CIBI: AN HISTORICAL OVERVIEW
The Council of Independent Black Institutions (CIBI) was founded in 1972 to unify a far flung, rapidly developing movement of Pan-Afrikanist oriented independent schools in the United States.2 CIBI’s founding represented the implementation of ideas from a different ideological stream than that which guided integrationist strategies that swept Afrikan communities during the period leading up to and following the United States Supreme Court’s Brown decision.
The Emergence of CIBI
The founding of CIBI is inextricably linked to the Black Power Movement of the 1960s. Five Black Power Conferences were held between 1966 and 1970. The echoing cry of “Black Power” became the vital spirit of the emerging independent Black school movement. CIBI emerged from the manifestation of Black Power known as the “community control of public schools movement.” This was an attempt by Afrikan people in places such as New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston, East Palo Alto (CA), and Washington, D.C. to obtain power over schools in their communities. By forcing confrontation over the issue of power, this movement marked a watershed period in Afrikan strategies to obtain quality education in the United States.
The struggles over control of schools in settings such as the Ocean HillBrownsville Experimental School District in New York City brought the power of whites to control Afrikan schooling into clear focus. Several independent black schools were formed as a result. Prominent among these was Uhuru Sasa Shule (Freedom Now School) established in Brooklyn in 1970. Jitu Weusi, Uhuru Sasa’s headmaster, was also part of the leadership of the Afrikan American Teachers Association in Brooklyn. From this point we will trace some of the events that led to CIBI’s founding.
More than 50 persons, including the representatives of 16 institutions, attended a conference jointly sponsored by The California Association for Afro-American Education and Nairobi College from August 17-19, 1970, in East Palo Alto, California. Among the participants in this meeting were Omowale Babalawo (Frank J. Satterwhite), St. Clair Drake, Mary Hoover, Robert Hoover, James Lee and Jitu Weusi. The aims of the conference were to set up criteria for the evaluation of independent black schools and to facilitate communication between such schools. It was here that these schools were identified as “Independent Black Institutions” (IBIs) and defined as an “organized, revolutionary approach by Black people to control the development of the mind and 1 Adapted from Shujaa, M.J. & Afrik, H.T. (1996). School Desegregation, the Politics of Culture, and the Council of Independent Black Institutions. In M. Shujaa (Ed.) Beyond Desegregation. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, pp. 253-268 2 Since the time of its inception, CIBI’s membership has expanded to the Continent (Afrika) and Europe, and its communications network is now global. Further, the use of the term “national” in some places in this article, rather than “global” (a) reflects the scope of CIBI at that time, as well as that of many contemporaneous pan-Afrikanist organizations based in the United States; and (b) should not be taken to mean a claim of the United States as “our” nation; nor an ignoring of other Continental or diasporan nations or polities peopled with Afrikans; nor a deprecation of the pan-Afrikanist vision of a provisional, conceptual or eventual global Afrikan nation, community or other worldwide formation. consciousness of our community through the self-reliant process of progressive educational institutions” (Afrik, 1981, p. 14; Satterwhite et al, 1970).
This conference helped to solidify some of the fundamental concepts that characterized an IBI. Among these was the relationship between culture and worldview. The movement to control Afrikan education was taking shape around the development of institutions that would rest on values meant to sustain positive development among Afrikan people. Reflected in these concepts is an understanding of the need to deconstruct ways of thinking borne out of racist hegemony and an optimism about the possibilities of personal transformation toward becoming “new Afrikan” women and men. Additional evidence of how well the role of culture in power relationships was understood is the conference report’s inclusion of the Nguzo Saba (The Seven Principles of Blackness), developed by Maulana Karenga in 1965, at the head of the list of goals identified for a proposed nationwide system of IBIs.
