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July 25th, 2008
03:20 PM ET

Whatever it takes… to educate

Program Note: In the next installment of CNN's Black in America series, Soledad O'Brien examines the successes, struggles and complex issues faced by black men, women and families, 40 years after the death of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Watch encore presentation Saturday & Sunday, 8 p.m. ET


We devote several days on the blog to smart insight and commentary related to the special.

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Watch Dr. Victor Keys in CNN's Black in America: Dropouts
Watch Dr. Victor Keys in CNN's Black in America: Dropouts

Editor's note: Education is 'Key' and Dr. Victor Keys along with other volunteers are confronting America's education problem, head on. They are going door to door in inner-city Houston, trying to convince dropouts to come back to school. He shares his story with us:

Dr. Victor Keys

When I look at my daughter Mariesha, who was born at 1 pound and 11 ounces, and I think about my better half Maresa, and doing God’s will; I know that I am blessed beyond measure. In a recent job interview, I was asked where did I see myself in the next 5 years. My answer was that I saw myself helping people achieve their dreams.

This is my mission in life, my passion- as an educator who has not missed a day of work in over 20 years. I would do it free of charge. I have been truly blessed and I am so thankful that I believe wholeheartedly in the saying “for those in which much is given much is required”.

Education is not only the key for our students to become successful, it is the key for our nation, our world, and it is the main ingredient for success in a global economy. Additionally, we must involve our communities, our leaders, businesses and corporations in this endeavor. We all are stakeholders. We can make it happen. It goes back to the “village adage,” and it does take a whole village to raise and educate a child.

We must mentor and guide our students as the following individuals mentored me: Mr. Bell, Ms. Thornton, Ms. Tobola, Ms. Rios, Ms. Faye Wells, and the “dean of all principals” Mr. F.D. Wesley. These prominent educators and administrators taught me the value of being a caring and nurturing school administrator. Not only did they believe in providing students with high quality teachers, the best curriculum, and beautiful facilities; they also believed in implementing flexible schedules, before, during, and after-school programs that helped our students to be successful. They were mentors that allowed me an opportunity to grow and develop into an experienced administrator.

We must also befriend our students. In doing so we are able to discover who they are, determine their needs and assist them in securing those necessities. As a friend, you don’t mind inquiring about their whereabouts.

At Booker T. Washington High School and the High School for the Engineering Professions in Houston, Texas, we did whatever it took to assist our students. I spent many evenings going to homes, courthouses, and jails looking for our students. I was in charge of the entire recovery of dropouts operation for over five years and each year we made an impact in the dropout rate of our school. We provided our students with day-care and built a welcoming, nurturing and therapeutic environment. In doing so, we are able to help our students work their way out of crisis situations and become productive citizens.

I must give credit to God for allowing me to do his work, as we attempt to save our children, and provide them with a good education. In order to help our students and to keep them from dropping out, we must provide them with a solid foundation. We, as parents and family members, must nurture and love our students just as my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and siblings love me.

Update: Dr. Key's e-mailed us this morning to let us know he continues to push for progress. "Even today, early this morning, I spoke with a young man about his future... promise is in store! "


Filed under: Black in America
soundoff (18 Responses)
  1. lampe

    NCC, Did you ever think that maybe some of the better White schools, might be because those districts have parents who are working and paying taxes? Maybe just maybe that might be some pf the problems that the Black schools are facing, lack of working parents, or others who are not paying taxes which is part of a schools working budget. Being a teacher I thought maybe you could have come to that understanding on your own.

    July 27, 2008 at 9:27 pm |
  2. Bertha M. Dinkins

    How very proud I am of Dr. Victor Keys. I had the opportunity to become associated with Dr. Keys as the president of the alumni association of the featured school in CNN'S presentation. In fact I was in the library when they brought the young student in.
    Because of Dr. Keys' strong commitment, love of children, and dedication, we fought so very hard for him to become principal of that school following the retirement of the then principal, Franklyn Wesley.
    Dr. keys had been groomed spiritually and professionally for that position, something we rarely see these days, but the authorities chose to go another direction. Until those in authority start recognizing and/or identifying those characteristics and hire those type of individuals who will go beyond the call of duty for our young peoples' sake, we will continue to fall short in reaching the educational goals of the young people of our society.
    CNN, Many ,many thanks to you for presenting the documentaries on Black In America. I was particularly enlightened and excited about the documentary on the Rand family. I also taught history and that family's experience is . . . Wow!!! Unbelievable! I sure wish I could talk to some of them.

