Monday, 16 March 2009 09:16
Atlanta, GA - One of the primary goals of Emerging Minds is to highlight the efforts of individuals and organizations that are truly committed to revolutionizing our community and are able to prove it through actions. Moreover, there is no better action to prove your commitment than institution building! This is why we are humbled to present you this brief Q&A with one of our community’s most committed Pan-African institution builders and founder of the Joseph Littles-Nguzo Saba Charter School, Amefika Geuka.
EmergingMinds.org: What circumstances in your life spurred you to start a charter school?
Amefika Geuka: I became aware of the charter school concept about the time it was first proposed as an alternative to public school "vouchers" back around 1990. I noted that charter schools offered an opportunity for racially-conscious black folks concerned with the proper education of our children to position ourselves to do something more than complain about the situation. I talked up the concept at every opportunity for the next few years in an attempt to get black folks to get in on the ground floor of what I perceived to be a potentially great opportunity for self-determination.
I attended the Million Man March on October 16, 1995 and was inspired by Minister Farrakhan's challenge that we should return to our respective homes and places and either join an organization working for the uplift of the black community, or create one. Two years later I was appointed to serve as a Commissioner for the West Palm Beach Housing Authority. I convinced my fellow Commissioners that we should start a charter school to serve children who resided in our units. Changes in the makeup of Board members later caused a breach in the intended relationship between the Authority and the school, so the two are no longer officially aligned, though the preponderance of students we serve are from families who rely on the public for their housing needs.
EmergingMinds.org: What was the biggest obstacle you had to overcome to get the school up and running?
Amefika Geuka: Apathy and complacency on the part of black folks, especially ‘black' educators, and the resulting lack of broad community support for our initiative. A relative ‘handful' of dedicated people were forced to do the work on behalf of an entire community, a task for which none of us was being compensated. Here was yet another example where a small group of volunteers was obliged to take on a monumental task that would benefit our entire community, especially our children; but with little or no help or resources.
Secondarily, School District officials were opposed to the charter school initiative and resisted our efforts every way they could. They predicted that even if we were to get our school open, it would likely close within three (3) months! That was over ten (10) years ago, and we're still here.
Thirdly; we lacked financial backing to acquire facilities suitable for educational purposes, or to enable us to offer competitive fringe benefits to attract the better teachers.
EmergingMinds.org: What is the overall mission of the Joseph Littles-NGUZO SABA Charter School?
Amefika Geuka: It is the mission and purpose of the JL-NSCS to enable its students to develop a correct and constructive understanding of the heritage and history of people of African descent, one that could facilitate pride and respect for self and others, and contribute to character building. By reclaiming and re-affirming their cultural heritage and history, students will have greater incentive to apply their natural talents and abilities to building a better quality of life for themselves and those who love and care for them. When thus imbued with a more positive self-concept, our students can potentially become change-agents for their respective families, doing for them what many black professional athletes and entertainers have historically done for their families and loved-ones: Break the "cycle of poverty."
Each and every black family has among its members at least one child who has potential to become a professional in one or another field of endeavor necessary to the betterment of life in America and the world. JL-NSCS seeks to identify these individuals early in their formative years, determine their aptitude and interests, set them on a path leading to their desired profession, provide the necessary support systems needed to maximize potential for success, and monitor their progress toward achieving their goals. Beyond developing individuals who will become change-agents for their respective families, JL-NSCS will inculcate a sense of civic responsibility in our students.
EmergingMinds.org: What are the reasons that Charter Schools typically struggle financially?
Amefika Geuka: The primary reason charter schools struggle financially is the inequity built into states' funding formulas for public charter schools. Typically charter schools receive money from the state to cover the costs of operating them, and some states provide a modicum of funds to apply toward their capital costs. Schools that serve children classified as "disabled" by federal criteria qualify for an additional amount for the provision of "special services" needed by such students.
The combinationof state and federal funds constitutes approximately 40 percent of the total per capita funding for public school students. The remaining 60 percent is derived from local ad valorem taxes levied for the construction and maintenance of public school facilities. Except in rare cases, charter schools receive none of these building and maintenance monies. As a result charter schools are obliged to divert substantial portions of their state operating dollars to pay for buildings and facilities. This is in large part why charter schools are often located in commercial structures that had to be converted to school uses.
Charter schools operated by "Education Management Organizations" (EMOs) receive subsidies from their parent organizations to cover their revenue shortfalls, and sometimes they receive additional funding from foundations. Charter schools operated by Blacks seldom if ever have the luxury of "deep-pocket" providers of supplemental financing.
EmergingMinds.org: How do you plan to overcome this?
Amefika Geuka: We are currently in the midst of a nation-wide fundraising campaign to raise $150,000.00 to cover our operating deficit. We are concurrently boosting our enrollment so that revenues for March through June, 2009 will be sufficient to cover operating costs for that period. Our campaign will continue through June 30, 2009 by which time we expect to have raised enough funds to cover our operating deficit for school year 2009/2010. Ultimately, we plan to create and fund an endowment so that our school will have recourse to supplemental funds in perpetuity.
