August 07, 2023

The 2023 Centering Black Children in Education Conference will be held August 7-13!

2023 CBCE CONFERENCE THEME: The B-Side: Resistance for Free Spaces to Realize Black Children’s Creativity and Brilliance

I wore a t-shirt saying, “Imagine Black Culture Without Detroit” I want a new shirt. Imagine ANY culture without Detroit. Without Black folks. Unfathomable. As I edit this year’s theme and call, I sit in my stateroom on the Nile bank peering out to the Temple of the Two Gods Horus and Sobek at Kom Ombo, overwhelmed by the magnitude of Egypt’s influence on everything. Every idea was first birthed in the cradle of this civilization. Think of anything. Guaranteed, that thing can be traced back to where we all started. As I take in Egypt and her indelible marks on the world, I am overwhelmed and awe-struck by Black people. 

Motown inspired this year’s conference theme after I explained my shirt to a Chicagoan. Music’s power is undeniable and Black folks’ music is peerless. Our ingenuity is unmatched. What do we say about music, creativity, intellect, Black folks, and Education? A quick peek into the entertainment industry helps us ponder what happens to Black children, artists, in our schools. 

Industry artists are subjected to explicit and implied rules. Creative license largely belongs to accountants, not artists. Which songs are recorded, released, and relegated to predicted obscurity is within executives’ purview.  Artists do not get to choose which songs to release and the timing of the release. Do you see any similarity with schools here? 

Back in the day (and now since they made a comeback) albums had two sides: an A-side and a B-Side. The A-side typically features a recording an artist, producer, or record company intends to be the primary focus of promotion and radio airplay. The A-side offers the most hope of chart-topping hits and aims to appeal to the masses, the majority, the average consumer. A-side songs are packaged and bound for commodification. Conversely, the flipside, the B-side is a space for freedom.

On the B-side, artists express themselves, take risks, disregard industry’s demands, and display their creativity. The B-side aims to appeal to the those who carefully listen to the artist’s music, appreciate the fullness of their range, recognize the possibility and totality of their talent—those who truly want to see them. Artists can feel tokenized and underappreciated when they are restricted to satisfy appetites of the average, compelled to make music for the middle and the mediocre. True artists, those with inherited genius, find it difficult and disrespectful to conform and contort their craft to appease basic audiences. However, the average must be appeased if one aspires to be successful in the industry. Success operationalized here includes but is not limited to acceptance, recognition, accolades, and especially, monetary wealth. The configuration of the “success” landscape presents a conundrum. The pathway to success requires talented folks to capitulate and be accountable to standards and expectations they intuitively and effectually know are beneath them, unworthy of their gifts, and unrepresentative of their genius. Why would anyone agree to deny or abandon their best to selves to attain success? Let us consider for a moment Prince Rogers Nelson.

Right now, today, you can download Prince’s B-Sides and be forever changed. Prince’s B-Side arrangement is fire; fire that results when genius is sparked, allowed to ignite, and fanned into a hot flame. Fire illuminates, refines, purifies. When free to imagine, Prince created Purple Rain, Raspberry Beret, When Doves Cry, I Wanna Be Your Lover, Little Red Corvette, and Adore. When allowed creative license, he gave the world a whole album of B-Sides: Purple Rain. Prince struggled against, and changed in substantial ways, oppressive, profit-focused industry systems to give us life-altering, awe-inspiring music. But what of Black children mandated to attend spaces replete with the very conditions meant to deter, defer, and diminish the cultivation of, culmination of our, and communication of Prince’s talent, sheen, and shine?

Profit-focus. Consumable products. Common standards. Appeal to the middle. Basic aims. Accountability to mediocre, less (or no) talented priority-setters. Preservation of inequitable systems. Established norms meant to reward obedience to dehumanizing controls.

Any School, USA where Black children are considered a significant population.

Veritably, Prince became the icon he is despite the schools he attended. Schooling was a prohibitive, inhibiting space compelling his conformity to the average. To fit in and enjoy full acceptance, Prince could not be his full beautiful, brilliant self. Edits, constrictions and confinements in school were endured to enjoy the success he later experienced as he gave the world his talents, gifts, and creative genius—his full beautiful, brilliant self—genius that traditional schools would never recognize, could never appreciate, and tried to diminish. Controversy over who he is and who he was expected to be started in school. Throughout his life, Prince resisted these pressures to be less than himself and many of his battles and victories are documented on his B-Side masterpieces. So, let’s get into the B-Side.

As Prince noted in his B-side hit, Pop Life, “Everybody wants to be on top.” The top needs to be redefined. Being the top of the basic, the most mediocre is not the goal. Black children in all of their genius deserve schools that recognize and accept their brilliance—schools that listen for their talents and see their brilliance. We need B-Side schools.

Black children and their families need spaces where they are free to express their genius, take risks, and disregard schooling’s demand for conformity to milquetoast standards and basic norms. The pathway to our collective success requires systems designed to encourage creativity, critical analyses of our global conditions, excavation of lost stories of triumph and achievement, and collaboration necessary for our liberation. Schools able to pave these pathways are few and far between. Indeed, I have seen two schools in my lifetime where educators respect the inherent giftedness of Black children, actively engage their imaginations, teach and learn within reciprocal relationships undergirded by high expectations for themselves, vigilantly protect them, diligently ensure experiences and services intentionally mindful of their interconnected humanity. Two. Schools.

Those two schools are not without their challenges as they are persistently pressured to capitulate to basic A-Side demands. Recognizing that the flipside is not for everybody, the call for this year’s Centering Black Children in Education conference invites us to the B-Side. If those of us who know our collective success and freedom is dependent on the liberation of Black people were free and able to flex our creativity without acknowledging or considering mediocrity’s gaze, absent constrictions devoted to maintenance of averageness and perpetuation of oppression, what could we conjure for Black children? What would educational spaces determined to wholly cultivate Black children’s multifaceted talents and gifts need? What would they have? Who would be there? What would we need to collectively overcome to realize spaces where Prince would freely thrive? 

Black folks are routinely discounted, dehumanized, deliberately deterred from discovering and delighting in their inherent dopeness. Like the B-Side of an album, we are often deemed less important than the mainstream folks. But the B-Side is where the magic happens, where the fire lives, where genius resides. Flip it over! Where’s the flipside?! Give the people what they want!

The B-Side. The Best Side. The Black Side