Archive for Monday, January 25, 2010

Mentors keep young blacks on track

Group motivates students to aim higher

From left, Ed Brunt, Bud Stallworth, Craig Butler and Willie Amison founded the Can We Talk mentoring program for young black males at both Lawrence and Free State high schools. Their efforts have helped close the racial achievement gap in test scores.

From left, Ed Brunt, Bud Stallworth, Craig Butler and Willie Amison founded the Can We Talk mentoring program for young black males at both Lawrence and Free State high schools. Their efforts have helped close the racial achievement gap in test scores.

January 25, 2010


School achievement gap a problem

The gap in test performance between different demographic groups is a problem. A local group is helping to close that gap. Enlarge video

Craig Butler leads a discussion with a group of Free State students in this September 2009 photo. The Can We Talk group is expanding into Central Junior High School next month, and its founders would like to eventually have the program in elementary schools.

Craig Butler leads a discussion with a group of Free State students in this September 2009 photo. The Can We Talk group is expanding into Central Junior High School next month, and its founders would like to eventually have the program in elementary schools.

Evan Wilburn thought school just wasn’t for him. He wasn’t able to graduate after three years at Free State High School and wanted to drop out and get his GED.

College? It wasn’t in the picture.

“I’m thinking, ‘I can’t do this,’” Wilburn said. “Why are you putting all this pressure on me?”

But a new after-school program changed his mind in just one semester. Wilburn is going for his high school diploma and beyond.

“I think I could really impact the future,” said Wilburn, who will be able to graduate in the spring. “I think I should go ahead and try to go to college because I think what I’m going to be doing is important.”

A program called Can We Talk provides adult mentors for black males at both Free State and Lawrence high schools. For Wilburn and fellow Free State senior Julien Bremby, the experience has changed their perspective.

“It gives you the belief that you can do it and you can be successful instead of the alternative,” Bremby said.

Test scores have become a focal point in education. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, all school districts nationwide must meet benchmarks, which are higher each year, in measurements of their students’ test scores on state assessments. The law also mandates that districts report their scores in subgroups, including by race.

“When people do hear statistics like that, they don’t try,” Bremby said. “And when they don’t try, it gets worse.”

That’s where Willie Amison, who has served as principal at three Lawrence elementary schools and and assistant principal at Lawrence High, noticed a disconnect with the young black male students in town. Amison is currently an adviser at Kansas University’s Educational Opportunities Center

“Willie started seeing the disparity between test grades and scores overall,” said Ed Brunt, a Van Go Mobile Arts program director. “It’s not because we don’t have the ability. It’s because no one has shown them the reason why they should do it.”

Meeting the need

Amison and Brunt — joined by longtime youth basketball coach Craig Butler and Kansas University basketball legend Bud Stallworth — wanted to do something about it.

Their group Can We Talk is designed to guide the boys through the processes of education and prepare them for life after school by having the boys listen to those who have been in their places before and made it through to successful ends.

“We see some improvements in the educational field for men of color and minorities, but then we see the opposite spectrum where there has not been enough change,” Stallworth said.

While the program is still young, the founders have already noticed improvements in the students’ test scores after showing the high school students on paper the physical gap between minority and majority achievement.

“We’re able to close that achievement gap over just one test period by 30 points in reading, 11 points in math,” Amison said. “We try to emphasize to our young men the importance of the test they’re taking.”

But for the district, the African-American population isn’t the only minority affected by the achievement gap.

“There’s other data there that’s pretty disturbing as it relates to Native American data, Hispanic data,” said Superintendent Rick Doll. “We have achievement gaps when it comes to students of color, students from poverty.”

Doll said based on test results from the Kansas state assessments and the district’s own MAP testing, or Measure of Academic Progress, the achievement gap is several percentage points in both reading and math. MAP tests are scored on a Rasch Interval Unit scale, which is an equal interval scale. For example, the ninth-grade district median score is a 243 in math and a 232 in reading. African-American students in that grade score 232 in math and 223 in reading, while their white peers score a 246 in math and 235 in reading.

“The achievement gap is real and we know it’s there,” Doll said.

School board member Bob Byers, who spent time as chairman of the district’s equity council, says the achievement gap isn’t strictly about race.

“True, race is a part of it, but it’s not about black, white, green, yellow,” Byers said. “What it’s really about are children of color. All of our children are suffering.”

Program expanding

Can We Talk is going to start the program in Central Junior High in February.

