ROANOKE—A life-changing African-American culture class for Roanoke youth in city schools is now available to the public.
The class, titled African American Culture and Contemporary Issues (AACCI) and run by Total Action for Progress (TAP), was introduced in 2008 to prevent young black men from dropping out of high school.
Mack Malloy, 19, of Roanoke attended the class for the first time as a sophomore at William Fleming High School. He enjoyed it and re-enrolled as a junior and as a senior.
During his senior year, he was injured in a shooting. On his hospital bed, he made a decision.
“I was misled. I was shot. I’ve been in gangs. I was in the blood. I did all of that,” Malloy recently said. “For me, getting out of it was a bit like a gift.”
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The lessons taught by the AACCI class helped Malloy become self-aware and self-disciplined – qualities he always wanted to possess.
“I always wanted to be a leader, but not in this way,” Malloy said. “It’s me against me all the time. I never realized that. But I realized that night it was me against me. I had never admitted to myself that I was hard-headed. I didn’t want to listen, but I recognized him. It kind of brings peace to my heart too, that I let it go.
Lateefah Trent, head of youth services and education at TAP, said students often drop out of school because they don’t believe they will live to adulthood.
“They don’t feel like they’re really going to live past 21 or 25, or that they’re not going to be worth anything, so ‘what’s the point?'” Trent said.
But the AACCI class teaches young people that their lives and the lives of others are valuable, giving them “a sense of pride.”
“The culture has gone through society so much saying, ‘You’re not worth it,'” Trent said. are worthy. You are important. Everyone has a purpose, and everyone has gifts. How do you want to use yours and contribute to your community, to improve your life and become your best self? That’s a lot of what the class offers.
Malloy said he didn’t always like the school, but he liked the AACCI class and his interest in it rubbed off on his peers.
“I myself had trouble going to class and sitting down. If they see me, it’s like a bigger picture for them to sit down too. Like, ‘I’ve seen him do crazy things. For him, sitting here must be really fun. It has to be something he really enjoys,” Malloy said. “It’s really good. It’s not really that bad. Just be careful. That’s it.”
In January 2019, William Fleming’s AACCI class had about 25 students. About two years later, in the fall of 2021, about 70 had enrolled in the course.
The 2021-2022 school year was the first the class was offered to both men and women. One class remained male-only, while a second class was “mixed,” Trent said. “It’s become very popular in that aspect.”
Currently, approximately 75 students are enrolled in the William Fleming course. As interest spread through the school, he also began to be known to the students’ families.
“We had several parents and people in the community who said, ‘Hey, I heard about my child or grandchild in this class. It looks very interesting. Is there something like this where we can go? ” Trent recounted. “That’s how we came up with the community that we have on Saturdays.”
When TAP received a grant from the Roanoke Gun Violence Prevention Commission in May, it decided to use funds to expand course offerings to youth parents and community members, ages 15 years and older.
The new public class began meeting at the Roanoke Higher Education Center (RHEC) on North Jefferson Street on September 17. It meets at 11 a.m. on Saturdays and registration is free. Just email [email protected] to sign up.
“We had up to about eight people from the community,” Trent said. “The biggest thing we love about it is that it allows different ages, from all walks of life, to come together and learn about African American culture and its history as a group, as a team. , to build community awareness.”
Current students will complete the course at the end of this school year in the spring of 2023.
Antonio Stovall, who works for the city as a member of the Youth and Gang Violence Prevention Team, teaches the class at both William Fleming High School and RHEC.
“He takes African American history and teaches it in a more engaging way, compared to the traditional way we would learn it,” Trent said.
Malloy, who graduated from high school early, is taking the course with Stovall for the fourth time at RHEC.
“He can still be part of the class and continue to build those kinds of relationships and networking with other people and have space to have positive, uplifting conversations,” Stovall said.
Trent said the class explored topics beyond typical lessons about slavery and the civil rights movement, probing “who we are as a people, where we’ve been, where we can go.”
