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        Global Voices Online - The world is talking. Are you listening?
        Friday, June 08, 2007
        I spoke too soon?

        I bragged about Africa having certain things together etc. when I heard about the documentary called The Boys of Baraka. It's a documentary about 20 inner city boys from Baltimore, Maryland who go all the way to Baraka Boarding School in Kenya to learn a thing or two about responsibility, self-respect, achievement etc over two years.

        I watched the documentary a few minutes ago and I was left with a big "Huh?" The boys crossed the Atlantic to learn from white Americans about some life-changing virtues in a remote part of Kenya. It really didn't make sense to me to take them all the way to Africa and show them the ways to be socially responsible. Most of them changed their lives around and took education seriously and all after the Kenya trip. One finished high school with flying colours and joined a college. Still, I wonder what being in Africa contributed to their change. In the entire film, you don't see the kids interacting with Kenyans.

        I totally agree with the whole idea of removing inner state kids from their violent neighbourhoods and disfunctional families to give a break in life to do kids stuff and focus on their education.
        African-American boys have a very high chance of being incarcerated or killed before they reach adulthood. In Baltimore, one of the country's most poverty-stricken cities for inner-city residents, the Baraka School project was founded to break the cycle of violence through an innovative education program that literally removed young boys from low-performing public schools and unstable home environments.

        Fair enough, but how about sending the kids to some remote village in Wyoming?

        The movie starts with some kids playing gangster, victim & cop - a sad reflection of their reality in the hood. The next shot is in a school where kids are behaving wild while a teacher is trying to get their attention. Then comes Ms. Jackson, the recruiter for Barak School, talking about the program. Her style of grabbing the kids' attention and selling the school in Kenya was dubious. Her examples were "As young men in Baltimore, most of you have three choices before you turn 18- an orange jumpsuit with a nice bracelet around your arms (jail) or a nice black suit and a brown box (death) or a black gown, a nice cap and a diploma in your hand." Half way through her orientation talk, she asked how many of the kids have been suspended and a bunch of hands shot up in the air. Her response, "none of you are going to graduate from high school. That's why we have a program like the Baraka School...."

        Nice, real nice! Ask any social worker involved with disadvantaged inner city kids and they'll tell you that lack of positive self-image (from all the negative crap around them) and role models are the main challenge. Then you have the likes of Ms. Jackson who starts unloading on the kids like that as if they are not aware of what life has in store for them. Richard for example, who's only 13, describes his neighbourhood as "[It] is all about drugs." He sees Baraka as a way out because all he wants to do is "get out of [his neighbourhood]".

        You realize how desperate the situation in America's inner cities is when you hear people's opinions about the trip to Kenya. Richard's mother felt fortunate to have two of her sons accepted at Baraka School. When she was asked what if one of her boys was not accepted, her reply was "Don't make one a king and the other a killer!" Devon, 12, had a nice farewell at a community celebration. The man who was speaking about Devon was overly enthusiastic for "one of our own to go to Africa to learn". This is the USA. Kids shouldn't go to Africa to learn. Where did the system go wrong?

        Montrey, 12, is hard-core inner city toughie. If somebody says something x-rated about his mama, he gonna say something nasty about his mother that "Jehova witness wouldn't believe that". He's been suspended 8 times in the same year, but he is going to be a "scientist, chemical scientist, chemologist." He's going to get his "masters, bachelors, I think you call it GhD or PhD, TLC and all that". At least, he is on the right track.

        Once in Africa...
        The main message of the Head Master was "deal with your problems appropriately. Do not resort to violence". Electricity is only a certain hours a day, no telie and vigorous physical exercise at the crack of dawn. The difference between the people who speak to the kids in Baltimore and at the Baraka school is that the people at the Baraka school try to instill in the kids that the sky is the limit for them. They constantly tell the kids that there is no reason why they shouldn't shouldn't be enrolled in ANY college in Baltimore. Now, that's a positive way of talking to kids.

        After the Baraka school experience, the transformation within each child was obvious and impressive. But I still ask did being stuck in the bush with little electricity and no telie contributed to the postive change? Or is it because of the respect and gentle guidance they get from the staff of Baraka School? Perhaps the kids from Baltimore did interact with Kenyan kids, but you don't see that in the film.

        Although their interaction with Kenyans was missing from the film, they obviously took a lesson or two from the locals. Devon was happy to be amongst people who look like him - black and poor. Montrey noticed how people don't talk loud "and they look unified." He also noticed how people make do with very little. What is fascinating is how all of them were bored out of their minds when they went home for the summer.

        The kids benefited a lot from the program. You can tell from the emotions that poured out when the parents were informed that the program was suspended due to security issues. Most of the parents argued that the streets of Baltimore were more dangerous than the Baraka School. The kids were also depressed about going back to Baltimore.

        My question remains, couldn't the same program be made available for the kids in Baltimore? In the US, one of the richest countries in the world, expense for education of children should not even be an excuse. Obviously, it's cheaper to build a boarding school in Kenya than in the US. But these are American children and America should help them get good education and a safe environment to grow up in.
        posted by Fikirte @ 3:02 PM   Digg!
        4 Comments:
        • name<="c6732232567699018363" id="c6732232567699018363">

          At 8:22 AM, Anonymous Yemi said…

          Interesting!

          I would like to see that documentary. That is what I miss about being in the US, documentaries, NPR, Frontline (the whole of PBS actually).

          But you are right, I hope they interacted more with Kenya and Kenyans.

           
        • name<="c2128781128213012428" id="c2128781128213012428">

          At 1:59 PM, Anonymous dara said…

          I agree. There was nothing significant that took place that warrants them being sent to Kenya as opposed to some other remote place away from their violent and depressing neighborhoods. The film could have just as easily been called The Boys of Cheyenne (Wyoming). But overall, I think the program was/is a good idea. A change of environment did wonders for some of the boys. Remember Montrey? I think he eventually was accepted into a prestigious school after having one of the highest scores on a standardized test. Before the program no one knew how smart he was. I don't think he even knew.

           
        • name<="c5833504483412866414" id="c5833504483412866414">

          At 2:40 PM, Blogger Fikirte said…

          Yemi - I know what you mean about missing good TV program :-)

          Dara - I totally agree with you that a change of environment did wonders.I worked in a "central ghetto" in Orlando and I saw the need for it. But I still question the reasoning behind sending American inner city kids all the way to Africa. Have you seen in the Bonus stuff that the main reason why they went to Kenya was because it was cheaper to build there.... That fact points to how the US system is broken at several points.

           
        • name<="c3913292524771110030" id="c3913292524771110030">

          At 11:41 PM, Anonymous imnakoya said…

          I've seen the movie. Your question is valid - why Kenya and not some remote setting in the US?
          The organizer of the program chose Kenya because, I think, being away from one comfort zone helps - it has some positive psychological impact to life - that staying within America would not have provided.

          The boys may not have interacted much with the locals, their observations of life within that remote society in Kenya was an "eye-opener". The people were black, but act differently from what the boys are used to. The only white folks they see are their teachers and supervisors. No TV, no McDonalds, no electricity, no distractions of 'modern life'. Even when one of the boys got tired and wanted to leave, he realized this wasn't going to happen.

          It's a pity the program had to be terminated abruptly. All the boys needed was some attention in a non- distracting and stable environment - and for someone to put a "body on 'em" - as Cosby stated.

          Strange that the model hasn't been replicated (and funded by African Americans) across the US. The movie is one of the best documentaries I seen in a long time!

           
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