This blog is part of a series of articles to recognize unsung heroes who were active in the Black Power Movement. The Chad School was an independent Black educational institution in Newark, New Jersey that was established and supported by the Black Youth Organization. Following is a summary of the founding organization and an interview with former administrator, Babatu Y. Olubayo.
Summary of the Black Youth Organization (BYO)
The Black Youth Organization was established by college students in 1967 as an outcome of a summer tutoring and mentoring project in Newark, New Jersey. College students provided tutorial services for high school students in reading and mathematics. The students who provided the services found their mentees in great need academically. This experience was the impetus for establishing an organization called the Black Youth Organization with a primary mission of developing and operating an independent Black school. In the fall of 1968, the group opened the school with an initial enrollment of 70 children. They named the school after Chad, a country in Africa, because Chad is physically located in the heart of Africa.
Representatives from the Black Youth Organization attended a Black Power Conference held in Newark, New Jersey in 1967. After listening to the discussion at the meeting, they determined that the activities planned would lead to the death, injury, and/or imprisonment of a number of activists. Based on this assessment, they decided to work underground as an organization and focus their time and energy strictly on education. The Black Youth Organization had two divisions: the Chad School and a shadow group called the House of August. The Black Youth Organization was a coed group; however, the House of August was an all-male group. The purposes of the House of August were to protect the faculty and students of the Chad School, and develop and implement economic projects to provide funding for the school. Because the House of August division functioned primarily underground, there is little information on this group in the literature. Consequently, most of the information provided in this summary is based on the experience of the researcher, who was a teacher and parent at the school, and the testimony from a former leader of the Black Youth Organization.
The Black Youth Organization had a president, secretary, and board of directors. Leon Moore was president of the Black Youth Organization and the administrator of Chad School. Economic projects that were developed and operated by the House of August included a music store located in Liberia, Africa; an African art store in the United States; a printing press called Pyramid Press; and, a construction company called the August Construction Company. The printing press produced African-centered curriculum materials for the school and provided printing services for the public. The construction company renovated houses.
The Chad School was an African-centered tuition-based school that offered classes for African American children from three to 12 years of age. To teach at the Chad School, applicants had to successfully complete a high school equivalency examination and attend rigorous teacher training classes conducted by Mr. Moore, who was considered the sage of the organization. Throughout its existence, the school was recognized for its educational excellence. Students that graduated from Chad went on to be top performers at area high schools and most attended and received degrees from higher education institutions. Because of Chad’s reputation, over the years, annual enrollment grew to 400 students.
The Chad School, as an institution, embraced and reflected the philosophy of Black Power. All of its students, teachers, and board members were African American. To ensure non-interference from the government, the Black Youth Organization refused to pursue or accept government grants for the school. In the early 2000s, the organization decided to allow White people to join its board of directors. The new board of directors attempted to change the cultural nationalist focus of the school and its policy on accepting grants. Staff and volunteers who had worked at the school since its formation objected to the changes. They organized another board of directors that was comprised of African Americans who had a history of being active and supportive of the school. A power struggle ensued between the two boards. This struggle exacerbated operation and funding problems. The school closed in 2005.
Interview with Babatu Y. Olubayo, Former Assistant Principal of the Chad School
1. What are your memories of the Black Power Movement during 1960 to 1980?
My memories, went roughly back from 1960 to 1980, I thought it was a period for advancement, for a segment of our population, of our group of people. There were opportunities created in housing, education, employment opportunities, and , to a certain extent, there was minor upward mobility for people in terms of the job marketing opening up, the housing situation expanding to allow people more access, and educational opportunities to further skills in order to remain competitive in this American environment.
KCS: What role did the Black Power Movement play in this era of advancement that you describe?
Well, if you take the Black Panthers as an example. They were able to bring together two different segments of the Black community. The Panthers themselves, who were viewed basically as roughians, tough people, or ex-felons if not felons, were able to initiate a breakfast program centered around our kids that was basically administered and handled through churches and other pillars of the Black community. I think Reagan recognized that, and subsequently the free breakfast program was established. I think that the militancy also allowed for employment opportunities. The union movements were beginning to pick up a little steam around the country, particularly in terms of Black participation. There was a bit of Black involvement in the union leadership, which had not happened since the thirties, and that allowed people to, again, to have greater access to certain economic opportunities that didn't exist prior to the Black Power Movement.