“It’s been very impactful to watch, especially young people, go from hearing about slavery, hangings and cotton fields to actually, ‘Oh, that person was a doctor. That person was an inventor. That nobody did that. Oh, that person learned those techniques and brought those things to the table,” Trent said. “There’s a lot of things that aren’t taught, but they’re taught on a different level.”
Malloy said he most enjoyed learning about ancient African history and culture.
“I really delved into that,” Malloy said. “How they eat, how they move, the things they wore back then, all that good stuff.”
The teenager said he applies nutrition lessons to his daily routine.
“I started eating healthy after my 10th year to see how it would change me as a person. It changed me a lot. I didn’t even lose weight,” he laughed. “For some reason I got bigger. I have to buy more pants.
The class also discusses current events and contemporary issues, from popular rap music artists to recent acts of gun and gang violence.
“We talk about the importance of brotherhood, of friendships, of understanding the importance of knowing the difference between a friend and a partner in crime,” Stovall said. “When you have friends, you want to make sure that you hold your friends accountable and your friends hold you accountable.”
Stovall also teaches meditation and mindfulness techniques to her students.
“We do an exercise called analytical meditation, where I show them a picture, or I can show them a quote, and we take time to break down the picture. They share their perspective on what they’re seeing, and I shares my perspective on what I see,” Stovall said. “It really starts to imprint on their consciousness, and they can learn better that way.”
Trent said the course also includes ‘open discussions’ and debates, ‘so people can understand that it’s okay to have different opinions, to respect each other’s opinion and to be able to in a healthy way”. She said that due to Stovall’s unique approach, he “doesn’t present himself as a teacher”.
“It made all the difference, especially with the population he was working with,” Trent said. “We’ve had individuals who admitted they were about to kill someone else or commit suicide, and mindsets changed because of the class.”
Trent said that by the end of the 2021-22 school year, approximately 98% of students taking the AACCI course at William Fleming have progressed to the next level in their educational experience. She hopes graduates of the RHEC class will spread a culture of self-awareness in the community.
“When you have more self-confidence, you are able to manage your emotions better, you are able to react better and take more pride in your actions, which in the long run reduces violence, whether it happens be it domestic violence, gun violence or just normal fights,” Trent said.
Trent said organizations like TAP feel tremendous pressure to reach out and influence young people’s lives, but “kids learned that from somewhere”.
“It’s not just the kids you always have to reach,” Trent said. “So who are these positive adults that we can contact to help reach everyone in the community? Who would be a good role model? Who is someone in the community that others actually listen to? of these classes to help spread this.
Malloy said elementary and middle school students who live in his neighborhood now look up to him and listen to his advice.
“Sometimes in the summer they would go out late at night. I would be outside too. But I don’t like being out like that, late at night. When I see them I quickly tell them to come in,” the teenager said. “God forbid anything happens to them. I don’t want them going out like that, because I care about them. And I know their parents too.
The teenager tries to teach his friends self-discipline, a trait he learned while meditating.
“I had a friend who called me like, ‘Man, I meditated for the first time. It was good. He said, ‘That was weird,’ because to train your body like that , you have to have the will and the power to tell your body to hold still. A lot of kids struggle with that. It took my body a long time to hold still,” Malloy said. “So I said to him, ‘Just have patience.’ Patience is the key.
Since graduating, Malloy has landed his first job and he’s been working on applying to college with the intention of becoming a mechanic.
Malloy was born in New York and raised by his aunt, Tinye “Janice” Laing, whom he calls “Mom”. He wouldn’t be where he is without her guidance.
“She always wanted to protect me, but my mentality was that I didn’t understand how precious I was to her until I saw her almost crying on my deathbed,” he said. “Seeing in her eyes that she wanted me to be healthy at that time was like motivation. I said to her, ‘When I’m healed, you won’t have to worry about me start again’.