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Fifty Years Later: America is Still Two Nations –one white, one black; separate and unequal

March 23, 2018

by Karsonya Wise Whitehead, published in The Baltimore Sun


Fifty years ago this week, the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders that was organized by Lyndon B. Johnson released the Kerner Commission Report, named for its chairman, Otto Kerner Jr. It attempted to answer three questions in the wake of intense racial riots and unrest that had swept through the country: What happened? Why did it happen? And:What can be done to prevent it from happening again and again?

The report noted that our nation was “moving toward two societies, one black, one white — separate and unequal.” Commission members concluded that this division was the result of failed government housing, the lack of decent education and social-service policies and the narrative that had been created by mainstream media who reported the news while looking out from a “white man’s eyes and a white perspective.”

They suggested that the main cause for urban violence was white racism and that white America needed to fully and completely shoulder most of the responsibility for the rioting and rebellion that was happening across the country. In 1967 alone, more than 1,800 (mostly black) people had been injured, and 83 people had been killed. The property damages were valued at upwards of $100 million in over 120 cities.

The Kerner Report outlined some broad solutions to promoting racial integration — on top of the laws that took effect a few years earlier: the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed discrimination and prohibited unequal application of voter registration requirements, racial segregation in schools, employment and public accommodation; and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibited racial discrimination in voting.

Specifically, the commission called for the creation of more jobs and job training programs, the establishment of decent housing and increased financial aid to black communities.

Johnson rejected the report because it did not praise his anti-poverty program, but conversations started taking place across the country as some black and white communities tried to work together to find solutions to bridge the divide. And, 30 years later, in 1998, the Eisenhower Foundation commissioned a follow-up report. The news was not good.

It found that there was more poverty in America; that it was “deeper, blacker and browner than before”; and that it was more concentrated in cities, which had become “America’s poorhouses.” Even with all of the conversations and policies, the laws and the direct intervention, America was still a racially and economically divided nation.

Since then, America elected the nation’s first black president (twice). We’ve seen the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, and the impact of the work many of us have done to help create a more diverse, open, accountable and inclusive society.

We’ve also seen the election of a president who actively works against us. Despite the protests and marches and ongoing pushback against him, with every decision, tweet or comment that he makes, Donald Trump encourages a world that is more white, more racist, more classist, more exclusive, more misogynistic and more frightening.

America is still clearly a divided nation. This is not a startling revelation. It is a simply a fact. So it’s no wonder that a new report released this week, “Healing Our Divided Society: Investing in America Fifty Years After the Kerner Report,” says “there are far more people who are poor now than was true 50 years ago. Inequality of income is worse.”

This latest report — which included input from black people, Latinos, Native Americans and women — concludes that since 1968 the country has not only had a widening gap in poverty but there has been a noted and concentrated lack of, or reversal of, progress. In other words, the lines of division are getting worse.

Its authors also offered suggestions, similar in scope to the ones that were offered in 1968:

  • Spending more money on early childhood education;
  • Increasing the minimum wage to $15 by 2024,
  • Adding more regulatory oversight over mortgages to prevent predatory lending;
  • Establishing community policing that works in concert with nonprofits in inner-city communities;
  • And adding more job training programs in an era of automation and emerging technologies.

They also called on the mainstream media to hire more people of color to cover and report the news, particularly in the communities of color.

So, 50 years after the Kerner Report, the country is worse off, but the solutions, the way to turn the tide, have not changed.

My hope is that this time, we will not let those in power forget. We will not let them dismiss the report. And we will not let them continue to move us farther away from where we want to be: one nation, one society, inclusive, diverse and equal.

Karsonya Wise Whitehead (; Twitter: @kayewhitehead) is the #blackmommyactivist and an associate professor of communication and African and African American studies at Loyola University Maryland. She is the host of “Today With Dr. Kaye” on WEAA 88.9 FM and the author of “Letters to My Black Sons: Raising Boys in a Post-Racial America.”

“At My Baltimore School, they played ‘Let’s get the black boy.’ I was the black boy.” –my son’s Wash Post OpEd

November 19, 2017

Image Courtesy: Huffington Post

by Kofi Elijah Whitehead, OpEd published in the 11/19/2017 Washington Post

When I was little, my dad used to take our family to the track and let us race against each other. The winner always got to choose dessert. I used to try to figure out which lane I needed to be in so I could outrun my father and my brother. My mom used to laugh as she told me that the only person I was ever running against was the person I was yesterday. She said that the hard lessons are learned over and over again and that the real challenge is to come face to face with the person we used to be and outrun him. I knew she was not talking about track, but I could not understand how I could outrun myself.

I have been in private schools in Baltimore City all my life. When I was in elementary school, I was the only African American boy in my grade. Every day, I was reminded in subtle ways that I did not belong and that I was different. There were two communities: The first was built within the school, where teachers did what they could to include me. The second was harder to understand because it was built over the weekend and during after-school, parent-arranged play dates. My family and I were rarely invited or included.