The men have limited time and resources for the program, but their goal is to get the program in as many schools as possible to begin instilling the importance of education early, preferably at the elementary level.

“If you’ve already set that seed and that foundation, then by high school, it’s already there. They already know their value and worth,” Brunt said. “When you’re coming in the last year of school, then you’re working again a tree that’s pretty much already been grown.”

Amison said if the program had unlimited time and resources, the differences would be obvious.

“If we had more time to do it full time and to get into schools every day, follow up on kids, we could guarantee results,” Amison said. “(Time and resources) are the things that curtail what you’re able to pull off in the end.”

And while Doll says Lawrence’s minority students perform well compared with a national average of test scores, it’s the comparison to majority students that is problematic.

“I think we have a moral and ethical responsibility to educate all kids,” Doll said.

And for the Can We Talk men, getting their groups to make the grade doesn’t just affect their future in education.

“Our kids are going to jail and that’s talent that is being wasted,” Butler said. “We had to do something to … stop it in its tracks because we’re losing too many kids to drugs, gangs and prison.”

And for Wilburn and Bremby, that message has affected their lives.

“It teaches us a lot about how to not give up and how to change things and change your future and possibly change the world,” Wilburn said.


Success 8 years ago

This is the kind of support that makes me so proud of our community, our district and our Superintendent. Rich Minder

LadyJ 8 years ago

Since the Superintendent is new to the area, I doubt he had much to do with it. Thanks guys for your work.

Noweigh 8 years ago

Thanks to you four and any others involved with offering positive, productive alternatives to these young people. The vast good it does in the short and long term is probably impossible to measure, but so what? You're offering them a role model many of them have never seen before now. Thanks for giving these kids a better sense of direction, accountability, hope and self respect.

Paul R Getto 8 years ago

Good job; we all need help growing up, and some of the African-American boys are not getting it; this is a good way to fill in some of the gaps. Bless all of you for your good work.

coldandhot 8 years ago

Nice article. How about some young men who are making a difference. Dan Coke, Jesse Brinson and Wayne Simien. These guys are really making an impact.

Stuart Evans 8 years ago

"A program called Can We Talk provides adult mentors for black males...."

An alternative program for whites called; ..... oh ya, there aren't any programs for just whites.

Citizen_X 8 years ago

Rukus - you need to work through your issues somewhere other than here.

Citizen_X 8 years ago

I think this is an important issue. All kids need mentors. It can be a parent, family member, teacher, coach, or neighbor. I spent 22 years as an officer in the US Army. Our best national defense is our education system and the young men and women it develops - whether they join the military or not, they can better contribute to our Nation if they are well educated. If these kids need mentors, don’t ask why – ask how you can help. I would like to volunteer to become a mentor; however, the article does not give any contact information.

Jean1183 8 years ago

Noweigh said it best! Thank you all for your work with the kids.

And BTW, both of my kids (who happen to be white) have a lot of respect for both Ed Brunt & Willie Amison (they don't know the other two gentlemen). Race has nothing to do with that. They are awesome role models for all kids. These men saw a specific need (regarding young black men who WOULD relate best to them as opposed to a white man) and set out to meet that need.

jaywalker 8 years ago

Excellent program, more power to all involved, keep up the good work.

"They should look into why Black men disproportionately abandon their offspring. Rather than what white America can do to pick up their slack"

Gee, thanks for that tidbit, but that's not the purview of this organization, rukus. Way to muddy up what should be an otherwise positive string about a great story.

Maddy Griffin 8 years ago

Knock it off rukus. Follow Citizen_X's advice.

Kris_H 8 years ago


If young black men's scores are below those of young white men (which they are), then who needs the help?


Fatty_McButterpants 8 years ago

Yes, rukus, you're right. It's hard being the controlling majority in the richest country on earth. How is one supposed to afford that second 60" hi-def TV if affirmative action requires companies to hire employees of various colors??

ferrislives 8 years ago

rukus, maybe you should pay a little more attention to your grammar and a little less attention to positive role models for black youth.

"Programs like this raise questions is positive racism (I am going to help people of my race) racism and should it be condoned in our public schools." Wow, let me correct if for you; oh, I can't, because it doesn't make any sense. But here's a hint: when you ask a question, a question mark usually belongs at the end of the sentence.

If there weren't any of these great role models, you'd be complaining about that too. No one can win with people like you, so there's no point in trying.

