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Mel Gravely

The African American Boys Project: Understanding Young African American Boys

This is the third blog in our four-part series on the training document, Supporting School Readiness and Success in African American Boys Project.

In our first blog of the series, “An Introduction to the “Supporting the School Readiness and Success of African American Boys Project’’, we discussed how the Office of Head Start’s National Center for Cultural and Linguistic Responsiveness (OHS NCCLR) found that African American boys were disproportionately benefitting from the “connection between culturally responsive programming and child development”. 

In response to this, the “Culturally Responsive Strength-Based (CRSB) Framework’’ was established by the OHS — a system centered around Culture and Language, to improve the early educational experiences of these children.

Why is the project targeted towards African American Boys?

Evidence has increasingly shown educational disparities for African American boys. The African American boys project document cites data on the higher rates of suspension and expulsion from preschool as opposed to kindergarten through 12th grade (three times as many!), with boys making up the vast majority of these suspensions. In addition, African American children were twice as likely as whites to be expelled from preschool. As a result, educators and policymakers have raised concerns about the school readiness of these children. 

The authors of the report argue that not only did these statistics reinforce that African American boys were missing out on vital learning opportunities at such a critical age, but that the consequences of this were incredibly detrimental to their self-esteem and self-worth.

At the same time, the public was becoming more aware of the reality of the world in which African American males were being forced to navigate from birth. The authors made note of the fact that it had been widely documented, both through news media and government reports, that while they may be born into the same society, they were not given a position on the same starting line. 

Poverty was stressed as having an enormous role to play in a child’s learning and development, as well as their access to education. The report cites research from 2015 that discusses how black males were twice as likely to grow up in poverty than white males..

“The facts are stunning: in comparison to White Americans, African American males are more likely to live in poverty, live with only one parent, drop out of high school, and be unemployed,” the report states.

The project also discussed the role gender, race and class had on African American boys in the early childhood sphere, and how it limited the opportunities they were given access to. The author argued that societal perceptions and the expectations placed on these children, as well as how they were perpetuated in the media, were setting them up for failure from the beginning.  

There was also reference made to research that showed the ways in which boys learned were significantly different from the way girls did. While boys required more freedom to play and be active, there was also a lot of societal pressure placed on them to be tough and masculine. This meant they were unable to explore or express their emotions and feelings. 

The report also touches on the teacher/student gender imbalance, saying that “where ninety-nine percent of the teachers are female… boys’ active and exploratory learning styles may be perceived as problematic.”

For African American boys, research included in the project highlighted that teachers’ perceptions of black children had a significant effect on whether or not they were considered ready for school. Instead of seeing these qualities as strengths, they were often labeled as “at-risk”.

“Black preschoolers, both boys and girls, with imaginative and pretend play skills were evaluated negatively in terms of school readiness,” the report writes. “Whereas non-Black children with similar play skills were evaluated positively by their teachers.”

It’s these factors that stand as a testament to the obstacles and challenges faced by African American males, even from the earliest stages of their lives.

The Paradigm Shift

Assumptions, concepts, values and practices shape the way we view the world — this is what we call a paradigm. How we develop this perception is based on nature, nurture and everything in between. What our own experiences have taught us, how our parents raised us, and who we surround ourselves with all have a role to play in shaping our paradigm of how the world looks to us. In this case, the project explores the paradigm of how we view African American Boys, and what impact this has on their childhood learning. 

The author argues in order to uplift African American Boys to be able to succeed, we need to be able to shift that paradigm during the early childhood stages, where their learning and development are so crucial.

In our next blog in our series on the Supporting School Readiness and Success in African American Boys Project, we’ll talk about Implementing Culturally-Responsive, Strength-Based Practices.

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  1. Thank you for the blog, Mr.Gravely. I look forward to reading the series of 4 blogs based on the report. As a former Head Start Director, it is my fervent hope that the report and the resulting program receive the attention they deserve.

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