One-third of community college students ‘misdirected’ to remedial classes

One-third of community college students ‘misdirected’ to remedial classes

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According to new research, one-third of community college students enrolled in remedial coursework don’t even need them.

The Community College Research Center (CCRC) and social policy researcher MDRC recently released a research guide, “Toward Better College Course Placement,” revealing standard placement tests, such as the College Board’s ACCUPLACER, are actually “misdirecting” student placements.

This is important to note as a disparate number of African American students are placed in remedial courses. A 2016 report by the American Center for Progress placed the rate at 56 percent of African American students versus 35 percent of Whites. Another report, by inewsource/Hechinger Report, shows African American students are five times as likely to end up in the lowest level of remedial English coursework.

Under-placement creates additional barriers for students who are now required to pay for coursework with no credit. A 2016 report by the Education Reform Now showed that remedial coursework cost first-year students and their families nearly $1.5 billion a year in out-of-pocket expenses — expenses that don’t go towards their degrees.

In addition, many students never make it out of the remedial pipeline, having to take up to four non-credit-earning courses before putting a dent in their college requirements.

To address such under-placements, the CCRC and MDRC launched the pilot Multiple Measures Assessment (MMA) project in the fall of 2016, exploring alternative assessment options to determine whether students have been “misdirected” to remedial reading, math and English coursework. Their research guide follows the project’s partnership with 10 Minnesota and Wisconsin community colleges to design and pilot the new placement systems.

“Developmental education requires student time and expense, it may discourage some potential college students.”

By the summer of 2017, the organizations found that, while 60 percent of students are required to take developmental (remedial) education courses, one in three could be considered for traditional courses if testing is combined with other assessment tools, such as ACT Engage or the Learning and Study Strategies Inventory.

“There is strong empirical evidence that high school grade point average (GPA) is one of the best predictors of college success,” the researchers wrote. The report also noted that, while not as strong a predictor, non-cognitive measures, such as attendance, participation and problem-solving skills, should also be considered as influences.

“Improving placement testing by integrating a multiple measures approach seeks to place students at a level at which they can succeed without diverting them into unnecessary courses that delay or even derail their progress,” said Gordon L. Berlin, MDRC president.

The guide notes the project’s goal is to redirect students who could fare well. “Students who need developmental education to succeed in college-level courses should be placed into developmental courses,” wrote researchers.

The report also acknowledges “practitioners may be hesitant to change their current practices, skeptical about the measures used, or unsure where to start.” It outlines several recommendations and examples to encourage college administrators to consider alternative placement options.

“Because developmental education requires student time and expense, it may discourage some potential college students. It is important to ensure that those who could succeed in college-level courses get the opportunity to take them upon entry into college,” concluded the report. “The use of an MMA placement strategy should increase the chances that students will be optimally placed, which should then increase their chances of future success.”

Minnesota is already on-board to adapt new changes. The state legislature passed legislation in 2017 requiring the Minnesota State Board of Trustees (MSBT) to reform developmental education offerings at system campuses. The MSBT is required to implement system-wide multiple measures placement guidelines by the start of the 2020- 2021 academic year.

Some changes have already been implemented, including updates to the ACCUPLACER exam to provide a weighted score that could potentially boost student scores just below the college-level cut score along with ACCUPLACER exam waivers for students whose ACT, SAT, or Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA) scores demonstrate college readiness.

The project’s next phase is to conduct a “randomized controlled trial of multiple measures assessment in five of the pilot colleges” to determine coursework completion rates of students moved to college-level courses. The MMA project is also now exploring new placement assessments at colleges within the State University of New York system.

The Wright Stuff

The Wright Stuff

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Twin Cities native Joetta Wright has commitment to excellence in her blood. Her mom, Patricia Wright, is the first African American woman in Minnesota to own a court reporting business, and Gloria Wright, Joetta’s grandmother, was one of the state’s first African Americans to become a registered nurse. Joetta is continuing that trailblazing lineage through arts and education.

Armed with a master’s degree in theatre education and teaching licensure from the University of Minnesota, the working film, television and stage actor uses her craft to culturally and socially educate the community via several avenues.

One such contribution is Wright’s weekly podcast Double Consciousness which explores, in part, the W.E.B. DuBois concept of what it means to have a divided identity while navigating dominant culture politics and social norms as artists of color.

“The primary purpose of Double Consciousness,” said Wright, “is to shine a light on how notions of race affect the psyches of Black and Brown people in the global community. As [co-host] Toussaint Morrison and I dissect our own experiences with race, we open up the discussion to the public in hopes of building a deeper understanding of the trauma we live with as people of color, and what it truly means to be a White ally in America.”

Wright also tackles a troublesome issue too often overlooked: diet and eating habits of Black folk and the impact that has on physical well-being. “My beliefs concerning health are complex. I believe that because of our history of enslavement, we have been raised to believe that Black food is synonymous with foods that puts [us] at high risk for myriad health problems.

“Also, because of the systemic racism that we see within the construction of neighborhood grocery stores, we see the very purposeful placement of liquor stores and corner stores in majority-Black neighborhoods to perpetuate the cycle of unhealthy living habits coupled with cheap and quick options for food.

