TIME AND A PLACE FOR EVERYTHING.”  Just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t mean it’s right for you. Trends are pretty much a sheep dog and what do sheep dogs do? They heard the sheep back into their pens, and you’re the sheep. Just think, every time you go get the latest trend you just got lumped into a pen with a bunch of other trend followers which gets rid of your individuality, and then the trend will end just in time for another one to show up to lump you with the other sheep again.

As the new year approaches, it’s time to say what message is my image saying? How is that image representing my parents? And then, have the courage to be your wonderful amazing self!

2017 is the year to be Fierce & Fearless!

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