priscilladamesweb.gifRecently, Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts wrote an article summarizing a series detailing successful programs for youth across the country. He found that many of these programs used formulas and strategies we already knew.

His article spoke to me.

As I prepare to leave the school system to focus my attention on other pursuits, I planned to leave classrooms, groups of students, and the struggle to help save the youth behind.  I’m tired.

But last weekend, I found myself with a team, addressing a group of school administrators in the Bahamas.  They were most interested in strategies that can help save the children academically and from the perils that pull them to the streets.

Whether here or in another country, adults continue to look for the magic answer.  It has taken years, too many programs, and too many lives to say, “There is no magic answer.”

My quest began at Coral Reef Elementary School, where in 1975, most of the few African-American students were bused from
Richmond Heights, where I lived, to what has been historically called the other side of the tracks. In this case, it was the east side of U.S. 1 in Kendall.

Fresh out of a midwestern college, and not knowing the history of Miami’s racial divide, even I could feel the tension.  The community didn’t welcome the forced busing, nor did the staff and parents always hide the tension between the new additions of black educators that had been recently placed there.

That arena was my latest university.  It was a whole new level of education, with a different topic:  Racism #101.

I learned a lot, including how to write a lesson plan from the assistant principal.

More importantly, I learned from the handful of seasoned black teachers – Earlene Bullard, Helen Oliver, Millie Shaw – all now deceased, that if I didn’t speak up for our children, nobody would.  It was a constant battle.

From there, I became a staff developer, reminding educators that children learn differently, and that it is their job to do what’s necessary to teach all children, to being a reading specialist assigned to schools in Liberty City where I was hit hard in the face and deep in the stomach with harsh realities. I witnessed the disparities between those and the Kendall schools where my children attended, and where I grew up professionally.  The differences are too many to list.

When I left that position, though there had been some gains, there were still too many ‘F’ schools, some even closed, and far too many children that could not read on grade level.

Finally, as a safe school specialist, my training topics were conflict and violence concerning crisis response for the school system and community.

It amazes me why anyone is surprised that blacks are leaving in alarming numbers and like me are not encouraging our children to return to Miami after completing college.

The marching, meetings and forums have done little good. Today, the open fighting in response to the school system’s budget cuts and politics is catching national attention.  Have we ever seen this kind of drama and antics about saving the children?

I’m tired now.  Miami has worn me down.  I feel guilty as I move away from the school system over 30 years later, that there are still so many children in trouble. 

Leonard Pitts is right: It’s not that we don’t know the answers to saving our children. The question is, “What are we going to do with the answers? When?”

When will the children be important enough? The priority?

But still, I prepare to leave with some hope.  I met Michelle Obama just days ago. She is an amazing woman and mother who makes it clear that she puts her children first. She is a model for black families and for the country as a whole during hard times.

When enough of us can put the racism, selfishness of personal gains and politics to the side to even think about putting this fresh new face with her husband in the White House, maybe, just maybe, one of those changes will begin for our children.

Priscilla Dames is founder and president of Wingspan Seminars, LLC, specializing in strengthening relationships through conflict resolution and crisis management. Her website is