Black food, or “soul food,” has traditionally included the least nutritional parts of pigs and cows — think chitlins, pig feet —along with kitchen scraps fried in high-fat, high-calorie grease. For Wright, food education is key in breaking this historical cycle.

“I began my health journey at college as I gained more understanding of the importance of eating a healthy mix of greens, fruits, meat, dairy and grains,” said Wright. “We have to be aware. We have to understand that when it comes to food, we, the Black community, are being groomed for extinction.”

In addition, Wright uses her talents to teach not only acting, but also African and African American art, music, and literature. Last year, she led North Minneapolis High School students through programming that introduced them to such fundamentals as movement, voice and diction. It also included looking at social and political change through the lens of theatre.

Her philosophy on classroom instruction is clear. “Our goal as teachers is for the student to be at the center of everything we do,” said Wright. “To create curriculum with each child in mind, we must design personal connections to content and encourage critical thinking.

“When we ask our students to independently identify their educational goals, and participate in developing their educational experience, they take ownership of that experience, and value their understanding in more profound ways.

Through this, she hopes to create a sea change in how students, especially students of color, view themselves in the education process.

“I believe that we can empower our students by giving them opportunities to teach their peers new content, by promoting choice-based projects, and by investing the time it takes to understand the learning needs of all students,” explained Wright.

“So often, our national and state leaders pledge their time and energy toward building our communities and providing the support for our citizens who need it the most. More often than not, those promises are hollow.

“We have to show our students of color that there is a place for them in education, and that we hold the same expectations for all students. Only then can we begin to inspire our students to become the agents of change that they are meant to be.”

Double Consciousness is published weekly on iTunes, SoundCloud and Stitcher. For more information, visit

MSR celebrates graduates and parents with 23rd annual scholarship dinner (photos)

MSR celebrates graduates and parents with 23rd annual scholarship dinner (photos)

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The Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder (MSR) and its nonprofit namesake the Spokesman-Recorder 501(c)(3) hosted the 23rd annual Graduation Celebration Thursday, May 24 at the Metropolitan Ballroom in Golden Valley. More than 200 community members, graduating students and their parents attended the free scholarship dinner and ceremony awards. Ten students were presented with Cecil E. Newman Scholarships at the event themed “Education and Graduation: It’s a family affair.”

Each year, the MSR invites graduating African and African American high school students in Minnesota to participate in a 500-word essay contest for the scholarship named after the late MSR founder and publisher. A volunteer essay committee selects the winners.

This year’s 2018 Cecil E. Newman $1000 Scholarship winners are Zarina Sementelli, Majeste Phillip, Jay Viar Johnson, Jasmine Jackson, Charlotte DeVaughn, Verbena Dempster, Jerrell Daniel and Maryam Abullahi. Two additional graduating students, Miracle Campton and Amed Faud, each received a $500 Cecil E. & Launa Newman scholarship.

After the event, scholarship recipient Zarina Sementelli said, “It feels empowering and liberating to receive this honor because of who I am and everything I had to overcome.”

Comedian and radio personality Shed G, who has become a mainstay for the graduation celebration, emceed the event and kept the audience entertained and laughing throughout the evening like a “Ringmaster of Fun.”

Travis Lee/MSR News

When asked what it meant for him to get the call to emcee the MSR event again, he said, “What I love about all of this is [that] you see students from different nationalities and the Minnesota Spokesman-Recordergiving them an opportunity to receive scholarship money. The other thing I love is when the guest speakers say something that I can take home as an adult. It makes being here each time extra special.”

The Graduation Celebration featured a variety of offerings, including a career, resource and education expo in the afternoon followed by the gala dinner, live entertainment, and giveaways in the evening.

Keynote speaker Dr. Tonya Jackman Hampton, Ph.D. spoke on the importance of individual branding and knowing where you come from. Dr. Jackman Hampton advised that one should find one’s executive style and then own it. She encouraged the students not to buy into the lie that using proper communication skills is a form of “sounding or talking White.”

Jackman Hampton also referenced her brand as an example, revealing that she, too, benefited from the influence of the late Cecil E. Newman as one of his granddaughters and embraced the Graduation Celebration’s “It’s a Family Affair” theme with pride.

Performers included “Step with Soul” step team, which opened the entertainment with a fiery, synchronized, crowd-pleasing and foot-stomping routine; and a creatively choreographed performance by dance troupe Shape Shift. Singer Kennedy Hurst also graced the stage with her rendition of Mariah Carey’s Hero.

[/media-credit] Step With Soul dance troupe were one of the evenings many highlights

Tracey Williams-Dillard, MSR CEO & publisher, closed the evening with heartfelt words. “Being in a room with all of the graduates and their families to recognize their achievements and accomplishments truly demonstrates that “Education and Graduation” is a family affair,” said Williams-Dillard.

