Black Community Leaders Effort Under Attack

by Duncan Kirkwood

In Buffalo, over 400 students drop out of Buffalo Pubic Schools each year and the vast majority are Black students from our community. Last year, a group of Black community leaders came together to address the high school dropout crisis in Buffalo. Their intention is to create a school called Learn 4 Life Buffalo that will serve students that have dropped out of high school or who are in danger of dropping out. Students will receive a Regent’s diploma upon completion of the program, which will get them back on track to fulfill their potential. 

There are 6 members of the team: Karima Amin, who has over 30 years of teaching experience in BPS; Bishop Michael Badger, who is the Pastor of Bethesda World Harvest International Church and a longtime community leader; Crystal Rodriguez, who is the Chief Diversity Officer at Buffalo State College; Ivy Diggs-Washington, who is the Director of Workforce Development for the Buffalo Urban League; Ron Brown, who is an Accountant with AccounTax of WNY Inc. and a longtime community leader; and Phil Dabney, who is assistant counsel with Buffalo Municipal Housing. 

School board member and teacher union representative Larry Scott is leading a secret effort to try to push the Board of Regents to deny this school from being approved. I say secret because on September 8, Larry Scott sent an email out to dozens of people including several people’s work emails who work for Buffalo Schools asking them to join his cause. In the email he specifically asked that BPS staff and others do not post on social media. We can only conclude that he does not want the community to find out that he and some other board members are trying to destabilize the effort to help Black students who have dropped out of high school.   

We as taxpayers are paying a school board member and several employees of BPS to find ways to undermine our community. We as a community have to fight oppression and White supremacy everywhere we see it. Creating this school on the East side of Buffalo will help students who have dropped out of high school immensely. Also, it will bring money to the district. For each student that is in BPS the school district gets around $25,000. When a student leaves a BPS school to go to a charter school, 2/3 of that money for the child to be educated follows the child to the charter school. The district keeps 1/3. But, when a student drops out of BPS, there is no more money allocated to educate that child, $0. Learn 4 Life Buffalo will recruit those students who have dropped out and bring them back into the educational system to work towards a Regent’s diploma. The district still only gets 1/3 of the money for that child to be educated while 2/3 goes to the school that will actually educate that child, but 1/3 is a lot more than nothing, which is what they were getting when the student dropped out. 

This school will also help the BPS graduation rate. Instead of a student dropping out counting against the BPS graduation rate, they will be counted as a transfer once they enroll in Learn 4 Life Buffalo. This is a win win all the way around. It is unfortunate that this school board member thinks that he and the super majority White teacher’s union think that they know better than Karima Amin, Bishop Michael Badger, Crystal Rodriguez, Phil Dabney, Ron Brown, and Ivy Diggs-Washington about what is best for Black students in our community. We look to leaders for leadership. Despite what representatives from the district say, there is a dropout crisis in Buffalo, and the district is not doing a good job of providing resources for these students. BPS should be looking to partner with Learn 4 Life so that we can serve ALL of the young people of this city. That is what the education system is supposed to be about, not power struggles and pettiness.