by Kamau Ptah
It is with great excitement that we launch this new blog through the Coalition of Schools Educating Boys of Color (COSEBOC) centered on one of the most ancient transformative learning systems known as rite of passage. Our focus will be to present conceptual frameworks from this indigenous transformational method and explore effective practices that can be integrated into 21st Century schools, educational institutions, organizations and homes that are interested in creating the optimal educational and socialization systems for boys and young men of color.
A rite of passage marks the significant stages of growth that takes place in a person’s life. This experience ushers in a new way of doing and being and helps to clarify one’s life calling or purpose. These intense educational and life experiences help guide people to an enlightened state of awareness about their personal powers and indwelling strengths. In this metaphoric journey from an old to new life, there is a symbolic death that occurs when the initiate transforms and embraces a calling that leads to new privileges and responsibilities. The rite of passage journey involves dying to one’s old self, entering into the unknown and returning to take a new life or direction. These stages of growth, whether through formal or informal experiences, take people through a series of challenges where a person will be wiser, stronger, more purpose driven and resilient upon completing the process.
In the absence of this ceremonial rite, young people, particularly boys and young men of color have been without a way to acknowledge meaningful life transitions. As a consequence, adolescence can pursue life oblivious to the demarcations into adulthood. The intrinsic need for some kind of initiation is so important that if it does not happen consciously, it will happen unconsciously, often in a dangerous form. The reality of the absence of passages can best be articulated by Malidoma Some’ in his book entitled, Ritual – Power, Healing and Community, where he asserts, “Where ritual is absent, the young ones are restless or violent, there are no real elders, and the grown-ups are bewildered. The future is dim.”
Just imagine if our boys and young men were in schools that centered the focus on identifying, claiming and living according to their cultural legacy of excellence and their life’s purpose. Just raising the question begins the quest for the realization of the essential self. When this quest begins, the relevance of school and the significance of learning becomes paramount to the initiate. The renowned educator, psychologist and historian, Asa Hilliard once asserted that in educational reform there has never been an effort to create the process of identifying purpose as a foundational precept in the learning arena. For children of color identity is paramount for beginning the process of identifying, claiming and living one’s life purpose. Research has revealed that learning about identity through culture increases academic outcomes for children of color.
In-school rite of passage experiences have the capacity to guide young men to the threshold of their authentic self, where they are given essential tools to manifest their sacred missions. Once this mission is identified, these boys and young men embrace their vulnerabilities, take risks (personal and academic) and confront their fears as they journey life and school with new intelligences and sensibilities that will support their affirmative development and transformation.
Our next blog will focus on an exemplary in school rite of passage model, known as the COSEBOC 444 Sankofa Passages Program. Stay tuned for the amazing feats of this powerful program that transformed the lives of hundreds of boys and young men of color in the School District of Philadelphia.
Conclusively, each week we will present a Rite of Passage Trial for leaders who are considering establishing a rite of passage initiative in your learning community. I challenge you to identify an intergenerational co-ed group (55 and older to 12 years of age) and facilitate a dialogue on the following 3 questions:
If you are interested in starting a rite of passage program in your school or community, contact Margaret Jones at Mfjones@coseboc.org or call (855) 267-3262 Ext. 34.