Over the years, the MSR has recruited marquee-name entertainers as keynote speakers such as LL Cool J, Tavis Smiley, Kimberly Elise, Hill Harper and Nick Cannon, just to name a few, who have helped put the annual Celebration on the local and national map. In recent years, however, MSR has recruited from local talent to address the scholarship winners and their families. The main event sponsor for the Graduation Celebration was the Medtronic Foundation.

African or African American high school students graduating in 2019 are encouraged to apply for next year’s MSR Graduation Celebration in the spring at or call the MSR at 612-827-4021.

Below, find our Graduation Celebration insert, including Cecil E. Newman scholarship essays and remarks from Mayor Jacob Frey, Senator Amy Klobuchar, and others. Go here to see this year’s entries for the 2018 Community Yearbook. Scroll down to the more photos from Travis Lee.

OPINION: New ‘Poor People’s Campaign’ revives Dr. King’s vision

OPINION: New ‘Poor People’s Campaign’ revives Dr. King’s vision

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I must remind you that a starving child is violence. Suppressing a culture is violence. Neglecting school children is violence. Punishing a mother and her family is violence. Discrimination against a working man is violence. Ghetto housing is violence. Ignoring medical needs is violence. Contempt for poverty is violence. – Coretta Scott King

Something is wrong that we have to feed so many. Why should there be poverty with all of our science and technology? There is no deficit in human resources – it is a deficit in human will. – Coretta Scott King

It was not my intent to retread some of the thematic ground I’ve covered over the past couple of months, but current events both locally and across the nation, cause me to do so.

The two columns that were published here in April marked 50 years since Dr. King’s assassination, and subsequently, the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act of 1968. The discussion of the Fair Housing Act is particularly relevant today, as there have been numerous efforts in recent years, both underhanded and overt, to undermine and ultimately overturn this essential law (as ineffectual as it has sometimes been).

Another 50-year milestone that has just passed is what history has come to know as “The Roads to Resurrection City.” It was on Mother’s Day, May 12, 1968, that Coretta Scott King led thousands of demonstrators from far and wide to Washington, D.C. demanding that the U.S. Congress pass an Economic Bill of Rights, an idea originally proposed by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1944.

The centerpiece of Dr. King’s “Poor People’s Campaign,” the Economic Bill of Rights called for, among other things, full employment and a living wage; sufficient and affordable housing; and the right to health care, social security, and quality education. Of the Poor Peoples Campaign, Dr. King said, “We believe the highest patriotism demands the ending of the [Vietnam] war and the opening of a bloodless war to final victory over racism and poverty.”

Of course, Dr. King was not around to witness the culmination of this campaign or the establishment of Resurrection City on the National Mall where he helped to lead the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom nearly five years earlier. In late June of 1968, six weeks after setting up camp in Resurrection City, demonstrators were violently evicted by the local police and National Guard. Nearly 300 of them, including Dr. King’s most trusted aide Rev. Ralph David Abernathy, were arrested.

Today, history is repeating itself as a new movement (inspired by Dr. King’s original vision), The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, has emerged in communities throughout the United States. This campaign restates the demands of 50 years ago and adds several more. It highlights the rising social and racial inequities in employment, education, housing, economic security, access to health care and health-related outcomes, human rights, and environmental justice.

On Monday, May 14, thousands of protestors, including 13 near the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul, were arrested as they engaged in a national groundswell of nonviolent civil disobedience. According to the Minnesota Poor People’s Campaign, this calls for “new initiatives to fight systematic poverty and racism, immediate attention to ecological devastation, and measures to curb militarism and the war economy.”

The national Poor People’s Campaign, along with its state and local affiliates and supporting partners, will continue these demonstrations over the next several weeks before convening at the United States Capitol Building on Saturday, June 23. Dating back to the Women’s March on Washington in January of 2017 up to the student-led March for Our Lives this spring, this will be at least the 22nd major demonstration to take place in Washington, D.C. over the last year-and-a-half.

I am curious to see how America reacts to the upcoming June march as well as to all of the related events leading up to it. Why? Well, let’s be frank for a minute.

An enduring theme throughout the history of this nation is that people living in poverty are somehow to blame for their own plight. There are a number of journalists, scholars and activists, including John A. Powell and Arthur Brooks, who have recently declared that “America can’t fix poverty until it stops hating poor people.”

Please indulge me for a moment while I shift gears to reinforce this point. I chose the two quotes above from Mrs. King specifically for their bold and straightforward assertions. Number one: Poverty is violence. And second, as her husband acutely noted, “Poverty has no justification in our age.”

Why then, do we not have the will to end it? Why do we choose to hate instead?

On a couple of occasions, I have used this space to reference insights from comedian W. Kamau Bell’s CNN documentary series “United Shades of America.” In the third season’s premier episode, which aired at the end of April, Bell visits the U.S.-Mexican border to engage locals about their thoughts on “illegal immigration” and “the wall.”

He visits with a pair of Border Patrol officers who, above all, view their principle responsibility as saving lives. They cite the hundreds of migrants, determined to make a better life for themselves and their families, who die every year from dehydration, heat stroke, and even hypothermia.