When I was 6, a boy in my class made up a game called “Let’s get the black boy.” I do not remember the details, but I do remember that I spent the entire recess running. I do not know if it was because I was scared or if I was just playing the game.

I still attend school with the boy who made up the game and most of the boys who played it. They probably do not remember, but I do and my mother does. It was one of the moments that marked our family and defined who we were going to be in this world. My mother changed her career at that moment and devoted herself to doing diversity training to confront these issues within the schools.

I am almost 17, and I am still running against that 6-year-old boy who spent the entire recess running away. I tell myself often that if a moment like that happens again — when I am faced with racism, white supremacy and racial insensitivity, even cloaked in childhood games — I want to be able to stand instead of run, and I want to be able to clearly articulate what my white classmates are doing with those games.

I thought about this a few weeks ago when racially charged Halloween photographs showing white students dressed in prison garb went viral. The photos included racist captions as they were passed around social media. My white classmates seemingly could not understand what our classmate in one of the photos had done wrong.

There was very little empathy and few attempts to seek understanding; some students counterprotested to stand with our classmate. It was hard for me because I believe that there is a direct correlation between that childhood game that was never challenged or discussed and growing up to believe that racial insensitivity and intolerance are things that should be taken lightly.

My classmates and I talked about this recent incident almost every day. I tried to explain what was wrong with these photographs and what they say about race relations at my school and in this community. I talked with my parents, trying to figure out how to make my white classmates understand what it means to be black and male in America. There are days when I do not completely understand it myself.

There are days when I feel like every other 11th-grader, consumed with thoughts of the upcoming exams or college or girls. Some days, I do not think about being black, or that I attend schools that would have denied admission to my grandfather, or the gnawing feeling that I am, as Maya Angelou wrote, the hope and dream of the slave. Those are the days when I feel normal and when I can breathe. It is during those other moments, when I am trying to articulate what it feels like to be black in America, when I am painfully aware that the color of my skin is steeped in a legacy of enslavement, Jim Crow, mass incarceration, Black Lives Matter and white kids chasing a lone black boy around the playground while white teachers looked on but never interceded.

I know that for some people, the Halloween incident was just a set of photographs, but for me and for people who look like me, it was yet another reminder that no matter how fast we run, how successful we become or how hard we try, we will never outrun the image of the black man that the white world sees.

Kofi Elijah Whitehead is an 11th-grader in Baltimore.




Charlottesville and the Worship of Whiteness (an Afro OpEd)

August 28, 2017

by Karsonya Wise Whitehead, published in the Afro


There is a chasm that exists between the created notion of Whiteness and the reality of Black and Brownness in America. It is neatly stitched into the social fabric that defines who we are as a country. At our core, we are a divided nation. It is as true today as it was in 1967, when in the midst of national civil unrest and rioting, Lyndon B. Johnson organized the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorder  (the “Kerner Commission”) to study what happened and what can be done to prevent it from happening again.

The Kerner Report, released in March 1968 (one month before Dr. King was assassinated) noted that our nation was moving toward becoming two societies, one Black, one White—separate and unequal. They blamed failed government housing, education, and social-service policies; along with the mainstream media for reporting the news while looking out from a White world with a “White man’s eyes and a White perspective.”

It is now 2017, and even with all of the strides that we have made to become more diverse, open, accountable, and inclusive, at this moment, it feels like nothing has changed. We are less than seven months into the America that Donald Trump is creating—the one where he has emboldened White nationalists, empowered White supremacists, and legitimized the rise of the alt-right neo-Nazi movement—and it is more divided, more White, more racist, more misogynistic, and more frightening than ever.

This past weekend as I watched the horrible events unfold in Charlottesville built on a foundation of horrible events that have been happening since the rise of the Black Lives Matter Movement, I realized that though it has taken almost 50 years, the Kerner Report has finally been realized. We have truly become two nations: one diverse and inclusive, one White and exclusive.

We are at the moment when the level of tolerance for racial discourse has been reached. The worship of Whiteness is dangerous for everyone, including White people. It ignores the realities of history, namely that the policies that have dominated this country for years were put in place to support and encourage White advancement, and it looks for a common enemy (an other) to terrorize, to blame, to oppress, and ultimately to destroy. This new America, or Donald Trump’s bastardized version of it, is not the America that good and decent people should want to live in.

The Kerner Report noted that the only way for America to change is for everyone to adopt “new attitudes, new understanding, and, above all, new will.” I would add that it will also take every White American to bend their privilege and speak up against this new reign of terror. The time for contemplative silence and social media activism has ended. We are now in a place where we must look into the mirror and decide what type of country we want to live in and how do we want to be remembered by future generations. We can not be the generation that allowed the voices of the few who cried out for exclusion, racism, hatred, bigotry and Whiteness to drown out the voices of many who are shouting out, with every fabric of their being, for liberty and justice for all.

