By Lauren M. Poteat

Despite constant gains in technology, infrastructure and industry across the United States, Black and brown children are still hampered by some of the largest educational gaps in the nation.

Of the Black and brown children suffering academically throughout the U.S. school system, boys in particular seem to be affected the most, with extremely high educational literacies disparities found in the nation’s capital and neighboring Baltimore.

With a mission to address and correct these educational imbalances, Shawn Hardnett, founder and CEO of the North Star College Preparatory Academy for Boys, recently collaborated with four other D.C. and Baltimore all-male schools for the inaugural “Black and Brown Hackathon,” in order to better facilitate and support Black and brown boys.

“While being here in D.C., my focus has always been on supporting Black and brown boys using the arts,” Hardnett said. “Through my many volunteer roles in education, I noticed a tremendous lack of adequately trained teachers and a [low] number of Black and brown boys succeeding academically and I really wanted to do something that would allow me to correct that.

“Through the help of some very special educators, community members and parents, my goal … is to give Black and brown boys a platform to share their own experiences in school and what it would take for them to do even better,” he said.

During the Oct. 2 event at the partnering Ron Brown College Preparatory High School, 100 male students and over 150 male and female volunteers participated in critical thinking exercises, friendship building games and leadership training.

Bishop John T. Walker School for Boys, Washington Latin Public Charter School and Baltimore Collegiate School for Boys also took part in the event.

​”I’ve been to D.C. plenty of times, but when I learned that there was a leadership program for young Black boys going on, that made me really want to go,” said participant Denzel Mitchell. “Today was fun because we got a chance to talk about all these problems that happen to young Black males so that we can help them and enjoy fun activities.”

Desmond Johnson, an eighth-grade student at the Baltimore Collegiate School for Boys known for collectively organizing and helping other students, said the program had already begun to help him.

“Being here makes me think about how I can do and be something better than what I’m doing and being now, and really makes me want to show and tell younger kids how to improve and hopefully how to accomplish their dreams — and my own, too,” Desmond said.

And while students like Raymond Weeden III, a sixth-grader who attends Washington Latin Public Charter School, are fortunate enough to have a ever-present male role model in their lives, Kerel Thompson, a STEM instructor at North Star, said there is still more work to be done.

“Whenever we talk to Black and brown male students, they always list the same issues, with concentration stemming from home issues, attention from girls and the need and want to be cool,” Thompson said. “Our goal is to provide them with structure, keep them engaged and send them a message that they can be and do whatever they want in life. … We are concerned about boys, because we know they are in trouble and we as a society need to start finding out why.”

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