It is very common for activists and even concerned citizens who live on the border to leave water out in the hope they might possibly save the life of a fellow human being. Yet, Bell contrasts this good will with images that have been captured of Border Patrol agents who think differently than the two he interviewed.

Knowing full well why the water is there, one Border Patrol agent is shown on film casually kicking gallon after gallon of water down a steep desert hill. Another agent is shown simply dumping water into the sand while he smiles and speaks directly into the camera.

Whatever he was muttering was unintelligible to me, but he was obviously quite proud of himself. Apparently, that was his idea of justice, or national security, or whatever.

Let that sink in. And while we do, let us not forget that poverty is violence. Poverty kills. Hate kills.

Clarence Hightower is the executive director of Community Action Partnership of Ramsey & Washington Counties. Dr. Hightower holds a Ph.D. in urban higher education from Jackson State University. He welcomes reader responses to 450 Syndicate Street North, St. Paul, MN 55104

COMMENTARY: ‘I have all the weapons I need’ – taking action to heal your autistic child

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In honor of National Autism Awareness Month, Sheletta shares her experience as the mother of three children on the autism spectrum.

My son Brandon, after he was diagnosed as autistic, had an appointment with a speech pathologist named Becky at a local children’s hospital. They say it was random and that the computer picked her, but I know now it was divine intervention.

I insisted that my momma tag along for the evaluation since she didn’t believe there was anything wrong with my child and I was just making it all up to get attention for myself. “You won’t trust your daughter,” I chided her, “so I’m gon’ take you with me and let these White folks with some letters behind their names tell you that Brandon has autism. Maybe you’ll listen to them.”

She rolled her eyes and pursed her lips. I ain’t care. She was gon’ go with me to every appointment and every evaluation until she was on board with Brandon’s recovery plan.

When Becky came out to the lobby of the speech center to receive us, she had the biggest smile and the warmest spirit. I knew at that moment that she would be a blessing to my family.

While she evaluated Brandon, she insisted my mother and I stay in the room with her. Unlike other evaluators before her, she wanted to include us in what she was doing.

My ol’ nay-saying momma sat there with her arms folded and her legs crossed looking like the angry Black church usher that she is. Becky didn’t let Momma’s stank attitude intimidate her. She kept on testing. Asking questions. Running trials.

When Becky was done with everything, I could see my momma’s disposition had changed. Suddenly Momma saw what I saw – that my baby, her favorite grandson, had autism and would need intense help to get better.

Becky, being led by the Spirit, addressed my momma right away: “Mrs. Handy,” she assured her, “with the right therapy your grandson can be a normal kid, but it’s going to take a lot of work. But the hardest part is done. You’re no longer in denial.”

My momma couldn’t even breathe she was crying so hard…

Becky told her plainly, “You should be proud of your daughter for bringing little Brandon in as soon as she noticed something was wrong. That doesn’t typically happen with Black parents. Now, my White parents, I’ve had them bring their kids to be evaluated as young as six months old. That means they get treatment and services for their special needs child right away. Then, by the time the little kiddo heads to pre-school, they’ve had three years of therapy, and by then they’ve caught up to their friends.”

“But why don’t Black parents come in sooner?” my momma had the audacity to ask.

“Cause they’re in denial, just like you,” I fussed. “Instead of seeing that something is wrong with our kids and trying to fix it right away, we turn a blind eye.”

“And by the time my Black families start looking for help,” Becky added, “the child is five or six years old and they haven’t had any therapy, they can’t talk, and they’re acting out.”

I put another two-cents in: “Because they can’t talk, they’re in school frustrated and fighting. Now we run to a therapist looking for a miracle when we done missed out on three or four years of good therapy.”

“And early intervention is the key,” Becky reminded us. “The sooner your child gets help, the better the outcome.”

“So what’s next?” I asked Becky. “How do I get my baby to a point where autism is in his past and college and a career are in his future?”

I had been so frustrated prior to meeting Becky. Nobody helped me. Nobody told me what I needed to do. Not one doctor, therapist or specialist threw me a life-line.

Becky was different. She walked over to her desk, got a pencil, some paper and a clipboard that she handed to me and directed, “Write down what I’m about to tell you. This is what you need to do for Brandon.”

With that she laid out the road map for my son’s successful transition from special education to accelerated learner:

  • Get him into a quality private pre-school a few days per week. Keep him out of special education classes in the public school if you can. Make sure the pre-school teachers are educated and have degrees.
  • When he does go to elementary school, make sure you have a plan to mainstream him into a regular classroom as quickly as he’s ready for it.
  • Have him see a good private speech therapist. The public schools will provide some special services like speech and occupational therapy, but if you want the best care, you’re going to have to pay for it.
  • Find an occupational and physical therapist Brandon can visit once weekly so he can work on his fine and gross motor skills.
  • Get under the care of a developmental pediatrician and a developmental psychologist for yearly evaluations and medications that may be helpful to curb some of the typical autistic behaviors.
  • And finally, and most importantly, get him signed up for applied behavioral analysis (ABA) therapy either at a center or in the home. This method of therapy has been proven the most effective at helping children with autism.

