Langston Hughes Academy students debriefing after giving a presentation centered around civic engagement at the annual John Hope Franklin Symposium for Reconciliation in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
By Nehemiah D. Frank
TULSA, Okla. — At the 10th Annual John Hope Franklin Symposium, educators and students from Langston Hughes Academy, a free public charter school, in Tulsa, Oklahoma presented a lecture on their school’s civic engagement journey. Their passion was felt immediately upon the beginning of their presentation.
As the presenters began individually introducing themselves, a graduating senior broke into tears while thanking everyone who came to listen to their session.
“Good morning, everyone. My name is Daniel Briggs, and I just want to thank everyone one for coming,” Briggs, 18, said emotionally with tears of gratitude gleaming in his eyes while hugging Dr. Adjei.
Briggs is among Langston Hughes small but first graduating class of 2019. Unfortunately, his class will probably be the last graduating from the culturally affirming, academically driven, free public charter community school.
Their school is scheduled to close this summer due to a controversy that started with the schools founding principal, who no longer works there.
Dean Justin Daniels
The school is now lead by Principal Dr. Libby Adjei and the school’s dean, Justin Daniels.
Unquestionably, the love and dedication between the students, principal, and the dean are authentic and genuine and could visibly be seen in their symposium session.
The goal for Daniels’ and Adjei’s civic engagement endeavor with their students and staff was to save their school.
However, as educators, Daniels and Dr. Adjei realized that the threat-situation developing around the school’s possible future closure would be a great learning experience for their students to learn about civic engagement 101.
“If you want this school to stay open; if you want to have an educational choice; if you want smaller classroom sizes; if you want to be educated by people who look like you and living in your community, it matters. If you want that, you’re going to have to raise your voice, and you’re going to have to speak up. And when the opportunity comes, you’re going to need to be ready for that,” Mr. Dainels said, echoing a previous conversation he held with his students early in the year.
Cormell Padillow, a rising senior, knows all about being prepared for civic engagement. Padillow has been on Mr. Daniels debate team for the past three years. He has even traveled to Washington DC and won countless awards for debate. Padillow spoke seemingly unnerved early this year at a City Council meeting on community policing.
Having been raised by his grandmother, Padillow considers and looks to Mr. Daniels as a father figure.
Daniels doesn’t believe in the myth that students don’t want to be civically engaged.
“I know, that’s not true,” he said in rebuttal to study that suggested black students aren’t interested in civic engagement.
“It’s not true because every time we offered our students an opportunity to travel to the state capitol, and meet with the state’s Board of Education and state superintendent, Joy Hofmeister, we had about 40 students show up to the school at 6 am. They were ready to travel to Oklahoma City and appeal to that body about the future possible closure of Langston Hughes. We didn’t beg the students. It came from a place of survival for them. It’s helping them break chains and break cycles,” Daniels explained.
Another one of their bright students approached the podium and also spoke about her experiences.
“Growing up black is really hard,” Farrah Bradley, 17 said. “When I came to Langston, I came having failed my 9th-grade year. At my previous school, I felt overlooked and felt like they were just pushing me through,” she included. “When I came to Langston, it was like culture shock. I thought it wasn’t for me. But I stayed, and I believe it’s the best decision that I ever made.”
Bradley attended classes at Tulsa Tech simultaneously while attending high school at Langston Hughes. She said that at her previous schools, she wouldn’t have had those opportunities and believes she would have been overlooked because of the color of her skin at her previous school.
“To do something like that at my old school, you would have to be at the top of the class, white, or fair skin toned. Langston Hughes is probably the best thing that ever happened to me,” she added.
At Langston, students get more one on one attention, and teachers encourage their students to be more involved and to try new things.
Bradley joins Briggs as a Langston Hughes graduate.
Trachei Wells, 16, story reads like an urban movie script similar to that of Ava DuVernay’s new film “When They See Us.” Well’s described himself as a troubled teen, always getting into fights in and out of school. He told the story of how his cousin was gun downed and murdered due to gang violence within moments of seeing him.
“That could have been,” said Wells. It was like my cousin knew something was about to happen because he told me to go home and get some change. Halfway between my house was when I heard the gunshots. When I went back to the store, there were cop cars everywhere, police tape, and ambulances,” Wells explained while holding back tears.
A few spectators in attendance were in tears after hearing his heartbreaking story. Today, Wells is a rising junior at Langston Hughes Academy. Dr. Adjei said he’s quickly becoming a model student.
Once failed by America’s broken education system, these young scholars have found hope at Langston Hughes Academy.
It’s important to note that it’s not the school building that made Langston a phenomenal place to heal, learn, and grow for these excellent students, but the love from their teachers, their new principal, and dean that made their educational experience worthy and transformative for themselves and their community.
Currently, Langston Hughes Academy is looking for a new authorizer so they may prevent their doors of opportunity, that their school provides for the local community, from closing, and may continue the work of healing and educating students from the north Tulsa community.
Nehemiah D. Frank is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Black Wall Street Times, an educator, TEDx alum, and Community Advisory Board Member for the Tulsa World.