I believe in the idea of democracy and in wresting with our foundational documents as we seek to become a more just and verdant nation. I just do not believe that a demagogue, someone who has built their career and reputation on exclusion and who supports racist ideologies and policies, can continue to represent the interests of a diverse nation.

There is so much about this Trump’s America that is unclear—from whose voices and lives will matter in the end to who will speak for those who will be unable to speak for themselves—but there are some things that are crystal: this man cannot continue to be our President; the worship of Whiteness and the silent support of White supremacy must be stopped; and, what happened in Charlottesville supposedly over the removal of a Confederate statute cannot be forgotten.

The battle lines are being drawn and history will record the side you choose, either deliberately or through your silent complicity, to stand with—choose wisely this day the America that you want to live in.

Dr. Karsonya Wise Whitehead is an associate professor of communication and African and African American studies at Loyola University Maryland. She is the author of “Letters to My Black Sons: Raising Boys in a Post-Racial America” and “Notes from a Colored Girl.”

Reclaiming My Time & My Money (Afro OpEd)

August 3, 2017
by: Dr. Karsonya Wise Whitehead, Special to the AFRO

“Black Women’s Equality Day,” was July 31; Dr. Karsonya Wise Whitehead wants America to pay up.

Thirty-seven cents, less than the cost of a candy bar. This is what the gender and racial pay gap looks like in America. There is a deep economic divide in America, where Black women are paid only 67 cents for every dollar that White non-Hispanic men do, even after controlling for education and years of experience.  According to the nonprofit Economic Policy Institute (EPI), with this economic disparity in place, it takes Black women an extra six months per year to make what their White male counterparts made in 12 months. This year, Black Women’s Equality Day fell on July 31st.


Two days before my birthday, and I was reminded all over again that I am a Black girl in America and that means something. I was seven years old the first time I was told this reality. I had spent the afternoon fighting my boy cousins and beating them in foot races through the woods. They were wearing shorts and I was wearing a skirt that I had tied between my legs like makeshift bloomers. My grandmother called me over and told me that I needed to start acting like a lady which meant that I had to stop fighting and racing. I had to clean the dirt off my face and start getting my hair pressed. I had to learn how to set the table and wash the dishes; how to sew, and hem, and iron sheets. While my boy cousins fished and built sand castles, I learned how to wash clothes and make the bed. I used to look at them out of the window, wishing that I could be a boy so that I could be free. This is the first time when I felt like I could not breathe. There was a feeling of anomia where I knew what was happening to me but I could not name it and none of the women in my life seemed to have the capacity (or words) to say it out loud. This feeling of gender inadequacy was reinforced in my church where I learned over and over again that the sin that plagued and infected our world came from a woman who dared to make her own decision. It took me years to become a Black feminist, to be able to recognize my gender and racial oppression and fight against it; to stop thinking that I had to be twice as smart as White people or work twice as hard as a man, to stop measuring myself against them as if they were the standard. This is what true internal oppression looks like when it is formed and shaped over a lifetime by a coagulation of feelings, emotions, subtext, inequality, intentional erasure, and perceptions of inferiority.

Most days I am able to balance my anger at the system with incredible moments of joy but there are some days that are more difficult than others. Black Women’s Equality Day is one of those days. It is the one day where I am brutally reminded that no matter how hard I work or how many degrees I have or how many pay raises I receive, I still have to work an extra six months to catch up to my White male peers. It is a race that I will never win or tie as it is designed for Black women to lose. It is a very blatant reminder that Black women, as Zora Neale Hurston once wrote, have always been and continue to be the mules of this world. We stand tall and yet, this 37 cents difference only shows us that society continues to benefit from riding the backs of Black women and exploiting our labor.

There are approximately three million American families that depend on the income that Black mothers earn and with this pay discrepancy, households are suffering. The tentacles of economic oppression find their way into every aspect of a Black woman’s life, from mortgage payments to childcare; college savings to purchasing healthy food. At this rate, it would take a Black woman about 108 years to catch up and achieve wage equality (this is assuming that the pay rate for White males remains constant) This is unacceptable. We must work together to reclaim this 37 cents and reclaim the time we spend into the system without being adequately compensated. It really does matter, and until it is done and the ledger is clean, both systemic oppression and racial inequality will continue.

Karsonya Wise Whitehead (; Twitter: @kayewhitehead) is the #blackmommyactivist and an associate professor of communication and African and African American studies at Loyola University Maryland. She is the author of “Letters to My Black Sons: Raising Boys in a Post-Racial America” and “Notes from a Colored Girl.”