I could have kissed that White lady on the mouth. She had just laid out a solid foundation to help heal my child. But after looking over my notes, I asked, “How, Ms. Becky, can I afford this? Private school. Three or four different kinds of therapy. Medication from specialists who may or may not take my insurance—”

She cut me off: “There are scholarships and grants available that will give you the money to pay for everything you need for your child. All you have to do is go online to find them, then apply.”

I left her office with a mission, determined to find help for my baby.

The speech therapist she recommended cost a whopping $800 a month (they so good, honey, they don’t even take insurance; it’s a straight cash payment like the weed man). It didn’t come out of my pocket, though, because I applied for a United Health Care Foundation Grant that gave me $5,000 to cover the cost.

The tab for that applied behavior therapy for Brandon was $900 per month, and that was after our medical coverage kicked in. It didn’t matter because I found the C.A.D.E. scholarship [Children with Autism Deserve Education, a Minnesota nonprofit] and it paid for an entire year.

I continued to find more and more resources. Before it was all over, I raised nearly $50,000 to pay for all the good therapy Brandon needed. I got so good at finding money to pay for stuff, I started holding free workshops for parents who have special needs kids to teach them how to find grant money and scholarships for their children.

And guess what? All the White churches let me in, and they were always full of folks who were looking for financial assistance. Our Black churches would not let me in. Well, that’s not fair to say all of them rejected me; I’m still waiting on the deacon board from a few of them to get back with me.

And remember, I’m doing this for free!

Now, after three years of quality therapy like them White folks be getting, my child is in a regular kindergarten classroom. He’s reading, doing math, giving me eye contact, talking and talking back.

Yes, honey, he is a typical five-year-old boy. Today, right now, you can’t tell he had been diagnosed with autism.

God is good. I’m glad He chose me to be this bright little boy’s mommy. Brandon has hope and a bright future, and I’m thankful to Ms. Becky for giving me the roadmap to get there.

I was home free with Brandon’s recovery – or so I thought. I must have done too good a job, because the Lord decided to choose me two more times. My daughter Cameron and my son Daniel have also been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders.

I’m rolling up my sleeves and getting ready to do battle. This time I have all the weapons I need. My family motto: We want our kids healed, not helped!

Sheletta has provided a list of centers in the Twin Cities that provide excellent care to children who have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders. In addition, she’s provided links to all the scholarships and grants that are available to pay for therapy and medication. See below for details.

1. Partners in Excellence
2. Fraser Center
3. Family Achievement Center
4. Lovaas Institute
5. Minnesota Autism Center
6. Behavior Therapy Solutions
Scholarships/Grants available to pay for therapy
1. Children with Autism Deserve Education
2. United Healthcare Children’s Foundation
3. Small Steps In Speech
4. RiteCare of Minneapolis-St. Paul
5. Autism Recovery Foundation
6. First Hand Foundation
7. ACT Today
8. MyGOAL Enrichment Grant
9. Blooming with Autism
10. Helping Hand Foundation

Sheletta Brundidge is contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. She can be reached at

Multi-state mentorship program asks students, ‘Why You?’

Multi-state mentorship program asks students, ‘Why You?’

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Several years ago, Dr. Renaldo Blocker was reflecting on the importance of mentors in his life. “We realized that we were fortunate to have a support system throughout our academic and professional career.” Blocker is a Mayo Clinic healthcare systems engineering assistant professor.

“We were fortunate to have these people in our lives… Many of our peers did not.” Blocker wanted to help other students benefit from such support – and more. From this emerged “Why You?”

The support system Blocker envisioned back in 2003 included mentoring, but, he explained, it was “way more than that.” In 2011, he and Dr. Antonio Daniels co-founded the “Why You?” Initiative, Inc. (YU?), a Minnesota-based nonprofit organization.

The program was about more than providing resources: It’s about “connecting with other people who can help me move forward in my life.” Blocker added, “We still have those same mentors [and the] same support system today that continually challenges us to move forward and become even better and brighter.”

Asked about the group’s title, Blocker recalled, “We were trying to come up with a good name. We said we should be asking a rhetorical question and we came up with ‘Why You?’ We are questioning the students on why me [to] help them understand that they are needed, [they] are unique, they are valued, and they have a sense of purpose for the greater community. They don’t realize that.”

Originally from Atlanta, Georgia, Blocker is a first-generation college graduate with degrees in computer science and industrial and systems engineering. “We provide a support system for students either younger than us [or] older than us,” he said. “As we become more educated, we provide a theoretical and conceptual framework in how we approach it.”

He said that of the estimated 180 students participating in the program, nearly half are males. All are from low-income backgrounds. “We have students in 17 states. We don’t have branches. Ages range from 15-year-olds to the oldest person in the organization, who is 47 years old.

“Eighty percent of our budget comes from me and the co-founder; the other [20] percent comes from our friends,” Blocker said of the group’s funding. Last year, his organization received several grants, including one from the St. Paul Foundation “that helped with our programming,” he reported.

Blocker said there are monthly webinars, which usually begin in May and run through September. He added there is also an on-line ConFab being planned for this September.