Concerning the story, I've had the fortune of meeting Ed Brunt, and he's a stand-up guy. I'm glad that he's there for black youth to talk to, and I'm sure that Ed wouldn't deny any other child of any race the same respect. It's just about focusing on what is an obvious problem.

ferrislives 8 years ago

Get a life rukus. You're just an ignorant racist who doesn't know how to speak properly, so there's no point in arguing with you. You obviously needed a role model when you were young who was not only compassionate, but knew proper grammar. Good day.

Joe Hyde 8 years ago

No Child Left Behind is a misnomer. The term should be: No Public School Left Undamaged.

While visiting recently with a retired Lawrence school teacher, I asked a question that has long been on my mind:

Are the arbitrary test score benchmarks imposed by NCLB, plus the annual raising of those benchmarks (which has led to almost relentless testing of students as public schools try frantically to meet the benchmarks, else face loss of funding)...are these features of No Child Left Behind also being imposed on private schools?

The answer I got was: No, the requirements do not apply to private schools. Only public schools must comply with NCLB.

This, I submit, reveals the intent of No Child Left Behind. It is a federal program imposed on our nation by elected representatives whose intent is to whip public school educators harder and harder until they individually suffer a state of collapse and are unable to continue teaching. The strategic and cynical objective of NCLB is to destroy public schools by putting testing above teaching, by continuously ramping up the required cumulative test scores until each school fails (due to funding cut penalties), at which point each school will be replaced with a private school -- a privae school in which NCLB rules don't apply, where the most wealthy citizens can send their children to the best-funded schools.

But hey, let's don't stop making all those kiddies stand up every morning and recite the Pledge of the law of the jungle.

I admire Mr. Brunt, Mr. Stallworth, Mr. Butler and Mr. Amison for offering our local young men a useful way of clearly viewing their "future self-defense" while passing through an education system that -- through no fault of their teachers -- has been turned against them.

townoriginal 8 years ago


I've worked with youth in foster care for more than 10 years in this state and I can honestly say that there is not one race more prevelant than the other. People of all races abandon their children, abuse their children and suffer from substance abuse that prevents them from properly caring for their children.

I think it's fantastic that 4 members of our community have come forward to help inspire and motivate youth in schools. It would be amazing to see more come forward to put in a prevention effort and care for kids in the community.

Leslie Swearingen 8 years ago

Let us tell those who have a different point of view to shut up and go away. That does not facilitate an open and honest discussion. This is a good story and I am glad that those black men are there to do what they can to help. Each and every one of us needs someone who will be there for us, to give us support and encouragement, the kind of person that we can say anything to and argue with and yet remain friends.

Christine Anderson 8 years ago

This is a good thing!!! I don't understand why some of us come up with negative slants on it.

Paul R Getto 8 years ago

"The answer I got was: No, the requirements do not apply to private schools. Only public schools must comply with NCLB." === It applies to all accredited schools, and most of the private schools seek this 'stamp of approval' from the state. NCLB is poorly designed, but we are stuck with it for now unless the public speaks their mind. At this point, I'm not sure even that would help. We have become test-crazy and real education involves much that cannot easily be tested.

ferrislives 8 years ago

rukus says "I just wonder why they don’t want to help all youth."

You cannot imply that they wouldn't help "all youth" since you do not know these men. If you really want an answer, get some balls, and ask them. But that would mean you'd have to show your sorry face, which you'd never have the guts to do.

townoriginal, I really liked your post. Thanks for that. I'm just happy that these men are choosing to be positive role models, especially with how many negative influences are out there. We need more of this.

OldEnuf2BYurDad 8 years ago

These men are a RARE example of how communities are supposed to function.

OldEnuf2BYurDad 8 years ago

Rukus - Let us not be self-deceived: you ARE racist. You think you are an open-minded intellectual asking "hard questions". No, you are racist.

Mel Briscoe 8 years ago

fatty mcbutterpants... you have the BEST screen name in this piece! love it!

tomatogrower 8 years ago

rukus (Anonymous) says… I’ve said my piece. I have nothing specifically against these men and this program. I salute them for giving back. I just wonder why they don’t want to help all youth.

Probably because there are situations that they have to learn to deal with that white boys don't. There is nothing stopping anyone from forming a support group for young men, and I have heard that all young men are welcome to this support group as well; although they will be discussing situations that white people usually don't have to deal with, like the absence of good male role models. First you complain about black men not taking responsibility, then you criticize them when they do.

kujayhawk 8 years ago

I went to high school with his kid. Daddy hated me because I was white and a was a better athlete than his son.