It (the Black Power Movement) certainly impacted schools. There was an increase in terms of people's consciousness. They were more willing to stick together over issues and things. I also think it fundamentally assisted the general Civil Rights Movement itself because it drew attention, stark attention, to the conditions of Black people in this country.
2. Do you know about the Black Power Conference in 1967 that took place in Newark?
KCS: Do you know any or could you share any information you have on what came out of that conference in terms of the goals and plans?
Well, generally, the goals and plans of the meeting were to participate on a grander scale in American life, politically, socially, certainly financially. Different factions or groups had their own ideas and methodologies for achieving those ends.
KCS: So, there wasn't one set of goals or plans that came out of the meeting itself?
There were certain goals. As a participant, the organization that I represented and was aligned with at that point in time, decided to take a different path because the forces to be and the factions that were involved in meeting those objectives. We decided not participate in the general political, specifically the political, effort. Instead, we chose to concentrate on an area that we thought that we could be successful in, which was education.
3. Could you tell me a little bit about your membership in the Black Youth Organization? What capacity or role you played, and for what period of time? If there were any other groups that you belonged to, please share that information too.
During that period, I was involved in several different types of organizations. I was very supportive, active, and became a minor member of the Newark Black Panther Party primarily because they had aligned themselves with creating employment and economic opportunities for Black folks through a project we had with the Ford Motor Company in Mahwah New Jersey. We also were affiliated with the Dodge Revolutionary Unit Movement out of Detroit, because, at that point in time, the Black auto workers were attempting to not only get jobs, but also to be eligible or able to participate and or be involved in managerial positions. At that time, I was an active member of a group at Western Electric. We formed what was known as the Western Electric Revolutionary Union Movement (WER), which we aligned with the Ford Motor Company and others.
KCS: The union movement. Can I ask, before you go into details, did this group have anything to do with the Revolutionary Action Movement Group? Or was it a different organization?
The Revolutionary Action Movement? No, it was a different organization. I guess you could say it was part of the Ford and Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement. There were union movements where Black people just began to have a say, and if not a say, they formed their own unions to advocate for clearer positions or demands than what the conventional unions offered at that time. For example, with the auto workers (United Auto workers Union) were under serving their Black membership. Western Electric was represented by two mainstream unions, which was the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and CWA, the Workers of America. I can't think of what the C stands for right now, but anyway they certainly didn't represent Black people's interest, so we formed our own union.
KCS: What about the Black Youth Organization?
The Black Youth Organization was a response to social conditions in this country, which was quite simply that Black youth were being misguided, misdirected in a general sense and specific senses, based upon the resources that they had available to them in their neighborhoods and communities. They were certainly underserved by the school systems. The Black Youth Organization was a spontaneous reaction to fill a void. We came together initially as a recreational athletic organization that primarily taught self-defense to young Black people at the YMCA. At that time, there were widespread discussions taking place on Black anything because of the Black Power Movement. There was a lot of Black rhetoric, a lot of Black information, being circulated. What we discovered was that our kids, the students or children who were involved in our program, just simply couldn't read and write. So, we did some testing, devised programs, created a curriculum, and began an experimental program.
KCS: You call it an experimental program?
That was how we initially started. Once the experiment was over, which was six to eight weeks, we decided the results warranted us forming an organization and providing a school. In order to do that, we needed to have an organizational structure. And because we didn’t have the proper structure, we decided to pursue forming a 501c(3) under the name known as the Black Youth Organization. It was designed to promote educational, religious, social and civic efforts within the federal 501c(3) regulations.
4. What global events influenced the formation and activities of the Black Youth Organization?
At that point in time, there was a series of things going on, both nationally and internationally or globally. In the United States, we, Black people were engaged in what was known as the Civil Rights struggle, where people were looking to the government to ensure that they had basic rights as citizens in this country, whether they were voting rights, housing rights, employment rights, access to whatever the country is supposed to provide, education, health, etc. There were health movements going on at that same time. We were active on a lot of different fronts.