Blood On The Roots

July 8, 2017
by: Karsonya Wise Whitehead Special to the AFRO  July 7, 2017

Author and university professor Karsonya Wise Whitehead contemplated the concept of, “freedom,” as millions celebrated the Fourth of July.

I had a moment during Sunday service, when my pastor asked us to stand, turn toward the American flag and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. I cringed as everyone quickly stood, placed their hands over their hearts, and proceeded to recite the Pledge, without question and without hesitation. I sat there fighting against my desire to stand and be obedient because I knew that as a black person in America, I could not pledge my allegiance to this racist nation or to our bigoted president.


In psychology, they call this moment cognitive dissonance, which happens when a person is struggling with at least two contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values. I am a descendant of enslaved people who fought to survive in America and war veterans who died while fighting to protect America. I am a walking contradiction where my American racist values and my black consciousness and pride are constantly warring against one another. W.E.B. Du Bois called it double consciousness, an oppressive way of viewing and judging yourself, as a black person, through the eyes of a racist white society.

I thought about all of this as the Pledge gave way to the singing of, “My Country Tis of Thee,” because I believe that this America, this bastion of white supremacy, is not my ideal home. It is not where I feel safe or where I feel like I belong. I am the Sankofa bird who flies forward across this red, white, and blue landscape with rivers that run deep with the blood of innocent black and brown people, while hopelessly keeping my head turned in search of something else, of somewhere else. This feeling of black restlessness, despair, frustration, and anger are not new. It always feels like it is our blood that is on the leaves and at the roots, fertilizing the soil that feeds the American dream of white exceptionalism. We have long felt like we did not belong here.

Langston Hughes in his poem, Let America Be America Again, wrote “There’s never been equality for me, Nor freedom in this homeland of the free.”

But still, in church I wanted to stand, as this is what I have been taught to do by my father and obviously expected to do by my pastor. I wanted to be obedient and follow the rules.

I really want to be proud of my country and to celebrate her independence. I want to answer Frederick Douglass’ question, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?,” and tell him that although it has taken us 165 years, we have finally arrived. I want to say that the Fourth of July is now our holiday for we have been embraced and counted as part of the American dream; that we have been allowed to fully participate in the democratic process and have seen the day when a person is judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin. I want to say that we have gotten past the racist notion that skin color is more important than skills and talent; that we no longer have to shout that, “Black Lives Matter,” for we have gotten to a point where those types of questions (about who matters and who does not) have been settled and that we have realized that we are stronger together as one nation than we are apart.

I want to say that but I cannot. I think of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling; Terence Crutcher and Korryn Gaines; John Crawford III and Eric Garner; Rekia Boyd and Aiyana Jones; Tamir Rice and Freddie Gray, and countless others. I think of their lives and of what we lost on the day that they were murdered. These are the moments when America — a beacon and shining light of white hope and pride — brutally reminds us that the Fourth of July is theirs and not ours, and as they celebrate, we must mourn. It is hard to pledge allegiance to a country that does not recognize your humanity. In 1852, Douglass noted that slavery was the great sin and shame in America; today it is oppression, and it is white supremacy, and it is injustice.

Karsonya Wise Whitehead (; Twitter: @kayewhitehead) is the #blackmommyactivist and an associate professor of communication and African and African American studies at Loyola University Maryland. She is the author of “Letters to My Black Sons: Raising Boys in a Post-Racial America” and “Notes from a Colored Girl.”

Should God Bless America?

July 3, 2017

(Justin Sellers / AP)

by Karsonya Wise Whitehead (originally published in The Baltimore Sun, 7/2/17)

My entire life has been centered around the belief that God wants to bless America and that he is only waiting for us to ask.

Growing up as the daughter of a Southern black Baptist minister, my life was filled with church services, communion and prayer. I learned early how to get down on my knees at the end of every day and ask for forgiveness and ask God to bless my family and America. My dad is a veteran, having served during the Vietnam War, and he believed that we needed to remember that America was always primed to be attacked and that it was our prayers for her that kept her safe.

He was also raised in Jim Crow South Carolina and had been actively involved in the Civil Rights Movement, and he taught me that the America that we were asking God to bless was not the one that we saw in front of us, but it was the potential for what she could some day become. He said that when he would get arrested or spit upon or he was called the N-word, he would silently ask God to bless America despite the hatred and the inequality. When the Rev. Martin Luther King and President John F. Kennedy were assassinated, he told me that the only thing that got him through those days was prayer and asking God over and over again to overlook the sins of this country and bless us anyway.

We lived in a small black community in Washington, D.C., where most of my teachers were members of my church and when they spoke, in my mind, they had the authority of God behind them. Every morning, from 1st to 8th grade, we had to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. We were “under God,” we were “indivisible,” and we did provide “liberty and justice for all.” As a young child, it made sense to me. America was the center of the world, morally balanced and uniquely charged with the task of saving and protecting the planet.

