Educator Sees Past as Key to Black Youths Future
by Yvonne Lardizabal
Newark This Week – Neighbors
Thursday, December 9, 2004
Name: Baruti K. Kafele
Age: 44 Hometown: Jersey City
Occupation: Principal of Patrick Healy Middle School in East Orange, motivational speaker and author
Achievement: Kafele was honored by the North Jersey Unit of the National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women’s Clubs with the Community-Strengthening Leadership Award.
Journey: He was born and raised in East Orange and both of his parents are teachers, so Kafele’s occupational choice seemed natural. But the field of education wasn’t where he originally thought his life would lead him.
I didn’t develop my love of teaching through my parents, but I definitely drew from their experiences, Kafele said.
While attending what is now known as Kean University, Kafele studied business and marketing. In his junior year, he took an African-American history class and his life changed forever.
I was fascinated by what I was learning and could see how history impacts people and society even now, and I knew this was a message I was meant to share, Kafele said.
Since he was so close to finishing his business marketing degree, Kafele opted to use his growing interest in education in other ways. Following graduation, he worked for a Newark mutual benefits company.
While there, he taught seminars for fellow employees and found the setting was more fulfilling. My heart wasn’t in corporate America. I knew to be happy I had to find another career path, Kafele said. In 1988, he found the opportunity he was looking for.
The New York school system was looking for teachers, and offered a program for non-certified applicants to teach in their system. After taking qualification exams, Kafele began teaching in Brooklyn public schools. In 1990, his wife gave birth to their first child. They agreed that Kafele would take a year off to stay home to care for their son and write a book.
A Black Parent’s Guide to Educating Your Children (Outside of the Classroom) is Kafele’s first book, which he published himself.
“The black book industry embraced my book, and it became something I’m extremely proud of accomplishing on my own,” Kafele said.
The book was praised by Essence magazine and became a best seller.
When his son got older, Kafele went back to his teaching. Before teaching and eventually becoming principal of Patrick Healy Middle School, Kafele taught at Sojourner Truth Middle School. While at the mostly black school he implemented a program that bolstered knowledge and pride in African-American history and culture.
“I believe that you must examine African-American history to understand and address the problems that are facing our young people today,” Kafele said.
Without a knowledge of the past there is no core, no sense of purpose, and that must be reestablished in our young people today.
Kafele identified what he believes are the seven issues that face African American students today: self-identify, self-awareness, self-image, self-esteem, self-discipline, self-respect and self-actualization. His second book, A Handbook for Teachers of African American Children, raises these issues and the reasons behind them as well as suggestions on dealing with them.
Besides teaching and writing, Kafele is also a motivational speaker. He speaks to teachers and administrators in a seminar titled What You May Not Have Learned In Your Teacher Preparation Program. He also conducts a free workshop designed to inspire parents to take a more active role in their children’s education.
Future: Currently, Kafele is busy with his roles as principal, speaker, author, father and husband. He is promoting his second book on television and radio. Tonight, he will be speaking on education issues and his writings at 7 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5 FM.
I’m doing all I can do to fulfill my passion for education and helping the youth of today. That is where my success is, in the good that I try to provide for the future we are raising in our schools today, Kafele said.
Family: Wife, Kimberley, sons, Baruti, 14 and Jabari, 11; daughter, Kibriya, 5.