Brooklyn Park resident Michael Walker was recently awarded a Bush Foundation Fellowship.
Walker, director of the Office of Black Male Student Achievement for Minneapolis Public Schools, will use the fellowship to pursue a doctorate degree, continue his research and study black trauma and its impact.
“I’m a north-side kid,” Walker said, adding that he wants to ensure black male students have opportunities that he did not have growing up.
Walker is the first director of Minneapolis Public School’s Office of Black Male Student Achievement, which was established in August 2014. There was “no blueprint to do anything,” so Walker had to develop a working plan from scratch, he said. In the beginning, he said he needed to listen to the voices of key stakeholders such as parents and families, community members, educators and students themselves to see what was needed for equity work to forward in the district.
As a result of what was heard during those discussions, the office provides professional development to teachers and others working in the district, engagement with families and the community and direct services to students, who the office refers to as “kings.”
“I don’t believe in the achievement gap,” Walker said.
Black male educational performance has been impacted in a large-picture sense by the way society at-large treats black males, he said. His job, he said, is not to change black males so they learn to work within the education system, but rather to work to change the education system to better serve black males.
Poor educational performance can be the result of low expectations for black male students, Walker said. Choices in curriculum can also effect black males’ student achievement, he said. For instance, if the only black history students learn is related to slavery, there will be negative impacts to achievement, he said.
It’s particularly important for black male students to develop critical questioning skills, Walker said.
“There are so many false narratives shared about black males,” Walker said, adding that students need to be able to question those narratives.
Since 2014, the district has seen increases in black male students’ grade point averages, as well as increased attendance levels.
The district has focused on becoming more student centered. In some cases, student voices and feedback can have more weight than adults at the discussion table, Walker said.
Walker has developed a hybrid learning plan that he will implement during the grant period. He will apply to the University of Minnesota’s Organizational Leadership, Policy and Development cohort to work towards a doctorate degree, he said. He plans to sit down with other equity leaders doing similar work and continue studying the black male experience, he said.
A focus of Walker’s studies will be working to better understand how trauma has been passed down from one generation of black folks to another. It has been found that trauma has been passed down from Jewish generations effected by the Holocaust, he said. The same has occurred with black folks as a result of slavery, he said. What may be seen as a cultural practice might actual be trauma passed down to another generation, Walker said.
The Bush Foundation awarded 24 fellowships for its 2017 award cycle. Approximately 650 people applied for fellowships. The fellowship awards up to $100,000 per recipient to be used during a 12-24 month period to expand their experiences and education to become more effective leaders in their community. The fellowship is open to anyone age 24 and older who lives in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, or the 23 native nations who share the same geography.
Contact Kevin Miller at [email protected]