In history class, my teachers buried us in stories of dead white men, the vaunted Christian forefathers, who worked hard to craft a more perfect union, without teaching us that they were racist, sexist, classist slave holders. We never talked about what or who was missing from these great American tales of courage and valor, never questioned the validity and reliability of these stories. We simply accepted them as the truth, praying for and pledging ourselves to a nation that denied our humanity, that fought a war to keep us enslaved, that set up laws to keep us separate and was comfortable lynching, beating and oppressing us.

I was 5 years old the first time a president ended a speech by calling on God to bless America. It was 1973, President Richard Nixon in the midst of dealing with the Watergate scandal and trying to cover up his lies, ended a speech by saying, “Tonight, I ask for your prayers to help me in everything I do throughout the days of my presidency. God bless America and God bless each and every one of you.”

This was a watershed moment, when God entered the realm of politics and became both a shield and a weapon. As an American citizen, how do we begin to question the actions of our leaders when they invoke the name of God and call upon him to bless us? This phrase was not used again until Ronald Reagan, and since then every president, despite his actions, has called on God publicly to bless this country.

I know that God can, but I am wondering if he should. Should God bless America, a place where economic and social freedom only exist in the lives of a privileged few; a place where women and girls are routinely sexually assaulted; a place where black and brown people have to proclaim that their lives matter? A place where the current president is, by his own words and deeds, a bigot and a demagogue who tweets out hatred on a daily basis and whose election (America’s whitelash moment) ushered in a new age of divisiveness, racism, xenophobia and hatred — a man who ends every speech by calling on God to bless America?

By God’s own words, recorded in his holy Bible — where he calls on us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, to practice radical hospitality, to be the good Samaritan, to shoulder one another’s burdens, to welcome the prodigal children home, to be kind and gentle and long suffering and peaceful, and to be slow to anger and quick to listen — America is not a country that deserves his blessing.

But then I think of my father and remember that we pray not for the ossified, divided America that this country is at this moment, but for the possibility of what she can become. And so, I will continue to ask God to bless America, while also advocating every day to change her.

Karsonya Wise Whitehead (; Twitter: @kayewhitehead) is an associate professor of communication and African and African American studies at Loyola University Maryland. A version of this editorial was aired as a public commentary on WYPR 88.1, Baltimore’s NPR station.


Changing the World, One Student at a Time (OpEd)

June 13, 2017

Karsonya Wise Whitehead; June 1, 2017 —Baltimore Sun Op-Ed


Achievement gap is our fault, not the kids’: Teaching is hard work, and teaching in the public school systemin Baltimore City sometimes feels like it is impossible. You spend time juggling classroom management, budget deficits and high teacher turnover while working in environments that are often dark and hot and crowded. It is not for the faint of heart.

I am a former Baltimore City middle school teacher who taught at a persistently dangerous school, and every day I walked into the classroom determined to teach my students that where they started in their lives did not have to be where they finished. I foolishly believed that their lack of educational achievement and success was simply a state of mind that they could change if they worked hard enough. I learned the hard way that I was wrong — that it’s everyone else’s state of mind holding them back.

On the first day of school I used to share a story with my students about my childhood dream of wanting to fly. I told them how I made myself a cape out of my sheet, jumped off of the fifth step and experienced pure joy for just a moment before I came crashing down. I kept it doing over and over again, until I realized that if I kept doing the same thing, the same way, then I would get the same result. So I had my father stand at the bottom of the step, and the next time I jumped, I flew into his arms. It was simple: I changed my thinking and then I changed my ending. I told that story, year after year, thinking that I was encouraging my students to push themselves to think about new solutions to age-old problems. The very last time I told it, I asked my students to tell me how they could apply this story to their life. Only one student spoke up: “Look around this classroom, around this school — it looks like a prison. We are not supposed to fly here. Ya’ll keep telling us to jump down the stairs, with the same dirty capes and the same stupid plans, but you are not trying to catch us.”

That was 10 years ago, and every year, after reading about the state of Baltimore City schools, I think about my former students and about what it must feel like to be a part of a larger failed educational experiment that has been starting and stopping in this country for over 250 years. We are in the midst of a crisis in black education that is tied to poverty and a legacy in discrimination, which has been in effect since 1740 when South Carolina implemented the first Slave Code, prohibiting enslaved persons from learning to read and write. By the end of the Civil War, among the nearly 4 million black people in America, less than 10 percent could read or write.

The biggest impediment to black literacy was the recalcitrant attitude of some white people who firmly believed that free or enslaved, black people were not citizens and therefore had no rights — a harsh and cruel reality. Whenever I shared these facts with my students, they complained and said that these were old boring stories that had nothing to do with them. But today’s injustices are rooted in yesterday’s systemic inequalities, which persist, along with the firm belief by some that black and brown people are still not entitled to have either rights or a voice.