    July 27, 2008 at 4:10 pm |
  3. deb in az

    are we going to pay all the childrean throughout the united states? what is fair for one is fair for the rest......and just where are we going to get all this money from? to do this we would have to make cuts ( like teachers, sports , the arts, etc.).....before you report these great ideas, you should do some homework and weigh the pros and the cons.....

    July 27, 2008 at 12:33 pm |
  4. Matthew

    The issue is that the black state is not under attack just by chance. No one is saying that you have to be called black. You can be whatever you want Latino, biracial, white, it doesn’t matter. The issue is that the system is still segregated. You think not, then go to any urban city you'll find in America and these unprotected sectors including prisons, you'll find the hypocrisy of this nation. Whites have those whose life is not up there. The remaining fact is that blacks can not compete with the millions of whites that are running and dictating through the media what "our" cause is. We are judged because were black, we are afflicted because were black. When will this nation take action towards government programs in economic and social equality. The words and grief in the last 200 yrs after sabotage have been enough. We need action, change we can see in the years to come. Not change we can believe in, but change we can be apart of.

    July 27, 2008 at 7:57 am |
  5. Sandra Pinto

    Education is the key, it is the road and it is the way but in order to get that education some people have to fight harder than others. There must be political will to give equal opportunity, equal facilities and equal servise to the young today to sustain the motivation that many of them bring to school.

    July 26, 2008 at 5:47 pm |
  6. Sandra Pinto

    Excellent article Dr Keys and while I agree totally with what you say it seems to me that for some people in America even a good education is not sufficient for them to look past the colour of a man's skin. . Mr Obama is an intelligent, if not brilliant young professional Black man and so he is labelled" Elitist " by certain sections of the white community and that is just a civil way of saying "uppity" or whatever degrading remark that was made 50 years agoThe educated black American seems to instill fear and jealousy in the general population. It is almost as if certain elements off American society are afraid of losing their stereotypes of the dangerous, black male on whom to blame all socieites woes. Educated Blacks are not treated with the same respect and even when Mr Obama is President of the Usa he will not be afforded the respect and deference that the position commands. White America has a long way to go to become totally colour blind.

    July 26, 2008 at 5:39 pm |
  7. Faisal

    Kudos Dr.Victor. Education is the key to save the black community. It is will be uphill battle,we saw in the presentation that blacks associate education with being white.That is a stupid notion. The cycle of poverty and ignorance will continue to be purpetuated unless people like you stand and promote education.With education blacks will be able to assume responsibility,stop killing each other in gun violence,stop ruining their communities by stopping selling drugs to their people...learn to emulate Dr.King love to achieve a PhD at a below 30 years of age. We have seen people who have chose education ,like Oprah and Prof Roland, Dr.Ben Carson. Keeping whining about racism will not help the community.
    Last, I hope Russel Simmons joins in and stops propagating his rap education with his flawed arguement that rap is oppression songs..he is killing many black men with his rap music,gloryfieng guns,sex and violence.

    Faisal

    July 26, 2008 at 3:01 pm |
  8. Matthew

    The issue is that the black state is not under attack just by chance. No one is saying that you have to be called black. You can be whatever you want Latino, biracial, white, it doesnt matter. The issue is that the system is still segragated. You think not, then go to any urban city you'll find in America and these unprotected sectors including prisons, you'll find the hypocrisy of this nation. Whites have those whose life is not up there. The remaining fact is that blacks can not compete with the millions of whites that are running and dictating through the media what "our" cause is. We are judged because were black, we are afflicted because were black. When will this nation take action towards government programs in economic and social equality. The words and grief in the last 200 yrs after sabotage have been enough. We need action, change we can see in the years to come. Not change we can believe in, but change we can be apart of.

    July 26, 2008 at 1:04 pm |
  9. Nova

    What an honor effort. This story, as many other similar stories, inspire us to do more to our communities, can I have Mr. Keys' email, since I need to have direct contact with him to discuss some similar programs in our poorest province in Indonesia.

    July 26, 2008 at 4:48 am |
  10. Lamont Austin

    I cant believe there are only 6 comments here.
    I saw the show last night and i saw this particular scene in the show, you can tell that youngster had one thing on his mind, i cant go to school i need to find something to eat, and then find some money to try to pay the light bill, hope the hole in the roof doesnt get worse, protect his little brother and avoid an enemy thats known for caring a gun...

