Dr. Anyim Palmer and the Marcus Garvey School

By Richard Clay

In practically every school that they attend across the country, a percentage of young Black males are taking care of their business and excelling academically.  In some public, private, and charter schools that are adhering to higher educational standards, higher percentages of young Black males are achieving academic excellence.  Such schools should serve as educational models for all other schools that are honestly seeking to save our sons in school.

For more than three decades, an African-centered model of educational excellence has been personified by an independent Black school that continues to turn heads and smash all national education trends.  The Marcus Garvey School, located in Los Angeles, California, was founded in 1975 by visionary and education genius Dr. Anyim Palmer.  Marcus Garvey’s predominantly Black students have over the years consistently posted the highest standardized test scores of any elementary and junior high schools in the state of California.

An African-centered, tuition-based K-Eight school that accepts male and female students of all predetermined academic skill levels; Garvey’s impeccable track record is that most of the students who attend the school test two-three grade levels ahead of their actual grade levels.  Yet the staff at Garvey has always recognized that there is much more to a quality education than high-standardized test scores.

The children at Garvey have won so many of California’s local and state-wide academic competitions and conference awards over the years that they have been banned from participating in many of them.  First graders at Garvey start learning how to speak different languages.  Most importantly, the male and female students who attend Garvey are visibly happy and very enthusiastic about their education.  Their parents, who pay considerable tuition rates, are even happier than them.

I asked Dr. Palmer in a 2005 telephone interview that I was honored to conduct with him which one of his school’s many accomplishments was he the proudest of.  He replied, “Our ability on several occasions in the past to send our 12-years-old students to college as fulltime students, and the fact that we are still doing it.”  Black students learning like this in an independent environment is such a threatening idea to the American educational establishment that instead of using Garvey as a prototype for successful urban education, local and state politicians in California have over the years attempted several hostile takeovers of this outstanding school.

Thanks to the Black community’s united support, and Dr. Palmer’s unyielding commitment to Black children, Marcus Garvey remains open today as a model institution for all schools, and a beacon of light in the struggle to save our sons in school.  Dr. Palmer recently retired and turned the school over to its current Executive Director Sister Linda Saunders, a longtime teacher at the school who is proudly building on Palmer’s great legacy.  Part of Dr. Palmer’s great legacy is that he proved to the world once again that in the midst of abject poverty, rampant crime, and gang violence, Black children can indeed be affectively taught the principles of academic excellence, positive self-esteem, and cultural pride without slacking in one area in order to promote another.

Dr. Palmer accomplished all of this by embracing the attitude that in order to succeed, he needed teachers who were unsoiled by the system’s negative attitudes towards, and ineffective approaches to educating Black children.  He once told a reporter, “If you plan to work at my school, the last thing that you want to tell me is that you have a teaching certification, or years of experience teaching at another school.  What I really want to hear about is your commitment to educating children, and we will train you on the rest if you are hired.”

Being the visionary that he is, Dr. Palmer understood not only our great need for independent African-centered schools, but also the urgent need for us to train new and retrain experienced teachers on how to achieve the best results with Black students.  All across this country, we must honor Dr. Palmer and salute the accomplishments of his staff and students by striving to duplicate the successes of the Marcus Garvey School in both public and independent schools.  Anyone interested in learning more can contact the school directly, and purchase Dr. Palmer’s book entitled, “The Failure Of Public Education In The Black Community.”