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Embracing the Random with Howard University Alumni

Howard University Greater Washington Alumni Club April IF discussion The magic in some discussions come from the unexpected–the stuff you just can’t script. That was the lesson in a recent education discussion in Washington, D.C.

For several months, the Interactivity Foundation has been sponsoring small-group public policy discussions through a partnership with the Howard University Greater Washington Alumni Club, led by former club president Erin Montgomery. The April 2012 session discussed Future of K-12 Education and the setting was Washington, D.C.’s  Brookland Cafe, which is owned by a Howard graduate. We arranged the tables (really bar stools) in a circle, so we took over half of the restaurant. Around the table, participants spanned four generations: a retired educator, an education consultant, a civil engineer, two retired human resources professionals, two accountants, a nonprofit executive, a local recording artist, and a current Howard undergraduate.  Over a delicious meal, we spent about three hours exploring the education policy possibilities in the IF report and how each approach might address the group’s concerns over education reform and particularly how it has been implemented in Washington, D.C.

By the end of the night, this group swelled to 14.

Discussion was lively enough with the group who had signed up, but it was greatly enriched by the “randoms” who joined us. One gentleman, who is a current law student, joined the discussion for the final hour. We were also joined by a friend of mine, Gabriel Benn, a hip-hop artist and educator who created H.E.L.P. (Hip-Hop Education Literacy Program.) I spotted Benn walking into the restaurant, so I asked him to join us. His program has been recognized by President Obama, and he also was the subject of a wonderful Washington Post profile a few months ago, and now works as an administrator at a D.C. public high school in one of the most under-resourced neighborhoods in the city. Benn shared his thoughts on IF’s education report from that perspective, and he passed around some of the materials he’d created for students that integrate hip-hop into literacy pedagogy.

The IF report drew heated reactions. One retired educator in the group was alarmed at the possibility No. 5 “Real Public Education” which would make schools into community centers run by and for the community. “I would not want any old community member doing my dental work. Why should they educate children? We need to have professionals!” And not surprising for a group of professionals living in a city with a predominantly black public school system, discussion turned to racial dimensions in education, racial disparities and how to address them. The youngest participant, a Howard undergraduate, shared her experiences at a charter school in Michigan. It was an engaging, challenging and surprising discussion overall.

I was also delighted to learn that ours was not the only discussion taking place at Brookland Cafe! There was also a group of Howard alum that meets regularly to discuss entrepreneurship who introduced themselves. By the time we wrapped up around 10 p.m., the space was taken over by a live AM radio broadcast of the 4 1/2 year-old Luv Lounge, in which the host facilitated a discussion about current issues through the frame of relationships between men and women. Suffice to say, even without IF’s intervention, there was a whole lot of “interactivity” going on at the Brookland Cafe. Habermas would be proud.

The next Howard alumni IF discussion takes place May 8–venue to be determined. If you would like more information about joining it, or other D.C. area discussions taking place, please email Kellyathu @ yahoo.com

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