When I first became a professional journalist with the AFRO back in 1989, the first story I ever wrote was about the Baltimore City Public Schools and the superintendent (that’s what they were called back then) at the time Richard Hunter. “Hunter Bombshell Still Seething,” was the headline of the front page story, which unpacked Hunter’s attempted re-organization of BCPS headquarters at North Avenue. That was January 1989, less than a year later, Hunter was out as superintendent.
But, that’s beside the point.
Sean Yoes (Courtesy Photo)
A few months later after that first story, I was the AFRO’s full-time education reporter and I began producing a page titled, “AFRO School of the Week,” which focused a spotlight on the good works of schools in the BCPS.
I suspect this would be a pretty good time to reinstitute the School of the Week page, and throw some shine on the gems within the beleaguered BCPS ($130 million deficit among other ills).
I was recently introduced to a school which would be the perfect subject for a 2017 version of ASOTW, the Benjamin Banneker Eubie Blake Academy for Arts and Sciences, in East Baltimore.
When I arrived at the all-boys middle school (it serves 6th-8th grade, however for this school year Banneker-Blake is 6th and 7th graders only) a couple of weeks ago (for an unrelated reason) I was welcomed by my friend, former Baltimore City Councilman Carl Stokes, who is a co-founder of the school. After I finished talking with Stokes, he introduced me to another co-founder of Banneker-Blake, Edwin Johnson, who proudly gave me a tour of the school, darting me from room to room where each time I entered a classroom, I was eagerly greeted by a dignified young man donned in coat and tie. I later found out those young men act as the classroom, “diplomats,” whose responsibility is to make visitors to that classroom feel welcome and to explain what’s going on without disrupting the lesson and the rest of the class.
“There is a low expectation of Black kids, particularly Black males and it’s done systematically,” Edwin Johnson said. “A lot of our teachers in this system have low expectations,” he added.
However, this charter school is setting the bar high for Black boys (despite the fact many of them come from some of the more impoverished neighborhoods of the city), offering “a rigorous science, technology, engineering and math curriculum.”
Banneker-Blake’s school day is extended and they go to school year round, with three to four weeks of instruction during the summer.
“For every decision, there is a decision…what you do in middle school, effects what you do in high school, which effects if you want to go to college,” said Thereas Farr, secretary of the school’s board members.
“It’s not just what their learning, but how they apply what they learn…what they are teaching in the class and how it makes them understand that they have a say in society,” Farr said.
Vaughn DeVaughn, who teaches social studies and geography at Banneker-Blake says the young men are making the transition from school being simply a place of social interaction, versus a thoughtful place with a higher purpose.
“They are starting to make the connection that what I do here, will impact my life later on,” DeVaughn said. “It is a challenge..they are at that age where they just want to play and learning isn’t that important, they don’t see the bigger picture. So, for us as professors trying to instill in them that they are going to be something great…us trying to pull them in the right direction is a challenge, but they’re getting there,” he added.
Akilah Sanchez, a language arts teacher from Harlem, New York, says her uncle helped prepare her for the reality of teaching Black boys in Baltimore, within a public school system many argue is not crafted for their success.
“‘You don’t understand the impact of what you are about to do,’” her uncle warned, later telling his niece about the abysmal reading scores of many Black boys in the BCPS. “When I got here my mantra, my motto has always been, failure is not an option, mediocrity is not a choice. So, when I got… to be a part of this (Banneker-Blake) mission, this vision I felt like, this is it, this is what your uncle had been telling you. And I said to myself, this is the beginning of your purpose,” Sanchez added.
And the goal of Banneker-Blake is to imbue all of their young men with a sense of purpose.
“We’re trying to teach them that every last one of them has a purpose and has a value to society,” Farr said. “That you can be whatever you want to be.”
Sean Yoes is a senior contributor for the AFRO and host and executive producer of, AFRO First Edition, which airs Monday through Friday, 5 p.m.-7 p.m. on WEAA, 88.9.