By Barney Blakeney
Over 2,500 students from 14 Charleston County School District high schools are set to graduate this week. About 35 percent of the 2017 seniors were African American at the 135-day school year count. Some 75 percent of African American seniors in the class of 2016 graduated. At Charleston Southern University 657 students graduated, 23 percent were African American. And The Citadel Class of 2017 graduated 571 cadets of which 50 are Black. More than 1,000 students graduated from the Medical University of South Carolina since last summer. About 63 were Black. And of the 1,755 graduates at Trident Technical College, 424 are Black. Whether from high school, college or kindergarten, graduation for African American students is an achievement. But what does it mean in the racially charged socio-economic atmosphere of the modern world? We asked two educators.
Anjene Davis is founder and managing partner of a comprehensive consulting and development firm that offers capacity-building services to non-profit, faith-based, grass roots organizations, government agencies, educational institutions, and other entities that serve the community. As a Charleston County School District employee and former North Charleston neighborhood association president, he has been a staunch advocate for schools and communities. Graduation is a significant milestone and for some, a rite of passage. For African American students graduation indicates education still is valued as a tool to navigate society, he said.
But Davis said he’s concerned that graduates in 2017 will face a world they didn’t create, one for which they may not be fully prepared. More importantly, Davis said he’s concerned that still too few African American students get to graduate – in Charleston County School District fewer than 50 percent and among Black male students the rate is even lower. For many of them graduation still doesn’t mean they are academically ready for college or the workforce. In a world that’s becoming more competitive, more important than the number of graduates, Blacks must consider the quality of the education they receive, he said.
Dr. Millicent Brown was among the first Black children to integrate South Carolina schools in 1963. A graduate of Rivers High School, she received her Bachelor of Arts Degree in History from the College of Charleston, a Master’s of Education from The Citadel and a Ph.D. in 20th Century U.S. History from Florida State University. More than 50 years after she attended local public schools, Brown says Charleston schools still aren’t integrated and points to a widening education achievement gap to note that attempts to integrate schools is not working as intended. The inability to achieve real integration and to confront that reality produces a result that passes students to achieve affirmative statistics more than educational accomplishment, she said.
Graduation for African American students today represents something much less than it did in past decades, Brown says. The complexity of the issues that factor into public education – the abilities or inabilities of teachers, what’s expected of students, systemic demands influenced by culture, funding, parental involvement – all produce a system that advocates teaching Gullah in lieu of demanding English be spoken in an English class, she said.
Capsulizing some of her thoughts about graduation for African American students in 2017, Brown said, “A lot of the problems that we see in high school are based on what didn’t happen in grade school.”