The Paul Robeson – Malcom X Academy honors past leaders by developing their successors
Named after two black icons—Paul Robeson, a famed black actor, sing-er, social activist and Malcolm X, a former leader of the Nation of Is-lam—the Paul Robeson -Malcolm X Academy recognizes and celebrates the cultural heritage of its name sakes and student population, which have flourished under this learning umbrella that infuses culture in dai-ly learning.Naysayers, who wonder if such pro-grams work, need only look at the 21 point gain in writing on the Michigan Educational Assessment Program or MEAP test last year. The past truly informs and positions the present at this school. – Editor
History is celebrated every day at the Paul Robeson–Malcolm X Acad-emy, a Detroit Public School dedicated to paying homage to African American leaders through the success of its stu-dents, who are expected to better their predeces-sors’ acts of courage by excelling academ-ically, regardless ob-stacles.A fire may have damaged the Albert Kahn-designed, goth-ic structure on Fenkell at Linwood in 2011, but the spirit of the school s’ administrators and students is seemingly invincibleSupporters have learned to over-come obstacles, which began with protests among predominantly White residents surrounding the school’s opening in 1992.
Much has changed since that time, now the once unwelcome school is an anchor of the neighborhood, whose culture and contributions are celebrat-ed by the community.“This school is truly one of DPS’ jew-els that embodies the rich history that IS Detroit,” said Dr. Jeffery Robinson, principal of the Paul Robeson–Malcolm X Academy.THE IMPORTANCE OF KNOWING WHERE YOU CAME FROMDr. Clifford D. Watson, the founder and first principal of Malcolm X Acad-emy, fought to open the school recog-nized as the first public African-cen-tered school in the United States.Despite challenges, the school has stayed the course and remains true to its African-centric curriculum. “We hold a standard in terms of the district’s initiative to be African-cen-tered, which is the process of making students the center of all learning; teaching students what African Ameri-cans contributed to American society and to the world,” explained Dr. Rob-inson.
“African-centered education is about teaching children to have full pride in who they are, their culture, their heritage and also to ensure that culture and heritage is respected, not trampled or walked over, or found to be insignificant,” he added. “African Americans have some of the richest histories and cultures of anyone in the world.”Dr. Robinson said the African-cen-tered curriculum at Paul Robeson-Mal-colm X Academy allows his students to truly know where they came from.
“We want our students to know that they descend from a line of kings and queens,” he said. “It’s only when stu-dents know where they came from that they are able to know where they can go from here. We’re teaching our chil-dren to have full pride in their heritage, to learn and incorporate that heritage into who they are, and into the adults they will become.”
And most importantly, once they receive an education, they are du-ty-bound to come back and give back.THE MAMA OF PAUL ROBESON- MALCOLM X ACADEMYIn keeping with the school’s Afri-can-centered heritage, all women at the school are called “Mama” and all men are called “Baba.”
For the long-standing Local School Community Organization (LSCO) Pres-ident Audrey Nelson, that namesake is even more meaningful than honoring the African culture.
“When I’m here, or even if I’m not here because I’m a representative of the school, I’m the mother of all the chil-dren here… I love each and every one of them just like they are my own,” she said. “When a parent participates in a child’s education, the child actually does bet-ter,” according to Nelson, whose three children attended the academy. “You can’t just leave it entirely up to the staff. Parents have to participate.”“I LEARN SOMETHING NEW EVERY DAY.”
Eighth-grade student Kayla Young attended Paul Robeson-Malcolm X Academy since pre-school.“Every day, I learned something new,” said the 14-year-old. “And it helped me not only with school, but how to handle personal conflicts bet-ter.”Student Anthony Daniels, credits the school’s focus on African hertitage for preparing him for high school and college.Both students participated in men-toring programs offered by Michigan State University.The MSU “My Brother’s Keeper” pro-gram, initiated by Dr. Watson in 1990, is supported by 25 African-American MSU students who commit to mentor 45 middle school students to prepare them for college life. This program, originally designed specifically for males attending the (then) all male Malcolm X Academy now supports a sister program for girls coined “Daughters of the Collective.”
Paul Robeson-Malcolm X students also participate in the MSU GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readi-ness for Undergraduate programs), a statewide, sustained and collaborative effort that provides early intervention services and a scholarship component to low-income, underrepresented stu-dents and parents. The students visit MSU twice per month, sometimes overnight, and also take courses on campus on Saturdays. Paul Robeson-Malcolm X Academy also has fine arts and educational partner-ships with Wayne State University and the University of Michigan-Dearborn.