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Mom Talk: Protecting Our Little Black Boys—Starting In Preschool

Written by Busola Saka

Photography by Photo Courtesy of Busola Saka

As the founder of Black Boy Thrive, Busola Saka—an Atlanta-based communications specialist and mother of two—is devoted to seeing Black children soar. The idea for BBT was born after her own disheartening ordeal of seeing her son discriminated against by educators when he was just four years old. Below, she details her all-too-common experience, and why an online community that advocates for little Black boys in preschool and kindergarten is essential. 

We are, without a doubt, in very challenging times as a country. We’re battling racism and an invisible virus that continues to ravage through the nation. Black men, women, and children are under an immeasurable weight of emotional stress, and yet are on the frontlines as essential workers and protesters fighting COVID-19 and racism.

As we continue to amplify Black voices in the mainstream media, I want to highlight an issue that requires urgent attention—little Black boys are being criminalized as early as preschool, receiving greater scrutiny and punishment for behaviors that are normal for their age. According to 2016 research by the Yale Child Study Center, Black boys in preschool are more likely to be watched, and punished, for “challenging behaviors.” Dr. Walter Gilliam, lead author of the study, explains: “Implicit biases do not begin with Black men and police. They begin with Black preschoolers and their teachers, if not earlier.”

As the mother of a little Black boy, I too have experienced implicit bias towards my son last year, when he was just 4-years-old and in preschool. At that time, we received countless calls in the middle of the school day and had many meetings with his teacher about his behavior. On one occasion, his teacher described his behavior as “aggressive,” and said that he “threatened” her a few times. Those two words stood out to me as a Black parent for many reasons, but mainly because of how Black men are generally described and perceived. If my son was aggressive and threatening at age 4, I shuddered at the thought of other labels that may be placed on him—and in his school records—throughout his education, and possibly, his whole life.

Sadly, little Black boys can’t be “boys” in school. They aren’t allowed to be children who are explorative, adventurous, and test boundaries. And this is unfortunate, because little Black boys should feel excited about learning and playing with their peers without feeling like their every move is scrutinized and/or punished. This is why it is so important for us to advocate for school systems that engage, direct, and teach little Black boys to succeed.

We have to start asking our schools the tough questions. How do they define diversity? Are the classrooms culturally responsive, that is, do students celebrate and learn about Black history and current events? Have teachers received implicit bias training? How do schools define “good behavior”? And are the parameters around “good behavior” realistic for the age group on hand? What is the school’s discipline plan?

We also have to be proactive in ensuring that little Black boys are seen and heard in school, by meeting with teachers one-on-one, setting expectations, and being involved however we can. We need to build communities of Black professionals who will join efforts with their expertise, such as pediatricians, teachers, and psychologists. And frankly, we have to boldly call out any racial bias and advocate for better treatment when these situations occur.

We continue to see Black men, young and old, arrested unlawfully and often killed, but we must start at the root of this unfair treatment—our preschools. If little Black boys are more likely to be seen as problem children than their classmates and criminalized at such a young age, we are enhancing a practice that continues to see the next generation of Black men as a threat. We must not forget about our little Black boys as we fight for equality.

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  1. Ellen W. says...

    Busola – thank you so much for sharing your lived experience with us. As a non-Black POC and parent of a 12 year old child, I am infuriated and saddened that this is the reality for so many of our Black families. The adultification of Black children, especially Black boys, is something that all of us need to push against and dismantle, certainly by centering the expertise of caring Black adults and youth, and I would also argue, for non-Black people, examining our own implicit bias and calling it out in our schools and community spaces as we see it.

    • Busola S says...

      I absolutely agree. We all have to examine our bias and be more aware. Thank you!

  2. Gale Allgood Patton says...

    Busola, Thank you for writing this article and shedding light on this issue. We lived this issue with our sons. At the time, I didn’t know about resorces, I just kept showing up and fighting for our sons. There were days I was weary and tired, but I knew I couldnt give up on our sons. Our sons are now black men, whom we continue to love, cherish, and pour into.
    Thank you Thank you

    • Busola S says...

      Thank you Gale! It’s disheartening to know this issue has been going on for so long, and it is exhausting!

  3. You’re doing AMAZING Mama!!

    • Busola S says...

      Thank you!

  4. Jenny Creppy says...

    Very well said Busola! It’s been a long time since we’ve seen each other, (Jubilee ) nice to see you on this platform.

    • Busola S says...

      Hi Jenny! Thank you!

  5. Carolina Ubach Pereira says...

    So interesting and importante to hear these stories!
    We need to change, and the time is now!
    I’m portuguese, and although I think the problem of racism is more profund in the US, i think is rooted all over the world. I’ve been more alert to the signs and it’s scary impressive how deeep it goes, that we don’t even realise it! It’s specially sad to see that the children experience it to, and how does a mother deal and prepare them to the reality..

    Thank you!
    I learn a lot with MOTHER!

    love to evryone at Mother,

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