Shortly after the East Palo Alto conference, the first Congress of Afrikan People was convened in Atlanta, Georgia on September 3-7, 1970. This meeting was actually the fifth Black Power Conference. The name was changed to reflect the continuity between the condition of Afrikan people in the United States and the nationalist struggles against colonialism waged by Afrikan people on the Continent and in the Caribbean. “The Education and Black Student Workshop” chaired by Preston Wilcox was one of 11 convened at the Congress. Within this workshop alone, there were 10 working sessions. One of these was “Independent Black Educational Institutions.” Two reports on the working session were published. The first, edited by Preston Wilcox (1970), was Workshop on Education and Black Students, Congress of Afrikan People, Summary Report. The second report, edited by Frank Satterwhite (1971), was published as a booklet titled Planning an Independent Black Educational Institution.
The aim of this working session was to “develop plans for establishing a parallel school system incorporating all legally, physically, and psychologically independent schools at every educational level into a national Pan African School System” (Satterwhite, 1971, p. 2). In his discussion of this working session, Haki R. Madhubuti, in his 1973 book From Plan to Planet, concluded that the thinking that prevailed held that “it is unrealistic to talk about change if you are not moving to control the instruments of change in your community” (p. 41). While it appears that the participants in the working session were of one mind on the need to control the educational institutions that Afrikan people attended, there were two schools of thought about the most appropriate strategy to take. One strategy was to continue to pursue community control of public schools serving large populations of children of Afrikan descent. These schools, once under the control of the Afrikan community, would be converted to IBIs. The second strategy was to either establish new independent institutions or strengthen existing ones. It was the latter strategy that received the most attention.
From April 21-23, 1972, the New York Afrikan-American Teachers Association, an organization that propagated the concept of community control of schools, convened a meeting which planted the seed for a “National Black Education System” (Afrik, 1981). From the earnest discussions of those 28 persons, representing 14 independent schools across the United States, came a mandate to form an organization whose purpose would be to produce a uniform pattern of objectives and dedicated to excellence in all areas.
John Churchville, Founder of Freedom Library Day School, one of the first of the new independent schools to emerge during the era of the Black Power Conferences, was an invited attendee at that meeting. From Churchville’s (1973) account of the meeting we gain a picture of the divided loyalties between public school reform and building independent institutions.
They had a two-section conference. On the one side they had Black teachers in the public schools in New York concerned about survival in the public schools. Then they had other people coming to that conference who were concerned about alternative systems, and setting up methods for that. (p. 56)
Churchville, Jitu Weusi and others already involved in building independent institutions were frustrated by the inability of the group to develop a consensus around a plan of action. A caucus of the independent school representatives was convened during the meeting to discuss what should be done. A decision was arrived at swiftly, according to Churchville’s (1973) description:
We got in a room and after fifteen minutes we came out of that room with a Council of Independent Black Institutions. Our concern was to share information, materials and curriculum and to have material unity… (p. 57)
A national work meeting was held in Frogmore, South Carolina from June 29- July 3, 1972 to confirm the initial mandate from the independent school caucus at the Afrikan-American Teachers Association conference. The participants in this meeting determined the principles, policies and programs of the organization and set up a structure to carry out its objectives. It was at this point that the Council of Independent Black Institutions began to function and take form. The original statement of purpose provided that CIBI
must be the political vehicle through which a qualitatively different people is produced…a people committed to truth – in practice as well as in principle – and dedicated to excellence … a people who can be trusted to struggle uncompromisingly for the liberation of all Afrikan people everywhere. (CIBI, 1972, p. 2)
It went on to state:
The Independent Black Institution is charged with the responsibility of developing the moral character of its students and staff, and of providing the clear, sane, and well-reasoned leadership which is imperative to a correct struggle for freedom and internal community development. (CIBI, 1972, p. 2)
CIBI’s Programmatic Initiatives
Since its 1972 founding, CIBI has advocated institution building strategies on a variety of fronts. It is instructive to discuss some of these efforts here. First, CIBI schools incorporate a Pan-Afrikan philosophy of education based on a cultural value system (the Nguzo Saba). Second, CIBI schools represent organized partnerships of parents, educators, and community residents who are collectively engaged in building and maintaining institutions of learning. Third, CIBI has produced instructional resources for classroom and home use. Fourth, CIBI has provided examples of positive educational outcomes for Afrikan youth both academically as demonstrated by the cognitive achievements of students and the instructional accomplishments of teachers, and culturally, by helping to popularize Afrikan-centered observances such as Afrikan Liberation Days, the birthdays of Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey and others, and adolescent rites of passage programs. Fifth, CIBI has maintained standards of self-governance pending national liberation. While not all of the initiatives have been sustained, it is important to take note of the consistent efforts by CIBI to address education as a cultural issue which cannot be divorced from family, community and racial imperatives.