“We have students across the board,” he continued. “A lot of our students are STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] majors — about 40 percent. We have students who are in the arts and humanities, pre-law [and] medical school.

“We are more of a long-term engagement that includes not just high school and undergraduate students – we do the gamut. We try to tackle high school students and post-high school students, the ones that maybe graduate from high school but need someone in their life to show them and support them through a higher pace.

“Former U.S. President Barack Obama’s ‘My Brother’s Keeper’ initiative does fall in line in what we do,” he said.

Why You? held its first in-person ConFab last month in Minneapolis expecting about 180 people, but nearly 200 persons showed up, said Blocker. “I thought the numbers would be real low because it was our first time. We were surprisingly pleased with the turnout.

“They [the conference participants] thought it was an excellent event and said they would like to come again. People came away feeling empowered. The purpose was for all those students that we serve [to have] an opportunity to come to Minnesota and actually meet some of their mentors face-to-face for the first time.”

There is no formal requirement to participate in Why You? “We have an on-line application process that we open up in June and November,” Blocker concluded. “The only requirement is that we want students to want to be helped. If those students don’t want to be helped, we can’t reach out to help them.”

For further information, email or go to

New scholarship opportunity removes barrier for homeless students in Twin Cities

New scholarship opportunity removes barrier for homeless students in Twin Cities

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As the cost of college grows, research shows that so does the number of hungry and homeless students at colleges and universities across the country.

Open Your Heart to the Hungry and Homeless is offering 10, $2,000 scholarships for the 2018-2019 school year to Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC) students who are currently homeless or have experienced homelessness in the past two years. Funds can be used for education or living expenses.

With demand for technical and skilled trade positions at an all-time high, and with MCTC’s nearly 100 percent job placement rates for students graduating from their career and technical education (CTE) programs, Open Your Heart is confident that the benefits of this scholarship are twofold.

In addition to filling high-demand jobs, students are offered a real and permanent escape from a homeless life.

Since 1986, Open Your Heart to the Hungry and Homeless, a Minnesota non-profit, has supported hunger, homeless, and domestic violence programs throughout the state.

Entirely funded by the private sector, mostly individuals, Open Your Heart has also worked to ensure that homeless students have the same access to educational opportunities as all Minnesotans.

For more information please visit Scholarship applicants should apply online at by the June 1 deadline.

—Information provided by Open Your Heart to the Hungry and Homeless


COMMENTARY: Autism: moving from acceptance to action 

COMMENTARY: Autism: moving from acceptance to action 

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In honor of April being National Autism Awareness Month, Sheletta Brundidge shares the first of a two-part story chronicling her discovery that three of her four children were on the autism spectrum.

My son Brandon was two years old when our autism journey began. He was playing with a couple of toys in the restroom while I was nearby bathing his then-one-year old sister Cameron (I was pregnant with their soon-to-be-born baby brother Daniel at the time). She was splashing around in the tub having fun and I guess he decided he’d look for a neighboring body of water to splash around in, too.

Brandon made a bee-line for the toilet and took a nose dive. Being a germaphobe I yelled out, “Noooooooooooo!” before sprinting over to pull his head out of the bowl. His face was wet, his hair was damp and he was as happy as he could be.

I immediately took Cameron out of the tub and put Brandon in, scrubbing him as hard as I could trying to get those toilet germs off his face. I remember looking at him in the eye and pleading “Son, don’t play in the toilet, okay?”

He looked beyond me with a blank stare, as if I wasn’t standing there. I knew instantly something was wrong. The light that had been in my son’s eyes was dimmed ever so slightly.

He couldn’t figure out what I was saying to him, and worse yet, he didn’t know how to respond. He began babbling and looking around as if imaginary butterflies were capturing his attention. He couldn’t give me direct eye contact.

“Oh no,” I thought, “Something is wrong with my baby!” Then I wondered, “How long has this been going on?” I blamed myself for not noticing sooner. How could I not see that my son was slipping into darkness?

I was working full-time, raising a growing family, being a mom, a wife, a daughter, an employee. I was busy keeping my house clean and too preoccupied with chores to have a handle on my child’s mental development.

I hadn’t taken a moment to notice —until my son dunked his head in a toilet — that he wasn’t behaving like a normal two-year-old.

He was lining his food up and not eating it. He was still drinking from a bottle.

He wouldn’t make eye contact. He was babbling instead of talking. He didn’t respond to his name when I called for him. I missed all the warning signs. I ignored all the clues.

My. Son. Had. Autism.

I cried. I stopped eating. I got down to 96 pounds. I was curled up in the fetal position under the table, unable to do anything except feel sorry for myself. My momma had to come and take care of my kids. I couldn’t even fold laundry or brush my teeth, because, of course, I made it all about me. I’m a narcissist after all.

Somehow I thought I had failed as a parent and caused my son to have autism. So, instead of getting busy finding help for my child, I cowered in fear of what life had to offer a Black boy with special needs.

Since he couldn’t speak, would the police shoot him if he didn’t respond to their commands?