Even though the cultural landscape of the country has changed, negative attitudes toward black children remain and their literacy rates have still not risen to the level of their white and Asian peers. According to the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress, only 18 percent of black fourth-graders are proficient in reading and 19 percent in math. Here in Baltimore City, which maintains one of the country’s highest per-pupil spending levels, there are six schools that do not have any students who are testing proficient in either reading or math.

Black students continue to be disproportionately impacted by the shortcomings in our public education system. It starts as early as pre-K, where black students make up only 17 percent of the student population but account for more than 70 percent of the yearly suspensions. We are at a moment where we spend more time teaching black kids to survive this world rather than teaching them how to thrive in it.

If we want to survive as a city and nation, then we must be willing to admit that this current crisis in black education is our responsibility. We must be willing to admit that the current solutions are not working and that the educational industrial complex must be dismantled so that real change can happen. We must be willing to work together to find new and innovative ways to educate our children. And, if we really want them to learn how to fly — to experience moments of pure joy — than we have to be willing to commit ourselves to doing everything we can to catch them, all of them, before they fall.

Karsonya Wise Whitehead is an associate professor of communication and African and African American studies at Loyola University Maryland. She is the author of “Letters to My Black Sons: Raising Boys in a Post Racial America.” A version of this editorial was aired as a public commentary on WYPR 88.1, Baltimore’s NPR station. She can be reached at or @kayewhitehead.

On Watching My Son Discover His Blackness… (OpEd)

April 26, 2017

Karsonya Wise Whitehead

Originally published in The Baltimore Sun: “The uprising may be over; but the work is not,” April 27, 2017


My son was six years old the first time that he realized that he was black. He was in the first grade, attending a Baltimore City independent school, and one day, during recess, the boys in his class decided to make-up a game called, “Let’s Get the Black Boy.” Given that he was the only black boy in his grade and thus on the playground, he spent the hour running for fear of what they would do if they caught him. The entire ride home he peppered me with questions about what it meant to be black: Was it something that we chose to become, why did he choose to run, and what did I think they would do if they caught him?


It was a long night for me as I spent the evening writing down everything I wanted to say to the principal. I practiced in front of the mirror, and I worked hard to build up my courage so that I would have the words to say and the heart to say them. My father once said that the hardest parent of being a black parent is the moment you realize that in the face of injustice and racism, your silence will be seen as an act of betrayal, a sign of complicity, and you would forever wear it as a badge that marked your moment of weakness.


The truth of my father’s words has stayed with me, and the responsibility that it calls me to have gets more difficult as the world continues to turn. In 1903, W.E.B. Du Bois stated that the problem of the 20th century was the color line, which referred to the role of race and racism in history and society. Today, the problem of the 21st century seems to be a false sense of racial, social and economic equality that fosters a culture of complacency — and intolerance for those who attempt to expose the myth.


It has been two years since the Baltimore uprising that followed Freddie Gray’s death in the back of a police van, a pivotal moment in our city that shifted our focus and called us to action on long-standing problems plaguing our city. It was a time of real honesty where we collectively shared our ideas, frustrations, hopes and dreams for a better, more united Baltimore. Since then, life has settled back in to the familiar. The pockets of the city that have historically been economically stable are once again doing very well; the number of tourists coming in to the city has steadily increased, and museums, hotels, restaurants and real estate are all showing signs of growth. And the neighborhoods that suffered before the death of Gray continue to do so.


Crime is still a persistent and deadly problem: 2015 and 2016 were recorded as, per capita, the deadliest and the second deadliest years respectively in the city’s history, and 2017 has already logged 101 homicides as of Tuesday. High unemployment and poverty rates continue. The public school system is not improving, and with an ongoing budget deficit and looming teacher crises, this is not expected to change. The communities that were largely ignored and underserved have remained at the edges of both the city and our minds. We are still at a crisis moment, though it seems the public urgency to act has evaporated.


We must take immediate concrete steps to finally end this long and difficult battle to save our city. Among them:

• Reallocate city budgets so that we are spending more money on our students that we do on our police force;

•Offer more incentives and financial guidance to first-time small business owners to encourage them to open up grocery and convenience stores in their own neighborhoods;

•Redesign the police department’s Civilian Review Board so that it has a higher visibility, a larger working budget and can act as a more effective checks and balance system for internal affairs;

•Establish more job training programs for unemployed and underemployed residents and returning citizens;

•Accept that we must be the ones to police our own neighborhoods, to reach out to our neighbors and to hold them (and ourselves) accountable for what is happening in our communities.


It has been two very long years, and we must finally and completely choose the type of city that we want to live in and take the necessary action for change. We cannot be silent, lest it be seen by future Baltimoreans as our collective act of betrayal, a sign of our complicity that we would forever wear as a badge that marked our moment of weakness.