We also expect that in the foreseeable future the Florida Legislature will see fit to correct the inequity in its formula for funding charter schools, and that will create the long-awaited "level playing field" between charter and traditional public school funding.
Our long-term plans call for replication of our school and expansion into a network of Nguzo Saba charter schools throughout Palm Beach County and selected counties elsewhere in the State of Florida.
EmergingMinds.org: Other than financial, what are some of the other major challenges the school faces in achieving its mission?
Amefika Geuka: Ironically, it has been our inability to win the hearts and minds of rank-and-file blacks for our African-centered cause. As ‘black' as our people may be racially, they are Americanized to a fault. They harbor a love-hate relationship with Europeans though none will admit to doing so. Their most fervent hope is to someday be accepted by white folks as ‘brothers' whose blood is the same color in spite of differences in color of skin. They believe the white man's ice is colder; his sugar sweeter, and his women more beautifully feminine.
Our founding goal was to build our school into an institution of such quality that everyone would want to enroll their children there in order to take advantage of the superior quality of education being dispensed.
We felt that by achieving that objective, black parents would surely bring their children and their vouchers to us when the opportunity presented itself. We must now admit that if vouchers were offered to our parents now, most would rush headlong to take them to the nearest Catholic or private school that would accept them. This mindset precludes middle-class parents from enrolling their "good" students in our school because they do not want their children to mix with their "ghetto" counterparts. This means that the type students who would contribute most to our goal of establishing educational excellence are those least likely to come our way, thus leaving us to do the best we can with students who have few other choices than to take advantage of what we have to offer.
EmergingMinds.org: What major milestones/goals do you expect the school to achieve over the next 5 years?
Amefika Geuka: First and foremost we must have a successful fundraising campaign. That would allow us to include items in our budget that we have not had funds for in the past. For example, we need funds for marketing, advertising, and promotion (MAP) of our school. A big part of the reason we have had so little success attracting students with good academic and behavioral ability is that we have no resources with which to advertise what we have to offer. A successful fundraiser would solve that problem.
We need to relocate our school to a campus designed and built for educating children, and ideally we would separate our elementary from our middle school grades. A new campus would also enable us to achieve our goal of establishing a strong science, technology, and communications focus for our students. Black children are naturally attracted to and gifted in science, though they do not realize that until and unless they are introduced to it effectively.
We want our children to spearhead a movement to gain prominence in water desalinization and biodiesel fuel production in particular.
We would also want to have gained the option to convert to a private school in the next five years, complete with adequate operating revenues and a well-funded endowment!
EmergingMinds.org: Is there a difference between a "Black" school and an African-centered school?
Amefika Geuka: Yes; definitely! Any school with a preponderance of "black" students can be and usually is considered a black school. Many, and in some cases, most schools in large urban centers are black by this definition. Such black schools as these are not necessarily controlled by "black" people unless the school board is predominantly black, and even then the orientation of the system in place may not reflect "blackness" at all, and most such are "Euro-centric" in their essence. Occasionally, "black" or "African studies" may be offered as electives at these European-centered schools. The best that can be expected of "black" schools is that they succeed in preparing black children to gain employment in white businesses or government.
By contrast, an African-centered school is one in which the orientation and curriculum are designed and intended to highlight the achievements and contributions of people of African descent to the forward flow of human civilization. Traditional schools, be they white or black, not only do not highlight African and Black achievement, but ignore and deny them for the most part, and marginalize them when they cannot be ignored. An African-centered school seeks to bring out the very best in character and accomplishment in its students, and pursuit of excellence is the hallmark.
African-centered schools seek to develop their students into individuals who are capable of employing people, rather than being employees; of being leaders rather than followers; and being "hosts" rather than parasites.
EmergingMinds.org: It is our understanding that you want to help other people start African-centered charter schools nation-wide; how do you intend to do this?
Amefika Geuka: We are approaching this as an integral part of organization-building by the NATIONALIST Black Leadership Coalition (NBLC), the vanguard organ for the Movement to Bring Back Black (BBB). Every chapter of the NBLC is expected to seek a charter for its members to operate an African-centered public school. The secondary focus for our member-operated schools will be new technologies with a special emphasis on biodiesel fuel production for members and the larger black community. Thus, as the NBLC grows through additional chapters, so will the number of African-centered charter schools and other educational and developmental initiatives.
In addition to our own internal NBLC efforts to expand black operation of charter schools, we are advocating for establishment of a nation-wide network African-centered education (ACE) initiatives, and an association made up of practitioners of ACE.
EmergingMinds.org: Thank you Baba Amefika for your time. Emerging Minds wishes you continued success and prosperity in fulfilling your mission.
To support the Joseph Littles-NGUZO SABA charter school please consider making a tax deductible donation by visiting the school's online donation portal at izania.com: http://www.izania.com/support-african-centered-education/
If you would like to contribute by check or if you have a proposal to start an African-Centered charter school, mail your tax deductible contribution or your proposal to the address below:
Joseph Littles-Nguzo Saba Charter School
5829 Corporate Way, West Palm Beach, Fl. 33407
ATTN: Amefika Geuka
You can also contact Amefica Geuka directly at (561) 689-1536