Top priority was given to the establishment of a teacher training agency. CIBI organized its first national Teacher Training Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania from July 23 to August 13, 1972. The fifteen graduates completed the first step in qualifying for appointment to the Afrikan Teachers Corps. Since that time, CIBI has continued to sponsor national, regional, and local teacher training institutes to develop qualified teachers for IBIs.
In recent years, CIBI’s Teacher Training Institutes (renamed in 2002, Walimu Development Institutes) have also included teachers and administrators on the faculties of public and private schools, undergraduate and graduate students who may or may not be in teacher preparation studies, and other members of the Afrikan community who are interested in teaching in independent Black institutions, or who want to learn the teaching methods used in these schools.
In February 1973, CIBI completed its first film, “It’s a New Day.” This 30-minute black-and-white film focused on the founding and development of Black educational institutions. “It’s a New Day” became a cornerstone in CIBI’s public relations efforts and provided inspiration for the development of a number of Afrikan-centered communitybased institutions.
On May 5, 1973 and June 30, 1973, the first and second National Black Parents Conventions were held in Brooklyn, New York, and East Palo Alto, California respectively. Approximately 1,000 persons attended these meetings. They resulted in the creation of the National Black Parents Organization, which dedicated itself to strengthening the Black family and providing educational excellence for our children.
A Black Family Learning Festival was held on November 16, 1974 at the New York City Community College with Mzee Frances Cress Welsing as the featured speaker. Workshops were held to discuss Afrikan-centered literature and educational materials; parental involvement in private and public schools; new methods of teaching and the propagation of traditional family values.
Over 100 serious-minded black men attended a 3-day conclave in Philadelphia during May 2-4, 1975. This gathering was described as a “national work meeting in an environment conducive to an honest assessment of ourselves and our relationships to our wives, children and community; an opportunity to reorder our priorities and make personal changes” (CIBI, 1975). At the conclusion of the meeting, the participants formed an organization called the Black Man Secretariat. This organization sponsored an additional meeting on June 27, 1975, in Cairo, Illinois.
The CIBI Speakers’ Bureau and Consultant Service was formed to offer advice, assistance, recommendations, references or research in areas related to Afrikan education. The membership of this select group of educators generally consists of individuals who have demonstrated the skills, expertise and commitment necessary to start and sustain community-based educational programs.
An outgrowth of the 1976 Teacher Training Institute was the formation of a PanAfrikan Science Committee. This committee organized the first national science exhibition in April 1977, at Uhuru Sasa Shule in Brooklyn, New York. Since then, each year in a different city, children of all ages participate in the only scientific exhibition of its kind “in the world (possibly in history) designed to encourage African children to use science as a tool for liberation” (F. Douglass Institute, 1989).
The broad objective of the Science Expo is to provide an opportunity for our children to interact and share with each other their knowledge of scientific, mathematical and technical concepts, and their ideas on how those concepts could be used for the advancement of our people through addressing and solving specific needs, problems and challenges confronting our people. Students’ projects are evaluated from an Afrikan criterion based on the Nguzo Saba.
In order to ensure the continued success of the Science Expo, CIBI established the IMHOTEP Science Fund in 1990. The Fund provides financial assistance to CIBI students traveling to and displaying their projects at the exhibition.