Karsonya Wise Whitehead is an associate professor of communication and African and African American studies at Loyola University Maryland and the author of “Letters to My Black Sons: Raising Boys in a Post-Racial America.” A version of this editorial was aired as a public commentary on WYPR 88.1, Baltimore’s NPR station. She can reached at or on Twitter @kayewhitehead.


2017 Black Quilted Narratives (BQN) Summer Teachers’ Institute (Application)

March 25, 2017

Black Quilted Narratives

Summer Teachers’ Institute –Application

July 10-21, 2017



Application Deadline: June 2, 2017

The BQN Summer Teachers’ Institute is designed principally for full-time and part-time classroom teachers and librarians in public, charter, independent, and religiously affiliated schools. Prior to completing an application, please review the letter outlining the project and thoughtfully consider what is expected in terms of residence and attendance, reading and writing requirements, and general participation in the Summer Institute and Teach-Ins.

Please note: The BQN curriculum is designed to engage, inspire, and educate the next generation of culturally responsive leaders and political activists using historical moments from the Civil Rights Movement. Therefore, this BQN Summer Teachers’ Institute is best suited for educators and school personnel who would have the creative freedom and initiative to incorporate civic, social, and cultural topics into their instruction.


A selection committee, consisting of the Co-Project Directors and the Master Teachers will read and evaluate all properly completed applications in order to select the most promising applicants. We will identify a number of alternates in case those selected are unable to attend. The most important consideration in the selection of participants is the likelihood that an applicant and their school, by extension, will benefit professionally. This will be determined by committee members and is based upon a number of factors, each of which should be addressed in the application essay. These factors include:

  • Effectiveness and commitment as an educator, based upon years of experience and/or prior involvement with professional development activities;
  • Intellectual interests, as they relate to the subject matter of the project;
  • Special skills or perspectives that would contribute to the Summer Teachers’ Institute;
  • Commitment to participate fully in the formal and informal collegial life of the project; and,
  • Racial and economic make-up of the school, with a special interest in (but not limited to) educators who teach in a Title I school; and the likelihood that the experience will enhance both the applicant’s teaching and the students’ present and future school experiences



Application packages should be sent to the National Visionary Leadership Project (NVLP) via email at by June 2, 2017. Late applications will not be reviewed. Twenty-five educators will be selected to participate in the BQN Summer Teachers’ Institute. Successful applicants will be notified of their selection via email by June 9, 2017 and will have until June 16, 2017 to accept or decline the offer.


A completed application package includes the following:

  1. The completed BQN application form (see below);
  2. A résumé or brief biography that details your educational qualifications and professional experience (one-four pages);
  3. An application essay that includes the following (four pages maximum):
  •      Your reasons for applying to the BQN Summer Teachers’ Institute;
  •      Your interest, both academic and personal, in the topics we will be studying;
  •      The relationship between your professional responsibilities and the BQN line of study;
  •      Your relevant academic qualifications and/or experiences that equip you to do the work of the Summer Teachers’ Institute; and,
  •      What you hope to accomplish by participating, including any individual research and writing projects you foresee undertaking and/or curricular units you will create.
  1. The names and contact information for two references, one of which should be an administrator from your school. The two referees should be familiar with your professional accomplishments or promise, teaching and/or research interests, and ability to contribute to, and benefit from, participation in the Summer Institute.


Part 1: General Information

Name: ______________________________________________________

Home Address: ______________________________________________________

Work Address: ______________________________________________________

E-mail: _____________________      Home Phone: _________________

Citizenship: If not U.S., please specify country, month and year U.S. residence began: ________________________________________________________

**This information will be kept private and confidential. This information will be used for payment purposes only.

Please provide your school name and address:



Please provide your principal’s name, phone number and email address:



How long have you been teaching? ________________________________________

What grade(s) and subject(s) do you teach? __________________________________

What courses did you teach this year and number of students taught? _______________

Please provide the name, email address and phone number for two professional references.

  1. ________________________________________________________
  2. ________________________________________________________

How did you learn about the NVLP BQN Summer Teachers’ Institute?


Part 2: Teaching Information
How would you classify your school? (Circle all that apply)

Public School

Independent Religiously Affiliated Home School

Charter School      Elementary (K-5)        Middle School (6-8)        High School (9-12)

School Position (circle all that apply)

Full-Time Teacher     Part-Time Teacher     Classroom Professional      Administrator 

Services (e.g. Librarian) Other ________________________________________________________

Any questions regarding this application, please email Dr. Karsonya (Kaye) Wise Whitehead at

EQUAL OPPORTUNITY STATEMENT: NVLP does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, age, genetic information, disability, or veteran status.

