By Jarrell Douse
Special to South Florida Times
OPA LACKA, Fla. — LaToya Robinson loathes labels—on people: They belong on canned food products and on clothing. She is even more repulsed when labels are used to represent people, especially black boys as thugs and thieves; suspects and Ritalin recipients.
Robinson, principal of the Richard Allen Leadership Academy K-5, a charter school for black boys, said that such labels are in part responsible for the rash of impromptu murders of black boys and men throughout the U.S. by law enforcement officers and others.
“The danger that exists for [our] boys is real and prevalent,” she said. According to Robinson, the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Kimani Gray and others “is cold evidence,” adding, “My goal is to breathe purpose and possibility into the lives of my boys.”
While studies have shown that the composition of jails and prisons can be predetermined based on the data of a student’s third grade aptitude test scores, Robinson muses, “I’m down to change those statistics.”
Robinson said that the single sex school is a necessary function for “at-risk” black boys in urban Miami. She said that since the public charter opened its doors in 2008 it continues to serve as an entity dedicated to better identifying and addressing the holistic needs of these youth and to be able to work with them in an academic-centered environment.
For some, “Richard Allen is a God-send, baby,” said Maggie Brooks, whose grandson attends Richard Allen. Brooks is a staunch proponent of the school’s mission. “I believe in what Richard Allen is trying to do for black boys in tough cities like Opa locka. Another one of my grandsons went here until he went to middle school … now, he’s a sophomore and Richard Allen helped to shape him into who he is today,” she said.
Robinson says she is in the trenches of student recruitment. “There are a lot of misguided black boys in Miami and our enrollment numbers could be much higher than they presently are. I want to fill our classrooms to capacity.”
Richard Allen’s aim is to mimic Chicago’s Urban Prep, an all-male, all African-American high school whose success in graduating 100 percent of its seniors is steeped in promoting academic excellence among its black males from the city’s sketchiest regions.
“[These] schools exist because of the need to preserve endangered species— black boys. They are a vital part of the community. Yes, Richard Allen is in what many consider
the ‘hood but, it’s the nurturing
of these boys’ education, interests and pursuits that takes place here, is what should matter most,” Robinson added.
Brooks said the school’s relocation resulted in a loss of enrollment.
“When Richard Allen was moved from Mt. Hermon in Miami Gardens to Opa locka a lot of parents withdrew their children and sent them wherever but, they ain’t at Allen,” she said. “Is Miami Gardens really any better?”
In spite of location, Robinson explains that the issues concerning black boys are inescapable. She says that she is on a mission to close the disparity gap among academic and social outcomes within the black male demographic.
“I can only do what is within me to do for my boys. I can help to increase the graduation rates among them, then that’s what I will do. If I can prevent them from living a life of crime, then that’s what I’ll do.”
Parental involvement is an essential ingredient to students’ success.
“I can’t do it all. Education is like a family, at times, there is a disconnect in the home, but what happened to the village?”