After establishing the California Alliance of African American Educators (CAAAE) in 2001, to advocate for Black children who were being marginalized in that state, Debra Watkins envisioned providing two-day summer institutes to inform and inspire educators with proven pedagogical resources to ensure academic and cultural excellence for students of African ancestry. From the onset, these institutes were well-attended and given excellent evaluations. Over a ten-year period, held either at Stanford University or the University of California, Los Angeles, these institutes combined to serve more than 1000 educators and featured the following keynoters: Drs. Bob Moses; Beverly Daniel Tatum; Gloria Ladson-Billings; Pedro Noguera; Wade Nobles; Lisa Delpit; Sharroky Hollie; Carole Lee; and Geneva Gay.
Following the 10th Summer Institute, it became clear that the CAAAE was uniquely positioned, because of consistently demonstrated positive impact on the educational achievement of African American students, to help address the national crisis in Black education. At the urging of one of CAAAE’s Think Tank members, Dr. Joyce King, Debra helped spearhead a National Black Education Working Summit in Chicago in October 2012. One of the nine Action Groups of the Chicago Summit, proposed to address the widespread miseducation of Black children, was focused on building a network of schools, churches, community partners, educators, researchers and non-profit organizations to serve African American students across the country by scaling CAAAE's proven programs including Project WORD, Dr. Frank S. Greene Scholars Program (GSP), Dr. George Washington Carver Scholars Program (CSP) and other activities that promote academic and cultural excellence.
Dr. Hassimi O. Maiga, a renowned expert in the Songhoy language, and Dr. King suggested that we call the new organization, A Black Education Network (ABEN). In the Songhoy language, ABEN means “it is finished” or “the buck stops here,” a name we felt was most fitting for the radical stance we are taking to regain control over the education of Black children for true liberation.
After being formally introduced at the October 2012 Summit in Chicago, our vision is being embraced by educators and many others from around the country who care deeply about the future of African American students. Following the scholarly gathering in Chicago, a national leadership team emerged to spearhead the establishment of the network.
Upon ABEN’s return to Chicago a year later to share our progress at A Black Education Congress, additional scholars joined in support and several have been added to an Advisory Committee. Further, a Wisdom Circle was formed with profound educational equity pioneers and legends who have been at the forefront of Black education research and innovative and proven practices . Critical to ABEN’s radical plan is our ability to obtain substantial funding in order to build a sustainable infrastructure for the organization and transformative work ahead. The outlook is promising and we met our goal to have the initial funding in hand in 2014. We are actively soliciting additional philanthropic and public sector-related investments for ABEN’s work. Should you be interested in joining ABEN as an investor or program partner, particularly with our Saturday STEM Academies focused on academic and cultural excellence held one Saturday per month, please contact us. We look forward to hearing from you!
At ABEN, we seek to work with partners who are committed to moving toward the provision of African-centered education — to the degree possible within any given environment.