By Jim Krumel – email@example.com
LIMA — Jeffrey Kirkman is concerned with what he views as a dwindling emphasis on education by Black families as the nation this weekend celebrates the life and teachings of Martin Luther King Jr.
Kirkman, a Black entrepreneur, operates Nine Consulting Services in Lima, which provides cultural diversity and training services to educational institutions as well as businesses.
“There is a problem and it all ties together,” Kirkman said. “Somewhere down the line, we as a Black culture have fallen away from the priority we were putting on education.”
Kirkman points to high school graduation rates, which he says have dropped for minorities, especially among black males. It is no surprise this comes at a time when more Black males are serving jail sentences for various crimes, he says.
“We know that the incarceration rate for black males is up. We show that in our numbers that 75% to 83% of all black males who don’t graduate, end up being incarcerated. That is tough when you consider that minority males only make up between 9% to 10% of the whole population, but we represent 35% to 40% of the prison population,” he said.
Kirkman said communities like Lima cannot afford to let that keep happening if they are to advance the Black culture.
“Our families need to understand that education still gives their child the best opportunity for success. It needs to be a priority. The push needs to come from home.”
Minority parents are no different than other parents, Kirkman said. They want the best for their children. However, many don’t know how to navigate the educational system.
Not everyone is in agreement on the path to take.
Kirkman is an advocate of Ohio’s EdChoice scholarship program for those who are looking for an alternative to a public school. Often referred to as the voucher program, EdChoice scholarships allow tax dollars to be used for students to attend private schools.
However, the 25-year-old program is currently the subject of a lawsuit by a coalition of public school districts, which includes Lima, Elida and Kalida schools. In the case of Lima, the lawsuit notes that more than 600 students living within the Lima school district are expected to receive $3.5 million in vouchers to attend private schools, an average of $5,833.
That’s money being skimmed away from public schools and adds to the difficulties of running programs required of them, Lima Schools Superintendent Jill Ackerman told The Lima News earlier this month.
Kirkman believes ending the voucher program would be a mistake.
“If I was a parent who had a child in a failing school, I would want to have an opportunity to say ‘no, it’s not fair for my kid because I live in a certain area where the schools are not performing the way they should be performing. Why should my kids have to suffer by being forced to go to a failing school just because I’m poor? I should have the opportunity to send my kids to some of the best schools like anyone else.’”
He added, “If I’m preaching in my household that education is important, I need to put my kid in the best place possible. Some of these kids when they go to college, they realize they’re not even ready. They’re nowhere close to ready and that’s why the retention rate in colleges is low for blacks.”
Ackerman says it’s a misconception that all students seeking a voucher will actually receive one.
“These schools screen these kids and decide whether or not they want them. It’s not a parent’s choice. It never has been,” she said.
College and trades
It’s imperative that such differences are worked out without closing a door that leads to a better education for Blacks, Kirkman said.
According to statistics compiled in 2020 by the Thomas Fordham Institute, 56 percent of Ohio students enroll in two- or four-year colleges or universities after high school. Enrollment is highest among students from suburban areas (73%) and lower in urban districts (42%).
“If we don’t educate our young people, we can’t advance our culture,” Kirkman said. “The decisions that will be guiding this country in the future are being made in the board rooms and on the political fronts by people who have advanced degrees. If we’re not there, then we’re not enabled to help make decisions that may affect our community. As is, we only still represent probably about 12% of the population that’s on campus.”
Improving that number is a matter of “connecting the dots,” Kirkman said.
“If our young people are planning on going to college, then how do we help them get there? We understand that a lot of young people don’t even know how to go to college. Maybe they’re not getting the proper advice from their counselors at schools, or it may be the counselor doesn’t think some of these people are even proficient enough even to go to college. When we talk to young people about going to college, it’s something they can’t even envision.”
College is not for everybody, Kirkman acknowledges. But he says it’s important for everyone to have a skill. In that light, he notes that the trades – welders and pipe fitters, for example — are training people at no cost.
“You just can’t graduate from high school, and say, ‘OK I graduated, now I’m going to look for a job.’ It’s just too hard that way.”
Kirkman said Black residents need not look any further than 50 Town Square for an example of how parental guidance along with an education can make a difference. The office of mayor is now held by Sharetta Smith, a Black woman who overcame many obstacles in working her way through college to obtain a law degree.
“Sharetta is like our poster child. She is a young lady who came from a decent family who preached the importance of an education. She worked hard all her life. If it wasn’t for her education, she would have never had that opportunity to become mayor.”
By Jim Krumel
Reach Jim Krumel, retired editor of The Lima News, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reach Jim Krumel, retired editor of The Lima News, at email@example.com.
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