Kufere Laing, a 2015 African American Studies and economics alumnus, realized books held the power to expand the young minds of one middle school social studies class in Detroit.
Laing was upset his class did not have any textbooks. He would photocopy pages from Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” and deliver the material as daily handouts for his students to read.
“As a teacher it is my job to not fail my students. I have the opportunity to make it better,” Laing said.
So he took action and raised $1,700 for textbooks in 24 hours, using Donors Choose, a fundraising site geared towards financing classroom projects.
Laing was placed at Voyageur Academy in Detroit, Michigan soon after graduation through the low-income educational non-profit, Teach for America.
Detroit has experienced its share of economic turmoil, often affecting the city’s educational performance.
“Detroit’s no different from North Philadelphia,” Laing said. “A neighborhood that doesn’t have resources must make their own. The people aren’t the problem.”
According to Start Class, a website that collects data about education, Voyageur Academy rates a four out of 10 for average academic performance. About 74.6 percent of the student population identify as African-American and about 91.4 percent qualify for free lunch.
Laing grew up in a large population of working class African-Americans in Pittsburgh. He said he learned the importance of his own culture through his father and now he hopes to bestow those same values upon his students. His plan is to purchase a large array of African-American literature in the hopes of teaching his students to seek pride in their identity.
“I want black students to understand that we have a strong culture and we should be proud of this culture,” he said.
According to Teach for America, students in extreme poverty are half as likely to graduate from high school and about one-tenth as likely to graduate from college compared to students from more affluent backgrounds. The new curriculum will consist of literary works like “Monster” by Walter D. Myers and “The Skin I’m In” by Sharon G. Flake. Each book speaks to types of adversity minority students face in American society. The history teacher aspires to spark the students’ interest in reading with books that they can personally relate to.
“Kufere Laing’s proactive project to get books for his class in Detroit appears to be a good faith effort at supporting the education of the students. Perhaps this will spur the Detroit School District to pour more money into Afrocentric education,” Molefi Kete Asante, chair of the department of African American Studies said. “We are proud of the fact that Kufere is keeping the social responsibility he was taught at Temple at the top of his list in his work.”
Laing said teaching is hard but he does not question if it’s the right line of work for him, because “worthy work is challenging.”
Now, provided with the appropriate material for teaching, he can continue to impact his students with the ideals of a universal education that spans all backgrounds and all colors.
“I want my students to critically question American society,” he said.
Indonesia Young can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.