I'll give him credit, though, Craig Jr. turned into a decent guy.

ldawg 8 years ago

This is a great article for a great effort. What a classy looking group of mentors. This article makes me want to contribute in some fashion. Kudos to you Ed, Bud, Craig and Willie.

Nikki May 8 years ago

I'm going to bet that all students are able to attend these sessions, I know there are race specific groups at the jr. highs and even at college and both venues will allow students of all nationalities. I have no experience with the high schools here yet, but I'd doubt that they would be much different than the jr. high.

And, there is a group for white males (especially privileged ones) it's called Young Republicans.

Mel Briscoe 8 years ago

the guy on the far left is not a bad looking gentleman. beautiful smile!

mom_of_three 8 years ago

I believe a previous article about this group mentioned that all young men are welcome to the meetings.

cdc 8 years ago

Rukus, you should completely stop criticizing this program until you start your own program.

You can go ahead and start a program just for whites. Go ahead. You can do it. ...But there's no way in hell you will because all you want to do is CRITICIZE OTHERS, not do anything remotely constructive.

Leslie Swearingen 8 years ago

Mel, I like the one in the blue shirt. Now that is a naughty look if ever I saw one. Why, oh, why can't some of these posters disagree in a civil manner? What is with the name calling? If you disagree with what someone has posted address the issue and tell on what points you disagree and how and why you think differently. Don't attack the person, attack the argument. Please.

4rmSouthern2Midwest 8 years ago

I'm really not surprised some would post negative remarks to follow up this article. I'm pretty sure these gentlemen aren't turning their backs on non african american children. Look around Lawrence you see a melting pot of all races, and we all know african americans are not the only race doing wrong. Hell when I lived in Lawrence after coming from Tx I felt like damn most people here never been outside the state. I'm sorry but african american, hispanics, asians, on so on are all thrieving down here in Tx. If being poor and unproductive is what you strive for then thats what u shall receive!! I know my pockets aint hurting!!

Mel Briscoe 8 years ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

jonas_opines 8 years ago

Came to find oft-booted Invictus's new sign-on. Pretty sure that I did that. Like a bee to honey on anything that mentions blacks in one way or another.

FlapJack 8 years ago

What would have been the response if the title was: Mentors keep young whites on track???

jaywalker 8 years ago

“I just wonder why they don’t want to help all youth.”

Yeah, right. Who says they wouldn't? Where does it say in that article that a white child would be persona non grata? Their focus is where the need lies, but I'm betting these men would reach out to any child that needed them. 'Course it's easier to sit here and criticize that which you want to find fault with, ain't it?

ferrislives 8 years ago

Wow, rukus's comments have "disappeareded".

jonas_opines 8 years ago

Damn, now I'll have to wait for the next minority article to find his new sign-on.

Stephen Roberts 7 years, 12 months ago

Good for these men. Unfortunately, black males may not have good roile models and tend to think sports or selling drugs will get them out of their problems. It is too bad that too many of them ignore the fact that getting an education will help them more.

Reuben Turner 7 years, 12 months ago

this is the kind of news that i want to hear about on the daily. positive-uplifting-inspiring news. im glad somebody got a program going like this and hope that there will be more time in the future for this program. and i hope that it achieves the goal that it set and then some!!!!

Fatty_McButterpants 7 years, 12 months ago

Wow, this is disappointing! While I did not agree with what Rukus had to say, I find it completely ridiculous that all of his comments (and likely his account) have been removed by the LJ-World! No doubt those actions were taken because a majority of the posters constantly telling people they are "closed-minded" and "intolerant" if they do not respect the opinions of all, just couldn't tolerate seeing Rukus's opinion. So much for free speech, hypocrites!

imamomma 7 years, 12 months ago

I am so happy we have these mentors. We cut the article out and posted it at work. Way to go!

puddleglum 7 years, 12 months ago

the headline sounds racist, it should be changed I think.

Stuart Evans 7 years, 12 months ago

yeah, I have to defend what Rukus had to say as well. He was asking some legitimate questions, that most of society seems to shy away from. and for that he got called names, ridiculed, and possibly had his account deleted.

Why is it ok to favor one race group over another? perhaps if young black kids weren't told their whole lives that they are minorities and need special handling, there wouldn't be an issue. why aren't blacks more upset that society feels the need to tiptoe around their issues or provide special services just for them?

