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Nelson Beats The Odds is a semiautobiographical graphic novel about an African-American boy who struggles with the stigma of being placed in special education. The book is written and self-published by Ronnie Sidney, II, MSW and illustrated by Traci Van Wagoner. Sidney struggled academically and behaviorally as juvenile, spending five years in special education after being diagnosed with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Specific Learning Disability (SLD). Sidney shares his childhood experience in Nelson Beats The Odds to bring attention to the plight of students with disabilities.
Sidney’s story is not unique, in fact, millions of African-American boys and men across the country share a similar experience. Countering the Conspiracy to Destroy Black Boys, Vol. 1 by Jawanza Kunjufu and Psycho-Academic Holocaust: The Special Education & ADHD Wars Against Black Boys by Dr. Umar Johnson examine ADHD and disproportionality. Since publishing Nelson Beats The Odds, former special education students have reached out to Sidney to share their experiences. “On a daily basis people come up to me and tell me how much my book resonates with them. Being a black male with a learning disability makes you feel like a double minority,” explains Sidney, “there were no books available like Nelson Beats The Odds when I was a kid so I felt the need to create one.”
Sidney believes Nelson Beats The Odds can step in and fill a huge gap in literature. “I think it’s extremely important for children of color to have their truth reflected honestly in children’s books. My book series features five resilient African-American and Hispanic youth who overcome challenges such as learning disabilities, trauma, parental substance abuse and bullying,” says Sidney.
Since 1985 the Cooperative Children’s Book Center documented the numbers of books they received that were written and/or illustrated by African Americans. In 2015 they received 3,400 books, only 106 were written and/or illustrated by African-Americans while 269 were written about them.
There is a growing movement in America and abroad to promote diverse literature that reflects the experiences of everyone. We Need Diverse Books™ launched an international campaign to address this issue. The grassroots organization’s mission is to put more books featuring diverse characters into the hands of all children. By advocating for essential changes in the publishing industry, the group hopes more books will be produced and promoted that, “reflects and honors the lives of all young people.”
It is essential that African-American males see positive images of themselves reflected because the achievement gap between them and their white counterparts is staggering. According to a report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation there is a correlation between early childhood literacy and dropout rates. Below are some highlights from the report:
– On average, African American twelfth-grade students read at the same level as white eighth-grade students.
– The twelfth-grade reading scores of African American males were significantly lower than those for men and women across every other racial and ethnic group.
– Only 14% of African American eighth graders score at or above the proficient level. These results reveal that millions of young people cannot understand or evaluate text, provide relevant details, or support inferences about the written documents they read.
School psychologist, Dr. Kinette Richards talks about the risk factors African Americans in poverty face and how it may cause ADHD. African Americans generally have high rates of blood pressure, diabetes, pre-natural exposure to smoking and premature birth. Studies have found a correlation between those conditions and ADHD. Dr. Richard’s assessment of ADHD includes asking questions about hearing, vision, life changes and sleeping patterns. She said that any disruption in any of those areas can cause a client to be misdiagnosed.
Dr. Richards mentioned a Kaiser Permanente study that examined the health records of 850,000 kids. The study found that ADHD diagnoses were on the rise. There was a 70% increase in newly diagnosed African Americans with ADHD. The study found that during a nine year period boys were 3 times as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than girls, however, there was a 90% increase for newly diagnosed African American females. According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ADHD is one of the most common neurobehavioral disorders of childhood. Between 4 percent and 12 percent of school-aged children reportedly have the disorder. Researchers found that children with ADHD are more likely to miss school, experience learning problems and experience troublesome relationships with family members and peers.
Virginia’s largest children law program, JustChildren Program, published a report on May 1, 2016 entitled “Suspended Progress”. The report found that Virginia schools disproportionately suspend African-American students and students with disabilities. African-American students make up roughly 23 percent of the student population, but were subjected to 60 percent of long-term suspensions, 58 percent of short-term suspensions, and 55 percent of expulsions. African-American students were 3.6 times more likely than their white counterparts to be suspended.
Students with disabilities represent 12.3% of the student population in Virginia, but received 22% percent of long-term suspensions, 27.6 percent of short-term suspensions, and 21% of expulsions. Students with disabilities were 2.4 times more likely than students without disabilities to be suspended. According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities, Black and Hispanic students with disabilities face much higher rates of school disciplinary actions, drop-out rates and experience lower rates of graduation.
According to researchers, poor training and racial bias have contributed to children of color being assigned to “slow-moving special-education classes.” Virginia Commonwealth University researcher Donald Oswald and others found that special education only contributed to unequal opportunities for minority students who are already inadequately served, misclassified and segregated. Studies have shown that students with learning disabilities face lower teacher expectations; carry around stigmatizing labels; develop lower self-esteem; and experience poorer academic outcomes than students without learning disabilities.
The Civil Rights Project’s papers concluded that black children were 3 times more likely than whites to be labeled as Mentally Retarded (MR) and outnumbered all other students labeled Emotionally Disabled (ED). They are also one and a half times likely to be diagnosed as Learning Disabled (LD) and twice as likely as whites to be labeled as ED.
Although African-Americans are overrepresented in Special Education, they are underrepresented in gifted and advanced programs. The U.S. Department of Education 2011-12 “State and National Estimations” report found that Hispanic and Black students make up 40 percent of public school students but only 26 percent of students enrolled in gifted programs.
Public education has also become a gateway for youth to be placed in juvenile justice facilities due to “zero tolerance” discipline policies. This trend has been described by many as the “School-To-Prison Pipeline“. Many students are being referred to the school security officers instead of the having their issues addressed by counselors. While African-American students represented 16% of student enrollment, they represented 31% of students subjected to a school-related arrests and 27% of students referred to law enforcement, according to a 2014 report by the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights.
A new report by The 74 found that many of America’s biggest school districts have more security officers than counselors. School counselors are outnumbered by security officers in four out of the 10 largest public school districts in the country according to the report.
Social Justice organizations like The Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) are calling for school’s across the country to end discriminatory discipline policies that fuel the School-to-Prison Pipeline. Last August, several members of the DSC launched the Virginia “Pushout Tour” to highlight racial discipline disparities in Henrico and Chesterfield County. Although black students only made up about 37 percent of Henrico’s student body, they compromised nearly 70% of students receiving out-of-school suspensions. The organization also called for local lawmakers to address the state’s discriminatory discipline policies and they responded.
Governor Terry McAuliffe announced his Classrooms not Courtrooms initiative on November 13, 2015. The initiative’s goal is to reduce and address the following:
– Reduce student referrals to law enforcement.
– Reduce suspensions and expulsions.
– Address the disparate impact these practices have on African-Americans and students with disabilities.
– Address the emphasis on subjective offenses like disorderly conduct.
Governor McAuliffe is calling on school superintendents, school board members and school leaders to push to make reducing the number their highest priority.
Despite the statistics and stigma, our boys and girls can beat the odds. Like Nelson, our youth need supportive parents and teachers who encourage them to reach their potential. Nelson Beats The Odds reflects the African-American male educational experience like no other book you’ve ever read. Purchase a copy of Nelson Beats The Odds by clicking here. For information about the Nelson Beats The Odds Comic Creator, Teacher’s Guide or mixtape, visit the author’s website at http://www.creative-medicine.com.