WEST PALM BEACH — If Amefika Geuka were planning a 1,000-mile walkathon from West Palm Beach to the White House while cursing out President Obama along the way, he likely would lead evening news broadcasts and get invited to all the professional haters’ radio and cable-TV talk shows.
Instead, he says he is embarking on his trek, at age 69, to promote a constructive message on behalf of the African-American students whom traditional public education poorly serves.
These students’ future will be tested when his “National Walkathon for African-Centered Education” steps July 15 from the Joseph Littles-NGUZO SABA Charter School on Corporate Way in West Palm Beach.
Geuka, the school’s co-founder, announced his journey at a June 30 kickoff news conference at the school. He plans to lead a contingent of South Floridians on the first leg, and to be joined daily by surrogate walkers on the way to the nation’s capital.
Following the scheduled Aug. 12 arrival will be a ceremonial stop at the U.S. Department of Education, a visit to the White House and rally.
Geuka emphasized that his walkathon is not a protest march; that he’s not walking against anything, but for something: the needs of students.
Parents and students alike have cited the Joseph Littles-NGUZO SABA Charter School’s ability to help reverse the decline of students who were foundering or had failed in traditional public schools, and the school’s ability to help those students thrive.
The difference comes, he said, when children of African descent get the education they should: in “a nurturing environment rooted in their own heritage, history and culture.”
Geuka draws the parallel that “African-centered education for children of African descent is every bit as valid as Jewish-centered education for Jewish students, and Christian-centered education for Catholic students. But when it comes to black folks, somehow that is supposed to verge on racism and reverse discrimination and all that kind of nonsense.”
Geuka said he not only wants to elevate awareness of and respect for African-centered education, but also to counter opposition to the schools’ access to the education financing that regular schools receive.
Public education unions generally oppose charter schools. In theory, such institutions can be organized by anyone in the name of educational innovation, can earn legal standing from states or local districts, and can receive public education dollars.
Because public funding migrates with students from regular to charter schools, the argument is as much over money as it is about approaches to education.
Moreover, Palm Beach County School District officials long have cited the Joseph Littles-NGUZO SABA Charter School for poor financial management, and its students for poor academic performance.
District officials say that is why the school is an estimated $300,000 in debt and its students are failing the FCAT.
Geuka counters that his school’s nearly 100 kindergarten through eighth-grade students generally are the very at-risk kids who were being forced out of regular schools. He says the district’s consistent handicapping of the school by withholding the full financial support its students deserve, particularly capital dollars that can be used for buildings, is the reason why it is behind on rent payments and looking to raise money as part of the walkathon.
Jeffrey J. Hernandez, the district’s chief academic officer, has told Geuka that a meeting between officials with the school district and the charter school to address their mutual concerns will be scheduled soon.
Also pending is the national education conversation, which will include President Barack Obama and new Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, about how charter schools in general, and those with African-centered curricula in particular, will fare.
A major question is how local, state and national officials will deliver on education’s political cliché of the last decade: choice.
Meanwhile, Geuka is organizing a network of supporters, hoping to generate a snowball effect similar to the Internet-and-talk-radio phenomenon on behalf of the Jena 6 African-
American teens accused last year of assaulting a fellow Louisiana high school student.
Regardless of whether news organizations consider his trek historic, traveling with it will be the simmering debate about the status of charter schools, and African-centered schools in particular, in public education.
Editor’s Note: C.B. Hanif is a former news ombudsman and editorial columnist for The Palm Beach Post. He has written on education in Florida since 1988. He also blogs at www.cbhanif.com.
Photo by Elgin Jones/SFT Staff. Amefika Geuka