On the steps of Langston Hughes’ abandoned Harlem-based home grew a new idea that will change the course of a young black man’s future. Erica Buddington, an educator and scholar from New York, sat on those steps of the famed poet’s home everyday for lunch, alone, with her thoughts on how to make kids love to learn again. One day while enjoying her afternoon meal, an unnamed caretaker of Hughes’ 127th and 5th Avenue property interrupted her routine. After noticing Buddington’s daily pattern for quite some time, he asked her if she’d like to see inside of the historic building, which hasn’t been opened for years. She swiftly obliged, not knowing that her curiosity would act as a catalyst in fufilling her dreams. As she marveled at the decoration and inner structure of Hughes’ abode, an image began to project in her mind with every step she took.
“I don’t know how or why this began to happen in my mind, but I just started seeing little boys running around with notebooks and doing creative writing with letterman jackets,” the Hampton University graduate said. “As I walked out, I called my friend and I told her about the experience. I said, ‘I can’t wait until I can start a school that’s like a league of little Langstons.’ And she said, ‘You should call it the Langston League.’”
With a central focus on educating black and brown boys in the fields of creative writing to technology this summer (July 25-29), Langston League presents an updated curriculum that helps kids learn at their own pace and on subjects that actually interest them. With outlets that’ll analyze lyrics from hip-hop’s more pensive artists like J. Cole, to how the genre correlates to movements within the country like the Black Lives Matter organization, Langston League marries “cultural relevancy” to real-life topics without neglecting the National Common Core standards that aide in preparation for state testing.
Under the theme “Renaissance & Revolution,” young scholars will also sharpen their comprehension and analytical skills through historic passages from Martin Luther King Jr. and other activists/artists, receive a course on how to use and eventually master Photoshop, Illustrator and Final Cut Pro, and to critically dissect lyrics from today’s top rappers that’ll probably make Genius take their crowdsourcing talents to the classroom.
“It’s very rare that you walk into an organization that has a National Common Core background, an educative background and who understands the different learning styles in the classroom, and also is able to build a bridge with the cultural relevancy because they were immersed at one point in hip-hop, poetry, the arts and are young enough to appreciate the things that the kids are interested in as well,” Buddington said.
Garnering over seven years of educational experience, Buddington studied the behavioral practices of students from her time at Harlem Children’s Zone as their Manager of Agency Curriculum, and how her syllabus could help change their mindset in terms of retaining information.
“I realized that a lot of the students that we’re categorizing with cognitive disabilities or IEP’s, which is an individualized education plan for students. Some of these students have experiences trauma or things going on, where they’re developmentally delayed or they can’t focus in class. It’s really a lot bigger than we think it is,” she said. “You’re in a classroom where 30 to 60 percent of your kids have these issues. They have to be catered to in a different way. I had to start amending the curriculum, to get them to retain the information. We used amalgamated Common Core with hip-hop, spoken word, performance art, and/or graphic design and technology within the classroom. To get them to retain, I had to utilize all of these things.”
Fredrick Salyers, a Morehouse graduate and creative consultant at Langston League, also played a pivotal role in piecing together the one-of-a-kind curriculum, which has seen much progress at Excellence Boys, a charter school based in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.
“We’ve already started teaching and trying to understand the best type of way to present lyricism in the classroom, connecting it or draping it over common core standards so the kids are also learning how to practice reading comprehension,” Salyers said. “To write and use evidence in their responses. To make sure they’re finding ways to become better professional communicators, readers, writers, and thinkers. Our curriculum is different because we’re presenting them with culturally relevant information, but we’re doing it for all types of learners.”
What also makes the venture stand out is the racial makeup of their staff. Comprised of all black men from the classroom to the boardroom, Langston League seeks to combat a recent statistic that states less than two percent of black men are teachers.
Salyars posed the question, ‘Why don’t we make sure that there are men in these classrooms?’ and stated the everlasting impact that a black male teacher can have on their students. “Some of the populations that we serve especially black men, need to see other black men instructing their education and their learning. I think that really helps them as a role model and something to aspire to.” Within the application, Salyers and Buddington created the Superman Clause which calls for a young boy to select a mentor of his choice, whether that be his father, cousin, brother, church member, or one of the League’s educators. “We definitely don’t want it to be another way in which education is sometimes a barrier between communities or families because not everyone has the same access,” he said. “We want the family to learn together.”
In an effort to help these students get a jumpstart in other areas of the arts, Langston League will focus on becoming familiar with design programs. Buddington said she didn’t have that opportunity when she was in middle school, but through Langston League she can provide her students with an experience that can alter their career path.
“I was raised out in Long Island and I had friends who went to white schools in neighboring places and they had Photoshop 101 in middle school. They had coding classes when they were in sixth or seventh grade and I had no idea what these things were until I was in high school,” she revealed. “It gives them that one-up. They’re able to be immersed in the tech aspect a lot earlier and know that they have more options. The reality is that they have so many more avenues when it comes to the arts and with their agility and ability they can definitely do way more. They just need to know about it earlier.”
Like how the spirit of Langston Hughes probably flowed through Buddington that day she stepped inside his house, the HBCU grads hope their students will be covered in his genius just the same.
“We want our students that go through Langston League to really walk out not with just a greater knowledge of the things that we’re exposing them to,” Salyers said, “but also a zest to learn and a love and understanding and a respect for what it means to have an education.”
To donate and find out more information about Langston League, visit their website here. Applications will go up on their site, on June 20. Their six week program will commence with selected schools, in the fall.