At the same time, our brothers in Africa and throughout the Caribbean were involved in a certain level of liberation. Between the 1960s and the early '70s, 30 - 40 countries in Africa became free from colonial rule. That certainly impacted the Civil Rights struggles of Black people in the United States. Those global influences, particularly the emergence of independent African states, influenced us to feel that we needed to acquire skills that would allow us to assist in building nations both here and abroad.
5. What were the strengths of the Black Youth Organization, and what were its challenges?
The strength of the Black Youth Organization was that it became a self-motivating entity. There was a period of time when there was a lot of enthusiasm and hope for Black people in general, and we were working with young people. Young people were the target of a lot of the social and civil rights activities that took place during the sixties. It was certainly the student movement that was in the forefront of the civil rights organizations, and it was also young people who were involved in the early expressions of many Black Power organizations. All of these grew out of student movements. It was students that had the intellectual capacity to analyze their situations and choose particular solutions for solving what they thought were pressing problems. The Black Youth Organization felt the same way, because of the various levels of control in this society. One of the most effective ways that we could impact our people would be to attempt to create structures that would impact the mind, impact how we thought, what we were taught, impact our thinking, and allow us to embrace an ideology. Simply put, our ideology was a very simple one. We are an African people. As an African people, we felt that it was our obligation to acquire the skills necessary to have an attitude and skills that would allow us to, again, develop African nations, no matter where they were, and our general Black communities.
KCS: When the Black Youth Organization was developing, where were the students? You all were students, right?
KCS: Where did they come from?
They came from all over.
KCS: I mean, how did you come together?
The initial group was a small group at the YMCA in Newark, New Jersey. Once we put together that first group, and they were all local students, we began to interact with other Black youth groups around the country, because at that time there were a number of Black student organizations that were emerging on various college campuses. Specifically, there were actually two tracks. There was Black student organizations that existed on traditional American college campuses, basically White college campuses, and then there was the movement that expanded from Black organizations to Black student organizations, particularly in communities that were involved in historically Black colleges. For example, all of the local people (students) came from Howard University. They also came from Orangeburg State University and traditional Black colleges. Students joined these organizations to assist with civil rights and voting legislation.
6. What were the accomplishments of the Black Youth Organization?
Primarily our main effort was to establish and operate a school. We felt that we could effectively develop the minds of our young by having our own school, with minimal interaction with the larger society or the greater White educational institutions. We felt, using critical systems analysis, that they didn't serve our needs. We looked at models from the past. We went back in history as far as we could and examined all great schools of learning. We examined the attitudes of people who were enlisted and converted into supporting causes. At one point in time, for example, in the United States, there might have been almost a hundred medical schools that served Black people, particularly after reconstruction. But, there was an assault on Black education, just like what occurred with the Black codes during the reconstruction period. The greater population just chose to oppress people. Everyone knows the story of Virginia. I think it was Prince Edwards County that, rather than integrate its schools back in the fifties; chose just to shut down the public school system. We decided that one of the best and most effective ways for us to improve the condition of our people and children in general was to run our own schools. By that, we designed our own curriculum. We did not use White models. We just used information, and we chose four disciplines - mathematics, science, history, and language arts - to be the avenues for us to essentially excel.
7. What do you know about COINTELPRO relative to the Black Youth Organization?
Many organizations during the sixties were under the scrutiny of COINTELPRO. COINTEL was primarily the people who persecuted George Jackson, the Panthers, and the US Organization in California. There was not a single organization that COINTEL did not at least attempt to infiltrate or monitor. The Black Youth Organization was certainly one of them during those days and times, because we had relationships with other schools. There was a high period for what we liked to call African-centered educational institutions during the sixties, and they were scattered around the country. Quite naturally, we came under the investigative eye of COINTELPRO. COINTELPRO was an effort of the government that primarily attempted to destroy Black unity and Black movement towards whatever their purpose may have been, whether it was healthcare, education, etc. Their objective was to simply disintegrate, to destroy, any Black organization, and they certainly attempted to destroy the Black Youth Organization. We had instances of people who were what we used to call provocateurs back in the day. We had provocateurs just about on every level of community engagement.
