This post was originally published on Seattle Medium
By Aaron Allen
Building a stronger education system for all students and improving the lives of Black boys is the core value and mission Kingmakers.
The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI), the philanthropic arm of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan, is committing $4.8 million in funding to bring Kingmakers’ research-backed school improvement and comprehensive methods and approach to more schools and districts across the country.
Based out of Oakland, CA, Kingmakers works hand-in-hand with school districts to help them get a full understanding of their community’s unique needs. They partner on building the capacity of schools to make improvements, helping teachers form deep relationships with students that ultimately increase learning and life outcomes.
Established as the African American Male Achievement program (AAMA) in the Oakland Unified School District in 2010, and the AAMA in the Seattle Public school district in 2017, Kingmakers later became an independent nonprofit organization. A study of AAMA programs, conducted in 2019 by researchers at Stanford University, showed that Kingmakers’ programs provided a positive impact on students who participated, but also, those students who didn’t participate in a specific Kingmakers program, benefited from school-wide improvements as a result of their school’s partnership with Kingmakers and the same study also showed students who did participate in the program were more likely to graduate high school.
In Seattle, Kingmakers has partnered with Seattle Public Schools as an elective program for Black male middle school and high school students taught by Black male facilitators. As part of the program, Kingmakers supports the cultural, historical, social, and emotional needs of young Black boys and teens as it relates to their identity.
According to Anthony Shoecraft, Managing Director of Business Development for Kingmakers of Seattle, the mission of the organization is to fundamentally transform the education system and improve the educational and life outcomes for Black students.
Since its launch in 2017, Kingmakers of Seattle has supported the brilliance and excellence of hundreds of Black boys and teens, with 115 Black male SPS students participating in the first year alone.
“Starting in 2017, the Kingmaker pilot program began in Seattle in one high school and three middle schools,” says Shoecraft. “Now we are at three high schools and three middle schools serving and engaging and encouraging hundreds of students across the district. I believe the estimate is more than 400 students.”
Kingmakers’ comprehensive approach is grounded in six drivers of systems change: culturally relevant pedagogy and curriculum; Black male teacher recruitment, training and retention; youth voice and leadership; community and family engagement; narrative change; and policy change. Within this framework, their focus is shaped by local needs. From its inception, Kingmakers has used listening exercises and assessments to design programming tailored to each district in order to foster lasting change.
“Changing systems and changing narratives takes multi-racial, inter-generational and cross-functional collaboration among educators, students, families, communities and policymakers,” says Christopher Chatmon, founder and CEO of Kingmakers of Oakland. “When we combine their knowledge with what the research tells us about the type of environments that help students thrive, then we can truly build school cultures that set every young king–and all students–up for success.”
Kingmakers collaborates with districts supporting their community’s school’s efforts. They [Kingmakers] work with their district partners through what they call a “Learning Collaborative”, a unified collective effort helping schools’ capacity to make improvements, helping teachers form deep relationships with students that ultimately increase learning and life outcomes.
“We work with districts in many, many ways,” says Shoecraft. “One of those is our Learning Collaborative. Our Learning Collaborative really brings together school and community cohorts of students, kings, parents and families, central offices leaders and we convene every other month and that includes all of our districts including Oakland, San Francisco, Antioch and the like.”
“Our work centers around our collaboration as well as making sure districts have the right support whether it’s policy, student engagement strategies, technical assistance and African curriculum,” Shoecraft continued.
According to Shoecraft, the investments made by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative will help Kingmakers of Seattle looks to improve on every level of service.
“One of our fundamental principles is “transformation happens through proximity. While we are California startup, we have roots in California, we have roots here in Washington state and we even have roots in the South. Our work is deeply relational, and our work is in service to schools and districts where we have those roots,” says Shoecraft. “This [new funding will provide an] opportunity to deepen our engagement with the Seattle Public Schools around their needs, and we pride ourselves in being super needs responsive, and will only enhance the work we are already doing.”
Standing with a growing community of partners, CZI and Kingmakers are working together to equip teachers with the research, tools, and partners they need to center students’ well-being in academic achievement and success.
“In Oakland, Kingmakers established a strong track record of improving student outcomes,” said Sandra Liu Huang, head of education at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. “They are a national leader in helping school districts apply research to transform the culture and conditions of a school to increase student success across the board.”
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