How many successful organizations begin because of a letter?
Ron Walker, executive director of the Coalition of Schools Educating Boys of Color, says the seed of his organization was planted by a letter he received in 1986 from a former honor student of his—now behind bars for murder at Frackville State Penitentiary in Frackville, Pennsylvania.
Although Kevin Johnson maintained his innocence, he had no chance of parole. After seeing his former teacher on BET, Johnson wanted to get in touch with Walker. Walker eventually received a call from the prison’s school principal, because Johnson wanted him to speak at its GED graduation ceremony. Walker, though living in Boston and nearing retirement, immediately agreed.
As expected, seeing Johnson again was emotional. But, the words of the valedictorian that day spoke especially deeply to Walker; “Although I’m incarcerated, I’m now free because I’m educated.” It struck Walker that perhaps retirement wasn’t looming as closely on the horizon as he thought—he might have more to give.
With virtually no money or staff, the idea for COSEBOC was born; an organization that providing the best available professional development to school teachers and leaders educating boys and young men of color. Ten years later, COSEBOC is now holding its tenth annual Gathering of Leaders for its national membership and K-12 school leaders, May 18-May 21 in New York City.
The gathering includes informative workshops on cultural pedagogy, trauma, the school-to-prison pipeline, rites of passage, and more. It will also include influential speakers, tours of historical sites and successful schools in New York City, and a recognition event to applaud a decade of providing professional development in the field.
Confirmed #COSEBOC10 speakers include:
- David Johns of the White House Initiative on educational excellence for African Americans
- New York City’s Deputy Mayor Richard Buery
- Carmen Perez of Harry Belafonte’s Gathering for Justice
- Chris Emdin of Science Genius & Teachers College at Columbia University
- New York-based community advocate Rev. Alfonso Wyatt
- Glenn Singleton, author of Courageous Conversations on Race
- National CARES Mentoring expert Stephen Powell
- Shawn Dove of the Campaign for Black Male Achievement
- Olga Acosta Price of George Washington University
- Howard Stevenson from University of Pennsylvania
- Dr. Michael Lindsey of NYU’s School of Social Work
And what of Kevin Johnson? Walker says he recently received a letter from him saying that his accuser has recanted her entire story, paving the way for a post-conviction release hearing. “There’s a lot of reason to believe that he will get out after all these years,” Walker says.
For more information about COSEBOC and the annual gathering, visit its website.