As a member of the Black Youth Organization, for example, not only were my personal efforts centered on education, but at the same time, I was also concerned about urban renewal in the city of Newark. If I wasn't involved with the Black Youth Organization, I might have been involved in housing efforts. The same disruptive patterns would occur, no matter what effort the community was engaged in. It was the FBI, COINTELPRO.
KCS: Let’s deal with this in separate streams.
8. I know the school is closed now. What is the current status of the Black Youth Organization?
In 2013, the original Black Youth Organization had dissolved. The Black Youth Organization dissolved years ago. I think there is an offshoot, because the Black Youth Organization started the school, which was known as the Chad School, which was really one of the most successful divisions (of the organization). With the demise of the Chad School, a foundation was formed. Its sole purpose is to, I guess, offer scholarship opportunities to Black youth or assistance in some sort of way. Maybe they do mentoring. I'm not sure of that. I know that the original organization died some time ago.
KCS: The organization died before the school?
KCS: When did the organization die?
I couldn't tell you when the organization died. The organization itself had a series of rules and regulations. One of them was a posture that it would not allow the government or any foundations to have anything to do with Chad School’s operation. So, they did not receive funding from them. It was the premise that no one could tell the organization what to do with its resources, with its funding. I think that once the organization decided to accept funding from government sources, they lost their identity. They lost their direction, and subsequently the demise began.
KCS: That was the Chad School?
That was the Chad School, the School being a division of the Black Youth Organization. I don't know the legality of that. I know that the Black Youth Organization probably exists on paper as an entity, but as a functioning organization, as far as being involved in the community, I don't think so.
KCS: Do you think that BYO’s demise was tied to some event, like Leon Moore moving South because of illness?
No, I think primarily what occurred was the Black Youth Organization chose certain directions when we were involved in Africa. We saw Africa as being a critical point for the organization. We felt that we needed to develop businesses and have a presence in Africa. We needed to migrate back home.
Several events took place on the continent. Our base was in Liberia. I think that the assassination of Steve Talbot had a lot to do with us. The organization left Liberia and I left the organization at that point in time. I left prior to that, maybe not too long before that, but right about the time that Liberia began to disintegrate because of Sergeant …coming into power, I think that set the organization itself into disarray. A lot of the people who were members of the original Black Youth Organization decided to move on and it just disintegrated. It never replaced itself.
9. How did the activities of the Black Youth Organization affect colleges and universities? On campuses and in the community?
Because of our successes locally, we got a lot of exposure, particularly in academic circles. We were on many, many radio programs and television programs. In fact, I remember one time we did a program in New York for one of the local Black programs and we received letters and phone calls from people all around the country that wanted to come and work with the Chad School. People from traditional Black universities, or people just out in the community felt that they wanted to make a contribution.
KCS: Did this include students and professors?
KCS: From colleges and universities?
Yes, we had people who were highly skilled. We started our own teacher-training program of course. We took both people who had attitude and skills. The primary thing with us was attitude. If you had the proper attitude, you could be taught the skills. You could be given a body of information and taught to pass that on to your students. That's what we did. We also had people there who had degrees in the sciences, in math, or whatever. At one point, it was about fifty-fifty. We had people who had a tremendous number of skills that were easily transferable.
10. Did your organization's activities affect the development of the Black student organizations on campuses, and if so how?
We went on the lecture circuit. We interacted with Black student organizations and we spoke about our cause. We spoke about our methodology and our goals and objectives. That to a degree may have impacted students. Because we were part of a larger organization, which was the Federation of Pan African Educational Institutions, and they in turn had some impact on Black students in their local communities. To a degree, which I can't measure, but I can say that we were influential with people who really wanted to use the tools of education as a weapon. There were two organizations. There was also the Council of Independent Black Institutions, CIBI. CIBI was the second one and the Federation of Pan African Educational Institutions was the first group of alternative educational systems across the country. We went from California to Florida to Boston. There were various degrees of success and independence within the member institutions.