Would he ever be able to get a job and support himself? What about college? Without words, could he find a wife?

All the dreams I had for little Brandon were taking a nose dive out of the freakin’ window.

I had decided, that at age two, my son’s life was over and there was no hope for him.

But God reached down and snatched me out from under the kitchen table and said: “I chose you!” My spirit awakened and I realized this was a blessing: Of all the women in the world, God picked me to be Brandon’s mother. What an honor that He selected me to be the shepherd of this little life.

I had to get it together for my baby, so he could live out his God-given destiny and reach his full potential. It was all on me to get it done.

First I went to the folk closest to me for assistance. But since I didn’t have friends who had kids with special needs, nobody could tell me what to do. I tried to call on my family but that quickly backfired.

My momma brushed off my suspicions about Brandon having autism as just me being dramatic. “Ain’t nothing wrong with that damn boy. You just looking for attention; he gon’ talk when he gets ready. Your cousin Meme didn’t talk until she was 3.”

My grandmother outright blamed me for everything, “If you had just got an epidural during your pregnancy,” she quipped, “the boy would be fine now. But you wanted to do that natural childbirth [expletive]. He probably ain’t get no oxygen to his brain. That’s why he ain’t talking. It’s your fault, Sheletta.”

Since family and friends wouldn’t come to my rescue, I turned to the professionals.

Everything that I read about having an autism diagnosis said early detection and intervention is the key to success. So I made an appointment at a children’s hospital to get Brandon evaluated and tested for autism.

After three hours of checking out my son, the doctor stepped out of the room and declared, “Yep, you were right, your child has autism. Have a good life.”

Now what? What do I do with my special needs child? Does he need a prescription to keep him from flapping his hands? Or some speech sessions a couple times a week to help him learn how to talk? They didn’t give me one damn referral — not even a tip on what kind of therapy he needed or how I could go about getting services for Brandon.

I didn’t know what to do or where to turn, but I kept hearing God say, “I chose you!”

I knew this was gon’ be a “Roll up your sleeves — against all odds — me and my baby against the world” situation. So I went to my husband Shawn and asked if I could quit my job.

Without the worry of working every day, I dedicated my life to learning more about autism spectrum disorders and looking for ways to heal my child.

I didn’t want to get help for him. Forget help! I wanted Brandon healed from this autism diagnosis, so he could grow up to be the man God designed him to be without deficit or deficiency. I prayed for God to send the answer and He did.

But in the meantime, both Cameron and my newborn son Daniel were diagnosed with autism as well.

Next week, Sheletta encounters an angel who guided her through the proper therapy and medication to heal her son Brandon from the effects of his autism diagnosis. She will provide a blueprint for other parents to find services for their special needs children and scholarships that are available to pay for it all.

To learn more about autism, go here

COMMENTARY: Whites comprise nation’s highest number of teachers

COMMENTARY: Whites comprise nation’s highest number of teachers

Minnesota Spokesman Recorder logo
I spent most of my first year of grad school sitting in the back row of class with my hood up. There were nearly 40 of us in the cohort. Two were Black.

My hoodie was an act of silent dissent. Today, I completely understand when my students want to do the same, even with me in front of the room. Academia and public schools are spaces where people of color often feel underrepresented, unwelcome and unheard.

From third grade through high school, I was a student in a series of neighborhood public schools. Afterward, I went to community college and then on to a public liberal arts college where I earned my bachelor’s and eventually my master’s degree. Each phase of my educational journey shared two characteristics:

  1. The further I progressed, the fewer Black and Brown classmates I had.
  2. As I progressed, regardless of the demographics of the student population, the faculty and administrators were uniformly nearly all White.

That needs to change.

An organization I am part of, the National Network of State Teachers of the Year, recently released videos designed to provoke conversations that will lead to this kind of change. Called Courageous Conversations About Race in Schools, the videos provide an effective starting point for real discussions that should be happening in schools — particularly in colleges and universities across this country.

Research tells us that upwards of 80 percent of U.S. teachers are White. Different research tells us that nearly 80 percent of teachers are female. Obviously, those Venn diagrams overlap in a largely White and female workforce.

At the same time, because of higher birth rates among immigrant populations and the “mysterious phenomenon” of disproportionately high numbers of White children in private schools, a majority of the population of students in public school are students of color, and those numbers are headed even higher, based on enrollment numbers in lower grades.

Schools systems need to do a better job of attracting and retaining effective teachers of color. Students of color need to see more people of color in positions of expertise and authority, and teachers need to be conversant and literate in the cultural traditions that are present in their classrooms. None of these statements should be controversial.

The lack of representation is an equity issue, and to resolve it we can look to lessons elsewhere in our society. During the Vietnam War, the Pentagon realized that majority Brown platoons of soldiers and Marines wouldn’t take life-or-death orders from a uniformly White officer corps. The Pentagon thus underwent an intentional effort to diversify the officer corps. Since then, the Pentagon has submitted amicus curiae briefs in every major affirmative action case before the U.S. Supreme Court because they understand that representation matters.

