Changing Student Narratives to End Racial Inequity

The BELE Network
3 min readSep 26, 2023


Kingmakers of Oakland

Educational disparities between Black students and white students are glaring in our education system. “Black boys tend to be at the bottom of every positive academic indicator and at the top of every negative academic indicator,” says Chris Chatmon, Founder and CEO of Kingmakers of Oakland. And these disparities are a direct result of what Black students experience everyday and the false narratives that circulate about who they are.

“For Black boys in general, there are through-lines that are common wherever you go to school. We know how Black boys are perceived and how they aren’t, in general. We know that Black boys get referred to special education and get expelled more than anyone else. The experience of Black boys is debilitating; it cries for support, for help, for changing the reality for Black boys,” says Matin Abdel-Qawi, Kingmakers’ Chief Program Officer.

As a BELE Network partner, Kingmakers of Oakland is working to improve outcomes for Black students by improving their experiences in schools and shifting the mindsets of educators and administrators. We need them to see Black boys “as brilliant, excellent, and full of potential,” continues Abdel-Qawi. “Once you [change the narrative of Black boys]. All things are possible.”

As they work with schools and students, Kingmakers implements strategies to recognize the need for broader narrative changes and redesign schools so everyone sees the potential in Black students. Some of Kingmakers’ models include increasing collaboration, updating curriculum, and implementing student feedback.

  1. Learning Collaboratives: Kingmakers creates teams composed of senior leadership, school personnel, parents and caregivers, and students who work together to transform school systems, generate shared efforts, and foster community-level change in service of a better education experience
  2. Updating Curriculum: Kingmakers and curriculum developers work together to equip schools with new curriculum across subject areas that teaches students about cultural identity, building students up to grow into their own power.
  3. Student Feedback: Kingmakers organizes interviews with students to learn more about their experiences. Grounded in the daily lives of the students interviewed, Kingmakers engages administrators to understand and analyze barriers to student success. These conversations lead to new programming, created by Kingmakers, to provide more opportunities for students, especially Black male students.

We know that Kingmakers’ strategies like these work. A study published in 2021 showed that high school dropouts decreased by 43% because of Kingmakers programs. The study found that programs also led to school-wide improvements benefiting students who were not direct participants, reporting a decline in dropouts by 29% for Black females.

Kingmakers shows us how we can create learning environments that support and affirm students, especially Black boys. To provide educational experiences that help them thrive as learners and people, we need to keep working to build new narratives that empower Black students in classrooms, schools, districts, and communities.

Columbia Law School’s Center for Public Research and Leadership (CPRL) released a report highlighting four education equity bright spots in partnership with the BELE Network, including Kingmakers of Oakland. Read the report to learn more about these real-world examples where individuals, organizations, and systems are engaged with the science of learning and development, student experience, and resource equity, to build towards an equitable K-12 public education system.



The BELE Network

We are committed to creating learning environments that equitably support every student — especially students of color and low-income students.