This article originally appeared in Southern Exposure Vol. 8 No. 3, "Growing Up Southern." Find more from that issue here.

Ahidiana Work/Study Center is an independent black school. We are independent in that we are as self-sufficient as possible in this capitalist country. We receive no outside funding and maintain our program financially with tuition from our parents, with membership dues and with supporters’ donations. When we say we are black, we recognize that we are not only born black (Afrikan); we are also historically black. That is, our life story as a people reflects not only our Afrikan roots but also our collective experiences, contributions and development here in the USA. Finally we are black in that we are committed to our people first and to the need for our own defense, development and determination. 

When we started our program eight years ago we began with five students, and the second year we had a grand total of 10! It was very difficult not to give in and quit! The encouragement of our parents, though they were few, and of the other members of our organization, helped us stick with it. [The center now has 24 children, ages three to seven.] We have created and are constantly improving a program that meets our children’s needs in three areas: political, social and academic. Politically, we teach our children identity (who we are), purpose (what we are living for) and direction (how to accomplish our purpose). We also study our history — particularly great Afrikan-American revolutionaries, leaders and workers. It is vital that our children realize that there are many great black people who have made a history of struggle and resistance that we must continue. Socially, we teach our children values and how to live in positive social relationships. We shape our environment. We share space and materials. We are trying to develop students who are socially advanced, who are committed to our greater collective good rather than to individual desires or pleasures, who respect our total environment. 

Academically, we allow students to move at their own pace and do not designate concepts according to grade level. Our pre-school program basically covers reading-readiness skills while our primary program teaches basic reading, comprehension, thinking and math skills. We teach our children not to fear scientific or technological knowledge. We believe our children need an education controlled by us — one which defines our needs, shapes our wants and at the same time transfers knowledge and skills. This is what we are struggling to do at our school in New Orleans, and we are eager to share in any way we can with others. Our deepest hope is that we will inspire others to start independent black schools. In an effort to institutionalize our efforts, we have written a teachers’ manual and are planning to produce a film on our school.