Time for a representation disruption

The word “disruption” gets hurled around frequently in business and increasingly in education. Usually, it’s about handing Silicon Valley tech bros a metric ton of venture capital to sprinkle the #EdTech™ fairy dust of the moment. But I’m going to argue that when it comes to teacher diversity and representation in schools, we actually need disruption.

In my neck of the woods, the numbers are especially grim: There are only about 800 Black teachers in all of Washington State. In my 12-year teaching career, I have never worked with another Black male general education teacher.

There’s no reason for me to be alone. We see talented students of color all over higher education because universities know how to recruit them. As Jeff Duncan-Andrade says, “Look at any college football or basketball team and tell me colleges don’t know how to recruit Black talent. When I was a kid I thought Georgetown was an HBCU.”

But it can’t just be student-athletes. We need to bring in students who can increase teacher diversity. It’s imperative-and it’s well within our power.

Nate Bowling is a high school government teacher in Tacoma, Washington, who was named the 2016 Washington State Teacher of the year and a finalist for National Teacher of the Year.

United Negro College Fund helps students across the nation attend college

United Negro College Fund helps students across the nation attend college

(Jonika Stowes/MSR News)
Shamarr McKinney-VanBuren

Minnesota Spokesman Recorder logo

MINNESOTA SPOKESMAN-RECORDER — “A mind is a terrible thing to waste” is the signature slogan at the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), led by President and CEO Michael L. Lomax.

Local UNCF offices across the country are mandated to raise funds for the Washington, D.C. office where scholarship funding for students is distributed. Funding comes from varying sources including special events, workplace campaigns, and individuals who are committed to the mission of UNCF.

Laverne McCartney-Knighton took on the initiative of helping UNCF raise scholarship funds in June 2017 as the new regional development director of the Minneapolis location. With 24 office locations in the Twin Cities, each is poised to bring in substantial funding to help students across the nation attend colleges. Since raised funds are distributed through the Washington, D.C. office, local offices can focus on fundraising.

McCartney-Knighton says, “Most of what we do is relational. We build relationships with key executives within corporations such as Medtronic Foundation, Cargill, 3M and so forth.” McCartney admits that this is her first time as a development director but points out that her previous positions have been in developing relationships with companies.

After 13 years at Target Corporation as a community relations executive for cities such as Chicago, Seattle and Detroit, McCartney went to work for a small nonprofit organization in the Twin Cities before taking the position at UNCF.

Here in the Twin Cities, UNCF’s two major funding events are, first, the Marin Luther King breakfast, a fundraiser through a partnership with General Mills that happens yearly on MLK Day. The other major fundraiser is the Twin Cities Masked Ball, which takes place in May of each year and in 2016 raised $770,000 in scholarship funds for students in Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota. In other states this is called the Mayor’s Masked Ball, and even with these large amounts raised, according to UNCF’s website the funds provide scholarships to only one out of 10 students who apply.

UNCF is clear on its brochure that African Americans continue to show among the lowest rates of college attendance “…due to high costs of college compared to lower African American income levels and to the fact that many African Americans are not given the education before college for success in college.” Students not only receive funding to pay for tuition but can also earn scholarships towards textbooks, housing and other college expenses.

The myth of UNCF, founded in 1944, is that it only provides scholarships to students attending HBCUs. Although it significantly supports students attending one of its 37 member HBCUs, UNCF provides its scholarships to any low-income students regardless of race or ethnicity. In 2017 at the MLK Legacy Scholarship dinner, six students received funds to attend their college of choice.

One recipient, Shamarr McKinney-VanBuren, knew she wanted to stay close to home for college as the first in her family to attend. McKinney-VanBuren applied to three other in-state colleges and chose Augsburg College in Minneapolis to study computer science.

Born and raised in the Twin Cities, McKinney-VanBuren said, “This is a brand new journey for me and my family. As a first-generation college student, I was looking for ways to pay for college and came across UNCF online.”

The Gates Millennium Scholars Programs, one of UNCF’s largest funders, supports all students of color attending any college in the United States. Another myth about UNCF, due to lack of graduate-level programs at its 37 HBCUs, is that scholarships aren’t given out towards master’s and doctoral programs. Koch Scholars started in 2014 at UNCF with a $25 million dollar grant from Koch Industries, Inc.

UNCF has a national program called the Empower Me Tour that kicks off yearly in September coinciding with the school year; the Minneapolis Empower Me Tour is held at the Minneapolis Convention Center. In 2016 Caine Knuckles, a graduate of Southwest High School, left the Convention Center with a $50,000 scholarship to Philander Smith College and is now in his freshman year after being accepted at three HBCU, according to Southwest Journal.

Many students who attend this event across the nation get accepted to HBCUs on the spot, having done work prior to the event through their public high schools in making sure they are armed with their résumés and academic transcripts.

UNCF provides a host of scholarship funds for students of color who want to attend a college in the United States at any level of their academic career.

Visit to scroll through all scholarships and requirements. For more information, visit Health Fair 11’s website at This story is made possible by a grant from the Medtronic Foundation.

Jonika Stowes welcomes reader responses to