by Chamidae Ford
On Wednesday evening, Feb. 17, the Academy for Creating Excellence (ACE) hosted their second installment of the Black Educators Cafe, a series dedicated to helping Black people in the education field find community and support.
In August of 2020, ACE received a grant from the City of Seattle as part of an initiative to invest in youth mentorship and diversity programs. By partnering with the City’s Department of Education and Early Learning, ACE has been able to expand its reach beyond students and has begun working with Black educators as well.
These events were created to provide a safe space for Black educators, providing a virtual place where they can discuss issues that their Black students face and also their experiences working in a predominantly white field.
Currently, Black people only make up 0.7% of teachers in Washington State, in sharp contrast to the fact that 4.3% of students in the state are Black.
“We realized that a lot of our young men in the schools [and] in these spaces do not have the opportunity to really see themselves in the classroom,” said Willie Seals III, Co-Founder of ACE. “Meaning being taught by adult teachers who look like them.”
The Black Educator Cafe events not only provide support but provide networking opportunities for educators.
“It [is] an opportunity for them to continue to grow professionally and really be able to be in a space where they could teach the way they want to teach and be able to help young men [and] be able to see themselves in the classroom and to continue to grow and to continue to grow their practice,” Seals said.
The two-hour, Feb. 17 event covered a wide range of topics. During the cafe, attendees were given questions and then they broke into small groups to discuss topics before reconvening for a conversation with the full group. Questions ranged from “what issues have been historically left out of discussions concerning the Black community in education?” to “how does whiteness show up in our everyday lives?” The goal was to allow educators to talk about the many issues they face in their jobs and how to work through them. It also provided opportunities for educators to speak about their own experiences with racism in the workforce.
“What we wanted to do is basically provide a safe space for not only for our young Black males but also provide a safe space for Black male educators as well,” Seals said.
Because many of these Black educators work in schools where they may be the only Black educator in the building, ACE wanted to create a resource specifically for them. Seals compared the isolation many Black educators face to being alone on an island.
“So when they’re on that island by themselves, it’s like — man, ‘who do I reach out to? Who do I connect with? Who do I network with?’ And so I believe that [Black Educators Cafe] is the space that ACE has been able to provide [for them],” Seals said.
And while these events have been focused on Black educators, ACE has also been serving the young Black men in their community for nine years. Founded in 2012 by Marcus Harden, Clarence Dancer Jr., and Willie Seals, ACE was created to address the issues that young Black men face.
“We came together just thinking that a lot of the issues that were happening within the community, as far as the Black community, especially with Black boys, hasn’t changed since we were in high school [and] not only in high school but just in school period with Seattle Public Schools.”
They address these issues by working closely with young Black men and boys throughout the area and across age groups. The organization hosts after-school programs connected with a variety of schools in the Seattle, Highline, and Renton Public School districts. ACE also has a summer program and a Saturday School program, all of these programs dedicated to helping young Black men in their community grow.
ACE’s philosophy is constructed upon a foundation of four pillars — reflected in the acronym, F.A.M.E.: family, academics, motivation, and environment. These are four areas of the founders’ lives they find most important to create well-rounded adults on a career path they are passionate about.
Family support is the “foundation, the building blocks,” Seals said. All three of the founders have families of their own, which have given each of them a deep belief in the importance of family in helping young Black men prioritize strong relationships that provide a supportive and loving community.
For ACE, academics extends beyond the four walls of the classroom. “We are learning from coaches. We are learning in the classroom. We are learning from family,” Seals said. The idea is to find education and knowledge from all aspects of your life and help students find their drive and harness it so they can grow. This aspect of F.A.M.E is taking knowledge and drive and reinvesting it back into the community.
By partnering with schools, nonprofits, and school districts in their community, ACE is able to work closely with students and their teachers to introduce them to these core values. They also have their Saturday program and summer program which young men are able to apply for to participate. Their staff of 12, who are all certified educators in the areas they teach, work closely with the students to help them recognize their goals and encourage compassion and healthy lifestyles to help them get on the right track.
“We just want to be able to create a safe space for our participants, from our Black males, from our staff to the parents, to be able to grow and engage and connect with one another,” Seals said.
Chamidae Ford is a recent journalism graduate of the University of Washington. Born and raised in Western Washington, she has a passion for providing a voice to the communities around her. She has written for The Daily, GRAY Magazine, and Capitol Hill Seattle. Reach her on IG/Twitter: @chamidaeford.
Featured image courtesy of Willie Seals III.
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