Leadership Skills The National Survival Training Committee was organized in 1977 to provide skills in coping with rural and urban emergency situations. After its inception, a leadership cadre conducted weekend encampments in California, Michigan, Ohio, Virginia, and Illinois. The program engaged individuals and families into a deeper cultural reverence that combined traditional heritage with self-disciplined behavioral skills. Designed for both youth and adults, the training program included four proficiency levels. Included in the training were exercises in map- and compass-reading, establishing campsites, water purification, first aid, martial arts, wild food foraging, and nature hikes, as well as physical development. Practical exercises were conducted in one- to three-day outdoor camping sites or in classroom demonstrations. Though this program is no longer administered by CIBI, information regarding its successor formations is available through www.BlackSurvivalNetwork.com.
CIBI’s newsletter, Fundisha!Teach! serves as a medium for the exchange of information and opinion on various aspects of Black Education. Begun in 1974 and now published annually, it is distributed globally through individuals and member institutions. CIBI has also published a variety of pamphlets and monographs dealing with issues relating to Afrikan-centered education.
In 1990, Positive Afrikan Images for Children, a presentation of the CIBI social studies curriculum, was published in book form. Designed to be used by teachers and parents, Positive Afrikan Images represents a cumulative classroom experience in Afrikan-centered education compiled by some of CIBI’s most accomplished instructors. (See the “Publications” page of this website for more information.)
Afrikan Youth Organization
Beginning in 1977, the Afrikan Youth Organization (AYO), created by the Nation House Positive Action Center in Washington, DC, provided a variety of experiences for young people which promoted the development of character, Afrikancentered values, and appreciation of Afrikan history and culture. AYO began its rural summer camp, Heritage Village Encampment in 1982, on the Black Star Estates land cooperative near Mineral, Virginia. The annual encampment was structured around the three major themes of nature studies, physical development and cultural awareness/personal development.
Though this program is currently not in operation, information about successor and associated youth and young adult programs is available through www.nationhouse.org.
CIBI in Historical Context
The formation of independent schools by Afrikan people in the United States did not begin with CIBI. The historical record shows that Afrikan people have been creating our own schools in the United States since the 1790s (Ratteray and Shujaa, 1988; Ratteray, 1990). However, the founding of CIBI and the movement it characterizes are historically significant to Afrikan people throughout the world for at least two reasons that continue to set CIBI apart from reformist organizations.
First, we witness the employment of institution building as a strategy for cultural liberation. CIBI’s strategic use of institution building for the independent education of Afrikan people at a time when so many other Afrikan-populated institutions were caught in the maelstrom of school desegregation has to be respected. Institution building among CIBI’s members was clearly organized resistance against the European-centered cultural hegemony and intellectual control that shrouded school desegregation. Further, while undertaken to lay a foundation for national liberation and self-determination, institution building became a means of establishing “liberated zones” or “free spaces” where the process of education would be insulated from the cultural assault of western hegemony.
Second, we see the emergence of a network of schools for people of Afrikan descent in which there is a shift in the cultural orientation of curriculum. The efforts undertaken by the schools that formed CIBI to deconstruct European views of the world while reclaiming, recovering and reconstructing an Afrikan worldview and, most importantly, to codify this process in their curricula are invaluable contributions. CIBI helped to lay the path that had been pursued earlier by The Honorable Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association and the Nation of Islam under The Honorable Elijah Muhammad (Ratteray, 1990: Martin, 1976; Essien-Udom, 1962). The attention to the cultural context of schooling was largely missing in the school desegregation movement.
Many of the institutions founded prior to and since CIBI’s inception no longer exist. It is no easy task to confront non-Afrikan authority or challenge anti-Afrikan, racialized power relations that have existed for centuries. Nor is it easy to transform the effects of non-Afrikan social institutions that have continually asserted and reasserted cultural hegemony on the thinking of Afrikan people. CIBI has endeavored to stand as an example of academic and cultural achievement for the Afrikan community. If education is understood as the process of transmitting from one generation to the next knowledge, values, aesthetics, spiritual beliefs, and all things that give a particular cultural orientation its uniqueness, then CIBI’s efforts to seize and maintain political and cultural power over the education of Afrikan people are acts of cultural responsibility. The only other option is cultural surrender, perhaps gradually, but surrender nonetheless.
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