    July 26, 2008 at 12:13 am |
  11. Janna

    God Bless you, Dr. Keys

    July 25, 2008 at 11:22 pm |
  12. Willie

    CNN, you drop the ball on this one.
    I’m not sure what myths were dispelled by your series on being black in America, and I’m even more dismayed that it took a year to make this program. By the second night I was ready to commit suicide it was so depressing. Is their any part of being African American that doesn’t encompass sorrow???

    July 25, 2008 at 11:14 pm |
  13. NNC, Baton Rouge

    This is just my opinion and I might be wrong but I believe the biggest problem in our community is the school system!

    All the black people at least I know understand that importance of education and push their kids to do well in school.

    When I was in college I worked as a substitute teacher to earn money. I was assigned to schools all over the city and what I seen was distrubing at the very least. When was the last time any of you actually went inside an inner city school? Let me save you some gas money and tell what I seen: leaking roofs, desk that somebody grandma sat in, out dated text books, pealing paint, rats, busted windows, unmotivated teachers, 10 yr old computers and the air went out every other day.

    Imagine if you went to work everyday under conditions like this. What would that do for your morale at work? How many of you would look for a way out? How many of you would leave and never come back?

    I brought it up to my supervisor at the school board and you know what she told me. If you update one school you have to update all of them and there isn't money in the budget for that. I wondered how the schools that I worked that has predominately white students afford to get updated if all the money is coming out the same budget.

    I feel so blessed to have attended private school all my life but lets face the facts not everyone in our communities can afford to send thier kids to private schools. So until we do something to improve our schools we will continue to lose our boys to the streets and the dropout rate will stay high.

    July 25, 2008 at 10:07 pm |
  14. Kenneth

    You know, in high school I saw many student drops out, especially doing my senior year, whites and blacks where dropping out, and it was not a race issue. Soledad O'Brien did such a great job with this document, yet, I believe we need to focus more on "Americans" not just black, plus, what about us who is black but not African American, what about those who's nationality is different, huh.

    I want this show to be seen, and I want to see Black American taking step to fix those problems, and stop talking about how bad it is, this is the Medias job. I do not see the need to blame it on slavery, or the history of America, it is what it is, it is the past, and let the past be the past. America we need to move on, please, I also believe that white Americans needs to understand that slavery did have something to do with the frustration of black America, and can start to view black American in a much more positive perception than they do now, and that we all owe it to the next generation to solve all those race problems now in for all.

    July 25, 2008 at 9:02 pm |
  15. GF, Los Angeles

    Last night's BIA pointed out something that really needed to be heard and that is black men attending boy scouts and excelling in school causes a backlash by their own calling them sell outs and "acting white". It's that type of thinking that brings blacks down – not the white race. Why make life harder by creating your own obstacles?

    July 25, 2008 at 5:38 pm |
  16. KAB

    Dr. Keys,

    Thank you for caring about your students. Many teachers just don't care anymore. It really doesn't matter what school you're in, what the building looks like or where it is located. If it is filled with caring teachers, the students will respond.

    July 25, 2008 at 3:58 pm |
  17. Elijah

    I was estatic to see CNN televise the documentary Black in America. It really pushed me to voice my opinion. I am a 34 year old African American male. I grew up in a broken home and was also brought up in poverty. The most influential thing in my life was that my mother always stressed the importance of education. She was also very active in all aspects of my education. I watched how hard she worked to provide the basics we needed to survive which in turn helped me to develop the drive and determination to perform at my best. Does descrimination happen, of course it does. The only way for it to stop will be for people to accept themselves as well as others. Sometimes we as black people are our own worst enemies. Due to the fact that I turned out to be pretty successful, I have been accused of not being hard or being called a sell out by people of my race. There has also been time when I have been called a "N" by other races. It will never stop me from being who I am. Instead of catapulting negative remarks at me, why not ask me what did I do to get where I am. Knowledge is power and we as people need to share the wealth. I have friends, close friends from all walks of life. I strive on diversity. As long as you treat me with respect you are more than welcome to mine. I don't care what color you are. The different people that we meet and the complex issues that we face make us all who we are. When America (BLACK and WHITE) can figure this out, this will be a better country for everyone.

    July 25, 2008 at 3:57 pm |
  18. Renee

    Dr. Keys: It is nice to read your post. You are a real leader in your community. I commend you for that initiative and back your thoughts 110%.

    Keep up the good work and I'll be thinking of you as I am involved in my community too!

    July 25, 2008 at 3:34 pm |