Mel Briscoe 7 years, 12 months ago

i'm trying to think of what i wrote that got deleted... couldn't have been anything TOO bad. especially in this thread! hmmm.......

lawthing 7 years, 12 months ago

I was matched to a black boy in the Bigs program.

Never thought about it like that though...keeping a black on track. Sounds kinda racist to me.

I thought I was just helping a kid!

jaywalker 7 years, 12 months ago

"Why is it ok to favor one race group over another?"

First of all, rukus wasn't simply asking "legitimate questions", he was stirring the pot like he always does, regardless of user name. His tack here may have been more subdued than on other strings, but his history is well established. And exactly how do you see ONE race being favored over another here? No one is being 'favored', kids are receiving help and support they need, period, and they're not just black students. When the problem is with minority test scores and a lack of drive to succeed or focus on how to get there - that's where and whom the help should concentrate on. Yours and rukus' weak argument is akin to griping that it's not fair to kids that can see that they don't get service dogs like the blind children do.

jonas_opines 7 years, 12 months ago

Fatty_McButterpants (Anonymous) says…

"Wow, this is disappointing! While I did not agree with what "Rukus had to say, I find it completely ridiculous that all of his comments (and likely his account) have been removed by the LJ-World! No doubt those actions were taken because a majority of the posters constantly telling people they are “closed-minded” and “intolerant” if they do not respect the opinions of all, just couldn't tolerate seeing Rukus's opinion."

Sorry, but no. He was booted because this is about his 20th incarnation on here, and he gets progressively more vulger, more antagonistic, and more offensively racist as he stays on. When the mods recognize his posts, they now pull his account. They've shown him the door, made it clear that they don't want him to post here, and he keeps coming back. So he continues to get booted.

Let's not make up conspiracies.

Paul R Getto 7 years, 12 months ago

"oh ya, there aren't any programs for just whites.” === Ummmmmmmm........I think there already is one.........Western "Civilization?"

Danimal 7 years, 12 months ago

It's always good to see people helping each other in whatever way they can.

Mel Briscoe 7 years, 12 months ago

^^^ yes indeedy, made_in, but i betcha there are several folks up in here who will strongly disagree and call YOU a racist for saying that.

oh yeh, i remember what i posted that got deleted... i told fatty mcbutterpants that he/she has the coolest screen name in this forum. now why did my comment get deleted for that??......

Mel Briscoe 7 years, 12 months ago

the headline does sound a bit 1973 in its wording. not really racist though.

ferrislives 7 years, 12 months ago

Fatty_McButterpants and AreUNorml,

Here were some of my problems with what rukus had to say:

  • His grammar was extremely weak, so say the least (ironically enough)
  • He never answered questions raised to him; he just rebutted with more weak grammar
  • He did not at all focus on the positivity of the program

I'm so tired of people constantly whining about why black people (especially men) don't do more for their community, and when they do something positive, they get ridiculed. Make up your mind already. Either you want them involved in solving a problem, or you don't. You cannot have it both ways, unless you want to be a hypocrite!

Mariposa 7 years, 12 months ago

Thinking I had seen the name fatty Mcbutterpants somewhere I googled it. I was thinking perhaps a Brit comedy. Then, I found this:

May I inquire Mr. McButterpants if one of these is you?

puddleglum 7 years, 12 months ago

on mean like-instead of going to jail?

Fatty_McButterpants 7 years, 12 months ago

ferrislives: Perhaps you should triple-check your posts for correct grammar and word usage before casting stones...

ferrislives (Anonymous) says… "Fatty_McButterpants and AreUNorml,

Here were some of my problems with what rukus had to say:

  • His grammar was extremely weak, so say the least (ironically enough)
  • He never answered questions raised to him; he just rebutted with more weak grammar
  • He did not at all focus on the positivity of the program"

Your first bulletpoint? Shall we discuss the irony of your poor sentence construction and failure to use proper punctuation? Your second bulletpoint? A true abomination of the English language. Your third bulletpoint? Again, you have omitted any hope of punctuation.

My point is not that you mangle the English language as much as the next person, but that, perhaps, you should focus more on the substantive aspect of the person's comment, rather than the grammatical aspect.

kingofthecastle 7 years, 11 months ago

Hilarious article. Maybe if a program like this had existed 20 years ago Brunt's son would have graduated high school, gone to college, and gotten a decent job instead of bouncing around in and out of jail. I wonder if that's where the inspiration came from. I'm glad he can turn his shortcomings as a parent into something positive for the community!

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