2017 Black Quilted Narratives (BQN) Summer Teachers’ Institute (LETTER)

March 25, 2017

Dear Colleagues:

We hope you are as excited as we are about the upcoming 2017 Black Quilted Narratives (BQN) Summer Teachers’ Institute. We are thrilled to announce that the Institute will be held in Baltimore City’s Reginald F. Lewis Museum for Maryland African American History & Culture from July 10-21, 2017. Download the Application Here!

Application D/L: June 19, 2017


About the Black Quilted Narratives Program

Created by NVLP, BQN is a curriculum support package for elementary, middle and high school teachers that uses videotaped oral history interviews with visionaries from the Civil Rights Movement to guide students in discussions about social injustice, racial healing, and political activism. During the Summer Teacher’s Institute, teachers will learn the tenets of Culturally Proficient Instruction (CPI), while exploring one of America’s greatest evolving stories ever told—the Civil Rights Movement. The goals of the institute are: To create a space for 5th-12th grade teachers to deeply engage with the NVLP interviews; to learn and integrate new scholarly perspectives on teaching and learning; to examine the effectiveness of using primary source video material in the classroom; and to learn best practices for becoming a culturally proficient teacher. The institute is the second phase of a multi-year innovative teacher- training program funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF).

About the BQN Institute

During the two-week Institute, teachers will have an opportunity to:

  1. Train as a culturally responsive teacher—which includes watching and discussing visionary webisodes; examining primary and secondary source material with historians; and, participating in daily small break-out pedagogical sessions with support provided by BQN Master Teachers;
  1. Participate in racial equity training—which includes reflection activities, working and planning in small groups, and working with a Racial Equity trainer; and,
  2. Develop materials to plan and present a Professional Development Workshop.

Topics covered during the institute include the history of the Civil Rights Movement; women of the Civil Rights Movement, Racial Healing and Social Justice, and, Culturally/Politically Responsive Pedagogy (with an overview, hands-on demonstration, and tips for implementing this into your classroom).

Teacher Benefits

Classroom Resources: lesson plans, a primary source package, and access to BQN webisodes.

Stipends: selected teachers will receive a taxable stipend of $1,200. Participants are required to attend all course meetings and engage fully in the work of the project. During the two-week institute, participants may not undertake teaching assignments or any other professional activities unrelated to their participation in the project. Teachers who complete the institute will receive their stipend.

Continuing Education Credit: Teachers who complete the program will receive a certificate of completion and have an opportunity to apply for continuing education credits, which they may present to their home school districts.

Our Team

Cheryl S. Clarke (Co-Project Director), a former foundation director and teacher, is the Chief Executive Officer for the National Visionary Leadership Project (NVLP) since 2008. She directed the Foundation Giving program, created the Diversity program, and worked in Human Resources at Freddie Mac for 25 years. Prior to joining Freddie Mac, Clarke taught special education for seven years in the D.C. Public School system working with emotionally and behaviorally challenged boys.

Karsonya (Kaye) Wise Whitehead, Ph.D., (Co-Project Director) is the Curriculum Lead and Associate Professor of Communication and African American Studies at Loyola University Maryland. Dr. Whitehead is an award-winning former middle school Social Studies teacher (2006-07 Maryland History Teacher of the Year), a curriculum writer, and a Master Teacher.

Lawrence Brown, Ph.D., (Historian), is assistant professor in the Morgan State School of Community Health and Policy. His scholarly work focuses on the intersection of masculinity, racism, and health, the impact of residential displacement and financial disinvestment on community health, and understanding ethics and economic development in the domain of global health.

Brittany Horne (Master Teacher) is an elementary school teacher at Roland Park Elementary Middle School who previously piloted the BQN Teacher Institute.

Tracy Kent-Gload (Master Teacher) is an elementary school teacher at Ridgeway Elementary School who previously piloted the BQN Teacher Institute.

Nadiera Young (Master Teacher) is a middle school Language Arts teacher at Roland Park Elementary Middle School who previously piloted the BQN Teacher Institute

The documents are also available for download at All applicants must complete the BQN application form and provide the information requested to be considered eligible. Please send application packages to the National Visionary Leadership Project (NVLP) via email at If you have any questions about the Institute or application process, please do not hesitate to contact the Curriculum Lead, Dr. Whitehead, at

We encourage you to apply for this innovative Summer Teachers’ Institute focusing on the Civil Rights Movement and the men and women whose leadership during this time forever changed our nation. As you share the stories of these civil rights leaders with your students, and they share their stories of lessons learned from the material, you will help your students see the world in brand new ways and, perhaps, see themselves as being part of the greater American story—the great American quilt.


Cheryl S. Clarke, Project Co-Director and CEO, National Visionary Leadership Project (NVLP)


Karsonya Wise Whitehead, Ph.D., Project Co-Director and Associate Professor of Communication and African American Studies, Loyola University Maryland

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