Village of Wisdom

September 8, 2018 | Black Genius at Black Genius Fest, Durham, NC | Photograph by Village of Wisdom
September 8, 2018 | Black Genius at Black Genius Fest, Durham, NC | Photograph by Village of Wisdom

Protecting Black Genius

“Parents are the first teachers of all children, but schools don’t frequently look at parents as experts of learning,” said William P. Jackson, Ph.D., founder and chief dreamer at Village of Wisdom (VOW). “We asked ourselves: How do we put Black parents in a powerful position to inform instructional decisions in the education system?”

Based in Durham, North Carolina, VOW translates Black parent wisdom into culturally affirming learning strategies for Black students. When students feel that teachers recognize their individual strengths and value their cultural backgrounds, they are more likely to feel a sense of belonging and connection to school. These well-being indicators are connected to long-term academic achievement.

To meet this challenge, VOW developed tools and resources to measure and improve cultural affirmation in schools. They identified six elements that define the racial climate of a classroom and impact students’ academic performance. Schools can benchmark their progress against these elements–found in the Black Genius framework–through a survey administered to students. Parents can also complete a Black Genius profile to document their child’s knowledge, strengths, and interests–and communicate this information directly to teachers.

CZI supports Village of Wisdom and the development of a clearinghouse of culturally affirming strategies developed and validated by Black parents. Practices designed to explicitly support Black students are an essential part of a whole child approach to learning that meets students’ academic, social, emotional, identity, physical, and mental health needs. VOW’s parent engagement model ensures that these tools are not just responsive to, but often created by, and always validated by Black parents and caregivers.

With COVID-19 creating unprecedented disruption for students and their families, Village of Wisdom has worked to build community and reach parents in new ways. Instead of hosting a Black Genius festival at the start of the school year, VOW created a moving video that is the centerpiece of a digital Black to School campaign. “We went to the community and asked how we could deliver a message to our local kids,” explained Jackson. “They came up with the idea to write a Dear Black Genius letter,” which became the narration in the video.

The development of digital resources in response to the pandemic–including an ongoing project to create instructional strategies that align with the Black Genius framework and work for digital and at-home learning–has allowed Village of Wisdom to expand its reach far beyond North Carolina. Jackson’s vision is to reshape how the education system approaches closing the opportunity gap–with a focus on creating the conditions that allow Black children to succeed: “What Village of Wisdom will become is a place that validates culturally affirming strategies, and that validation will happen through the Black parent voice.”

Nov 20, 2020