During a recent site visit to our Mississippi Leadership Academy, I had the good fortune of meeting 5 year Kaiden Johnson in Biloxi, Mississippi. He is a student at the Early Learning Center directed by Mrs. Eula Crowell, a dedicated champion for poor and underserved families and their children. On a financial shoestring, Mrs. Crowell and her able staff produce young scholars between the ages of 4 and 5 who leave her center ready, willing and able to read. In fact she has been so successful with her teaching approaches that the Biloxi School District sends teachers to her center for professional development.
Following a brief discussion, Mrs. Crowell told me about Kaiden describing him as a bit of a terror – hard-headed, talks back, and sticks his tongue out at adults. She then called him in from recess to demonstrate his reading ability. In a few minutes, in walks a diminutive boy wearing brown cowboy boots with his shirt slightly untucked from his pants. He looks spirited and feisty. I ask him his name and he says Kaiden. I ask him if he is smart and he says yes sir! I ask if he can read. His response is a loud yes sir! Then Kaiden did his thing. He reads well and with confidence and bravado.
Given our Gathering theme, “Young, Gifted and Literate: Prepared Boys and Young Men for the Twenty-First Century,” the opportunity to hear this young scholar read with fluency was energizing. However, it also reminds me of the critical importance of surrounding children like Kaiden with determined individuals like Eula Crowell. She sees potential, talent and promise where others might see a disruptive, disrespectful student with discipline problems. It is up to all of us who have students like Kaiden to see beyond their external façade and tap their internal energy, inquisitive spirit, and desire to excel.
The annual Gathering serves as an oasis for the committed educators and advocates who are invested in the success of their male students. It’s a time to network, break bread together, share practices that work, while understanding the challenges that must be addressed. Above all it is time to renew energies required to affirmatively develop and educate boys and young men of color. The Kaiden Johnsons of the nation deserves our very best efforts.
See you in Chicago,