A senior Education Ministry official came in for a standing ovation when he sadly recalled the night he received the call notifying him of the gun murder of one of his former students.
Dr Lou Matthews, Director of Educational Standards and Accountability at the Ministry of Education, delivered the keynote luncheon address at the 5th Annual International Colloquium on Black Males in Education; the first to be held in Bermuda.
Expanding on the theme ‘From Mazes to Pipelines to Success’, he told the audience that he is “conflicted” working in a system that is “part of a maze that has been responsible for large mediocrity in public school outcomes for young Black males.
“I stand here conflicted because this maze is a powerful invisible set of circumstances that affects them from birth. The system needs some flexibility and the education system I serve hasn’t been very flexible,” said Dr Matthews.
After his speech he said: “Flexibility is a characteristic of a highly functioning system that serves people well.”
Like so many young Black males he said he was raised in a single parent home. Raised in the Parson’s Road area, he attended what was then Central, which is now Victor Scott Primary School.
Before deciding that he wanted to be a part of public education in Bermuda he taught Math at CedarBridge Academy.
And it was there that he met a troublesom student who was “plopped” in his class.
That student was Haile ‘Star Child’ Outerbridge, who was gunned down with Ricco Furbert in a cold blooded double murder at Belvin’s on Happy Valley Road in Pembroke, on the night of January 23, 2013.
Recounting how this student grew to become a positive role model in Boulevard Community Club circles, Dr Matthews said: “Haile could reach the young men I had aged out of.” And he recalled the night he received word of the double murder.
“I got the call that he was shot and killed and I’ve never seen a club so shocked. The last time I saw him I told him I was proud of his leadership.”
Responding to questions fielded by Bermuda Real he said: “In general when I define education, I define it beyond schooling.
“Education as a system includes school and community as agents in the development of young people. Hence, my example with Haile as involving school, community club and neighbourhood.”
Asked how and why he feels conflicted as a Black man who is a part of a system failing our young Black males, based on how it has manifested into social ills like the gun murders we see today, he replied: “Our education system is like all others that cater to Black men – no different. There are documented and recognizable outcomes of underperformance (See Mincy report and other microstatistics).
“The conflict for me, any civil servant, and any other Bermudian who works in established institutions…My everyday work is about creating programs, challenging norms and building processes that improve the quality of life for Black men. In a system like education, one that is dependent on so many other things like funding, political will, it can be a very difficult challenge.
“The problem of gun and gang violence is a community problem where there has been a collective contribution. Broken family structures, diminished community supports and schooling have all played a part. Hence they must all play a part in the solution. The time is ripe for this and I think people are waking up to this reality.”
Asked why he believes forums like this are useful he said: “It lets us connect to a larger experience, share ideas and amplify our voice. And it is a breeding ground for action. It’s not action – but the seeds of action.”
Designed to generate provocative dialogue examining the wide range of educational issues affecting Black males, the week-long event offers collective platform to educate participants about global research strategies.
The theme is ‘Educational Transitions and Life Trajectories: Bridging Pathways to Success for Black Males’, from prekindergarten through to university, and how globalisation and internationalisation of education impact the experiences of Black males today.
Bermuda College President Dr Duranda Greene noted that the Colloquium is “a first for Bermuda College and the first of its kind for Bermuda”.
“The overall theme is absolutely timely for us, locally, even though we understand it is a global issue. The fact that more than 100 overseas educators and students are attending confirms this. And we all agree there is too much at stake for this not to be addressed in our respective communities immediately.
“The local planning committee is committed to ensuring that the dialogue does not stop when our visitors leave,” she added.
Approximately 40 policy makers and key stakeholders gathered on Monday for a closed working session that spoke to desired outcomes that can be developed or implemented at the policy level.
“We saw senior high school students from our public and private schools and Bermuda College students network with their overseas counterparts at the College and Graduate Academies on campus on Monday night, more than 200 members of the general community provided invaluable input to discussion about what must happen in the local context to address the issue,” Dr Greene said.
“And for the official opening session of the Colloquium Dr TyRon Douglas, son of the soil and Bermuda College alumnus, set the bar for the presentations that followed, with his keynote address from his latest book.
“I am more than optimistic that the remaining few days of this event will continue to inspire, motivate and stimulate real action in Bermuda. Our young men need a voice and action. And I believe we have the message, tools, resources, and energy to make it happen.”
Photos Courtesy of Bermuda College: Opening Session on October 5, 2016 at Fairmont Southampton Princess
By Ceola Wilson