Kilombo Academic and Cultural Institute exists because of First Afrikan Church’s commitment to institution building. Kilombo exists because of the work of the New Afrikan People’s Organization and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement. Kilombo exists because individuals, families and organizations love Afrikan children and decided that we needed a freedom school.
In the winter of 2000, I worked for a large urban school district as a model teacher leader. The woman who served as my supervisor was responsible for leading over 17 schools. I was on my way to meet with her and the team when I became very depressed. The negativity in our meetings disturbed me. It bothered me deeply that too often colleagues were badly disrespected.
Disrespect, however, was the culture of the school system. I knew the toxicity throughout the system was too stifling to provide the type of excellent education our students needed. There were many dedicated people in the system. Unfortunately, too often, the primary commitment was to their jobs, not to our children. No matter how hard I worked in the system, I would only be able to engender a small bit of change. Black children were in deep trouble. It was as though a dark gray cloud settled on me. In the same moment I heard the Holy Spirit whisper, “Ask Mark about a freedom school.” The dark cloud lifted. I knew I was not stuck. There were options for our children and for me. GLORY BE TO GOD!
I asked Mark Ogunwale Lomax, my pastor, about starting a freedom school. He responded with a strong “Yes!” Mark said the Holy Spirit was amazing and had already implanted the need for a school in his spirit. We agreed that the school would be open to all Afrikans. We would not cater to one religion. He had already begun talking with folks about starting a school. And so it began. Mark Lomax, Itihari Toure, Susan Mitchell, Pam Alexander, Olufemi (Terrance Drake) and I began meeting under the direction of Wekesa Madzimoyo. Brother Kokayi Issa joined us later.
The Planning Committee for the freedom school began in the fellowship hall of First African Church in 2000. Olufemi suggested the name Kilombo Pan Afrikan Institute. The Planning Committee knew we had to create an alternative for the students in our community. Afrikan children were on the bottom of every standardized test. Unfortunately, public schools had low expectations for our children across the country. Schools were not teaching our children the greatness of our history and our culture. Our children were often being tracked into remedial classes, overrepresented in special education classes unjustifiably, and experience greater suspension rates than their white counterparts. Public schools were failing Afrikan children.
The founding committee of Kilombo knew we had to do something to save our children. We created the vision of Kilombo. Itihari Toure gave us the model of leadership we still follow today. We began working with First African Community Development (FACDC) as our 501c3.
In 2001, Kilombo Academic and Cultural Institute began a reading tutorial program. The goal of the program was to help students who were below level in reading get back on track. We had great success.
In 2004, I left my job to begin our full day tutorial project. I raised money by selling African clothes, greeting cards, and collecting donations.
My Goddaughter, Ayo N’kita Mayala, and I had been talking about her teaching at Kilombo for years. We knew that we wanted her baby and my God-grand, Noni, to have a safe place to learn. However, there was no money. I encouraged her to find another job. She replied that if she could not work at Kilombo she would not teach. She would braid hair, sew or write. Ayo was determined to only teach for Kilombo. And so, we stepped out on faith.
In August of 2005, we began a full day home school tutorial program in a small house in Decatur, Georgia with 13 children. Ayo N’kita Mayala, became Kilombo’s lead teacher and later our co-director. Atiba Dorsey became Ayo’s support teacher and all around trouble-shooter. The results were tremendous. The children spent the day experiencing the joy of learning. They were focused, disciplined and they thrived.
In January of 2006, First African Church and FACDC provided us a home on the church’s campus for free. We stayed there for 71/2 years. Along with rent, FACDC paid our utility bills, our insurance and provided us with bookkeeping. We will always be grateful!
All along, my daughter, Tashiya Umoja M’kanga, was helping Kilombo anyway she could. She sent out emails, made calls and passed out flyers. She did whatever was necessary. In 2006, she came on as our afterschool teacher. In 2007, she began teaching science. I remember one day, after a particularly wonderful science session. She walked out of the class and exclaimed, “I was born to do this!” She now has her Master’s in Education and currently teaches and serves as Kilombo’s director.
The children at Kilombo achieve at high lev- els not because they are special; they achieve because that is the expectation. They are taught that they are beautiful, capable and divine. They believe it and they soar. This is the secret to Kilombo’s success. Love the children, expect them to achieve at high levels, teach them what they need to succeed and push them to greater levels of achievement. Our children see themselves in the curriculum. They see role models that look like them on the walls. They are surrounded by examples of Black success. In their minds, African people in America work hard and achieve because that is what they see at their school.
We have everything we need to build a freedom school for our children, our grandchildren and upcoming generations. We only have to have the will!
NOTICE OF NONDISCRIMINATORY POLICY AS TO STUDENTS
The Kilombo Academic and Cultural Institute admits students of any race, color, national and ethnic origin to all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the school. It does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national and ethnic origin in administration of its educational policies, admissions policies, scholarship and loan programs, and athletic and other school-administered programs.