KCS: Was this only for people who were going to be teachers in the independent Black schools, or could anyone attend?
These organizations promoted developing strategies for the survival of the independent educational institutions and students were encouraged to participate, to volunteer, to do whatever, to make whatever contribution they felt would assist with their longevity, with their existence.
11. Did the organization's activities affect the development of any Black studies departments at higher education institutions? If they did, how?
I can't quantitatively or qualitatively answer that question. We chose to be an organization that tended to build a structure from within, and part of that was because of COINTELPRO. Because we knew that destructive forces were attempting to alter whatever successes we could manufacture ourselves, we tended to build internally. We recruited students from wherever they chose to come, whether it was Cornell or other schools. We had students come from Cornell. In fact, they were the guys that took over Cornell University. It was an armed takeover.
KCS: Was that Cornell West and his group?
Yes, a couple of them became members of the Black Youth Organization, at least the school and did quite well for a while.
12. Are you aware of any activities, programs, or benefits that higher education institutions experienced on campuses resulting from the efforts of either the Black Youth Organization or other organizations in the Black Power Movement during that period, 1960 to 1980?
I would say that the Black Youth Organization's role was miniscule compared to the role of organizations like SNCC and the Panthers. They had a tremendous impact on Black student organizations, particularly Black student organizations that were in White institutions. Blacks were beginning to have access to the Rutgers of the world, the Ohio States, and the UCLA's. So these organizations were able to take advantage of the degree of intellectual curiosity and inquisitiveness at that time. A lot of young people became actively involved in other aspects of the struggle and they used their thirst for knowledge and information. They used the energy that grew out of the Civil Rights Movement to press for Black demands, not only on the campus, but in their respective communities.
KCS: Do any of these organizations exist today?
No, because I think that the organizations became co-opted.
KCS: All of them?
I wouldn't say all of them. I would say a great deal of them, because they tended to, at least in my opinion, to have lost their direction. For example, during that same sixties period, there was tremendous community unity expressed in various ways, particularly in urban centers and rural areas in this country. In addition to COINTELPRO, there were other ways that Black efforts were undermined. For example, for people who were in the forefront of community involvement or Black liberation, organizations were formed to co-op Black efforts, like the Black Affairs Council from Philadelphia, which became a funding conduit or organization that selected people in the Black community who would receive funding for whatever purposes. If you had a project centered on community health, then that particular group was the group that decided who would get the money. It took the leadership out of the community and put the leadership on those boards. Subsequently, those boards then decided who they would empower in the Black communities. The Episcopal Church did the same thing. It became a question of the steam actually being taken out of the sails of the Black community, and low and behold the next thing you know, you had some serious integration.
13. Are there any people that you feel would provide some really helpful information to me on this topic? Anybody you'd recommend?
Right here in this town (Washington, DC), I would suggest Tom Porter. I also suggest Tony Rather. Dr. Jared is at Morgan State University and he has a program called Dixon Bell. They mix music that I like. They can be contacted either at Morgan State or WPFW. They can give you insights into tremendous resources and identify people who are still active.
14. I'm collecting information on the sequence of events leading to the development of the first Black student union and the first Black studies department at San Francisco State University. Are there experiences that you know of at other colleges and universities that you feel would also be informative?
When you talk about San Francisco State, the first person that I think of is Danny Glover, who was instrumental in things like that. He has been consistent throughout his whole life. I think other people who came out of that experience are people like Sonya Sanchez and Nikki Giovanni because they were all part of Rutgers in New Jersey.
I wouldn't know where to begin to find these folks. For example, at Rutgers, there was a guy named Sam Sanderson if I'm not mistaken. He was more involved with the students, the Black student movement there. There are just so many people because that was a very rich period, but I can't remember because of my own posture at that point in time.
Epilogue: I had the honor of working at the Chad School for one year as a teacher of three year old children. My daughter attended the school for two years. It was an exhilarating experience. Staff there was truly a family. It was a safe zone and an enriching experience for the students. Knowledge was power. The only reason I left was recruitment to work at the New Ark School. The closing of the school is truly a significant loss for the children and families of northern New Jersey.
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