Through Relationship and Culture

By Teryl Warren

Just days after yet another tragic school shooting, this time in Seattle, WA, I sat down with Ron Walker, Executive Director of COSEBOC – The Coalition of Schools Educating Boys of Color. We briefly discussed the school shooting and I shared with him how disturbing the condition of America’s schools looks to those of us on the outside of the system. He explained that, while the picture is sometimes grim for those on the inside, as well, there are still many success stories yet to be realized.

“School is supposed to be a place of motivation and inspiration, where relationships matter, a place where all students can have the best promise of them be lifted up,” he told us. “We can never negate the fact that some schools doing some good things, but the data still shows that an achievement gap and a literacy gap still exist for boys and young men of color going to public schools. Our mission is to create the schools where all promise can be met by boys and young men of color.”

COSEBOC Executive Director Ron Walker speaks at White House Town Hall in Jackson, MS

Headquartered in Boston, MA, COSEBOC’s national network of school leaders represents 600 schools educating 300,000 students across the United States.  COSEBOC ‘s mission is to connect, inspire, support and strengthen school leaders dedicated to the social, emotional and academic development of boys and young men of color.  COSEBOC provides Standards for schools to adopt based on research and the innovative policies and practices of successful schools. The publication, “Standards and Promising Practices for Educating Boys and Young Men of Color”, provides a framework for assessment, curriculum, training, leadership, community engagement and more for schools across the country.

“I want to see young men leaving schools not only prepared for the world, but also who are transformed into young men who are respectful, polite, courteous, and who make maintaining their families a priority,” Walker said.

With more than 40 years of experience as an educator and former principal in the public school system, Ron Walker has come to realize a simple and unmistakable truth: relationships matter. And in an age of warehousing in public schools, families in crisis and technology that isolates as much as it integrates, reaching young people and building relationships that matter to them is a daunting task that requires consistent and deliberate effort.

“When you want to engage a young man, you have to go to where he may be in his thinking of his world view and how he sees himself. One of the major things we set out to accomplish is helping a young man to form his identity,” Walker stated. “Young men are bombarded by external forces and influences in the media and in their quest to define themselves they often embrace models that aren’t positive or supportive because they don’t have a sense of self in a historical context. We introduce them to historical [role] models that they may not learn about in school. Our lynchpin is our academic component coupled with the cultural dynamic.”

School Leaders practice new techniques during the 2014 Gathering in Jackson, Mississippi

Some of the historical figures COSEBOC programs introduce young boys and men to include cultural icons like Cesar Chavez, Frederick Douglass, Nat Turner and Nelson Mandela, to name a few. And in a workshop titled “From Little to Shabazz” – students explore the transformation of social activist Malcolm X.

“Through a series of exercises, we show the transformation of Malcolm Little – a petty criminal who lost his father at a young age, and so on, and we follow his trajectory through the transformation he made, why he made it and what the impact of his transformation was on the world. A lot of guys come to us having endured obstacles or coming from single-parent homes and depressed neighborhoods. By helping them make a connection with these icons what they accomplished, we’re helping them see that they, too, can overcome and accomplish their goals.”

COSEBOC Executive Director Ron Walker poses with school leaders from International School of Louisiana, (ISL), a winner of the 2014 COSEBOC Awards

Whether bridging cultural gaps, helping young men and boys to overcome a myriad of obstacles or empowering educators to maximize their students’ potentials, COSEBOC is a non-profit that is making an investment into the future of an entire generation.

A student from the Sankofa Schools, COSEBOC's mentorship program, performs a traditional dance during the 2014 COSEBOC Gathering of school leaders

“Our data shows that more of these brothers that are in the program are graduating, fewer incidences of violence, and they’re leaving with a deeper spirit of community and service,” Walker shared. “There’s nothing wrong with the intellectual potential of our boys and young men, we haven’t just been able to connect with them. We connect young men to other young men and provide a real-life image of what they can become. We challenge and nurture them at the same time, and they leave with a really rich sense of heritage, pride and trust. I’m optimistic about how far and how high we can go.”

To learn more about COSEBOC, to donate and to become involved, please visit their website at:   You can also Follow the organization on Twitter @COSEBOC and on Facebook  #COSEBOC. 

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