What do Bruce Lee, Entrepreneurship, and Decolonized Education Have in Common?
I just finished writing a hefty nomination for my former student, Beauclaire Junior Mbanya to attend a leadership conference on “Reimagining Education” in Bulgaria in October (all expenses paid).
Why? It’s the answer to the title of this article. Action.
Beauclaire was a student at the African Leadership Academy who was in my Writing & Rhetoric class last year. My vision was to activate and develop my students’ critical consciousness while fostering a strong culture of learning and academic achievement that did not diminish their cultural integrity. Doing so would allow my students to envision, plan for, and begin to act on their own personal, academic and life goals within the realities of the many vicious systemic inequities they face as multi-ethnic students ranging from various countries on the African continent. ALA is a pan-african project that brings together students from across the continent to “develop the next generation of African leaders”. Thus, my students ranged from Cameroon, Nigeria to South Africa and Mauritius. Every day we recited the following mantra: “to become a conscious, and empowered individual who can use a decolonized voice to speak truth to power and to advocate for myself, my family, and my people.”
Beauclaire was also enrolled in a class called Entrepreneurial Leadership where students received training on personal leadership, used a human-centered design model called BUILD, and practiced running student enterprises. It’s a model that makes sense given the pressing needs across the African continent and the school has, deservingly, been praised for its success from Desmond Tutu to Oprah.
That said, I think if we truly wish to not only curb but radically transform the state of misery and suffering in our oppressed communities across the African continent and diaspora then we must advocate for a restructuring of the world order. Much like my brothers and sisters did in London a few days ago with a march calling for slavery reparations or the more than 60 organizations that collaborated to deliver the official platform of the Black Lives Matter movement (check out their sections on Economic Justice, Invest-Divest, and Reparations). Restructuring will not be delivered by entrepreneurship itself, especially since entrepreneurship very much so arises as a direct result of the creative destruction of savage forms of corrupt trans-national capitalism. Reallocating resources or finding ways to route funding to your communities provides opportunity and addresses the surfaces of inequity but does nothing to transform the system which created the inequities in the first place. Developing a new generation of African overseers would only further our current neo-colonialist state. The leaders of tomorrow have the complex task of using tools like entrepreneurship to not only disrupt the status quo but also ensure their solutions create and incentivize new equitable systems to cannibalize the old.
This is why in my class, we focused heavily on our abilities to critically analyze pain and decolonized our minds by identifying and internalizing commitments to take action against the social, political, and economic elements of oppression in our respective societies.
I think this is why Beauclaire thought both of his classes could complement the other if implemented effectively in his home country, Cameroon. With this in mind, while still finishing up his final school year, he started a non-profit organization called Cameroon Youth Reform Initiative. It is an initiative which aims at educating youths to think for themselves and find themselves while also converting their ideas to sustainable projects. On July 20th-22nd, 2016, Beauclaire returned to his home country of Cameroon with a partnership that included his school’s BUILD IN A BOX program, JumpStart Academy Africa, and my education firm Street Knowledge. With a diverse team of 6 facilitators, he implemented a 3-day pilot workshop series for nearly 40 students aged 13–21 focused on developing their entrepreneurship skills and critical consciousness.
Over the course of 5 months before the first pilot was implemented, Beauclaire, with a dilligence I’ve never seen before in a student, got me invested in his project. I mean the brother went as far as showing up at my door step in the middle of the night just to pitch the idea to me and to convince me to help him come up with activities and exercises similar to those he had experienced in my class. In a beautiful example of teacher learning from student, I felt inspired by Beauclaire’s agency and decided to get more serious about my Education Blog: Street Knowledge. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to pilot and develop the practical real-world arm of the blog (Direct impact from Beauclaire: using Street Knowledge as the platform, I’m now consulting with different teachers and organizations starting this fall to continue developing Culturally-Relevant & Community-Responsive curriculum and materials). So, we decided to partner and essentially co-write the curriculum for his camp by remixing his school’s Entrepreneurial Leadership curriculum and applying a grassroots and decolonized perspective. Beauclaire even forced me to write a contract and sign it!
I was so inspired by seeing a conscious, young, BLACK and AFRICAN brother trying to hustle that I contributed personal funds for the total $1200 he raised to implement his idea. We have already had our debrief session and are excited to refine the idea and make the next iteration even more powerful. Beauclaire has, since, graduated from high school and with the support of his school, he will be attending the University of Rochester studying Engineering in the fall. We plan on piloting another program in Colorado where I’m now located before the next iteration in Cameroon next summer. I see an excellent opportunity to organize low-income students and students of color in my community and hope to continue reaching for that decolonized, radical approach to education and empowerment.
The lesson that I know will endure for Beauclaire and I beyond this project is simply “take action”. The most important measurement of any de-colonized pedagogy is action. Action of any kind no matter how basic or well-organized. In fact, this was one of Bruce Lee’s most beloved philosophies.
“Philosophy was not just an intellectual exercise for Bruce, he believed in applying it in real life through continual action. It was also an emotional process that started in his heart, then energized his body to manifest ideas in the real world. It was a process of becoming more intensely himself.” –The Bruce Lee Podcast
Beauclaire has demonstrated the progression of our philosophy of transformative resistance and has taken full ownership of his praxis, the physical materialization of his knowledge. To me, he is an example of a dignified African being willing to choose his own path and daring to change his context. I wish the same for any student coming from a historically marginalized community. This is why we must push our education systems for broader student outcomes beyond math and reading test scores or Cambridge International Exams. I’ve got my ideas for where to start. I would love to hear yours in the comment section.
Wisdom Amouzou is a co-founder at HackSchool with a vision to cultivate generations of consciously empowered students who will transform social misery into social agency and solve the grand challenges of human-kind. His focus is transformative resistance, developing revolutionary love and actively decolonizing his mind.
Originally published at goodmenproject.com on August 5, 2016.