Spell C-O-U-C-H: All-Black Middle School Spelling Bee contest held in Houston

Yesterday, some group called the African American National Spelling Bee held its first all-Black spelling bee in Houston, Texas. No information on who won the event is yet available and E-mails to the group putting on the middle school, all-Black spelling bee have not be answered.

Do we need a caption?

Wait, you hadn’t heard about this spelling bee? Neither had we until today, and news on who won the event is, strangely, not available online. Here is a story from May 12 describing the event, courtesy of one of the news affiliates in Houston:

Dozens of Houston area kids will be competing for scholarships and other prizes this weekend, but we still know little, if anything about the 1st African-American Spelling Bee Championships being held Saturday in Houston.

Organizers did not return phone calls from KTRH News seeking an update on the event.

We first brought you this story two months ago, and it sparked a heated on-air debate between KTRH talk show host Michael Berry and the spelling bee’s Jackie Terrell on why African-American children should have a separate competition from the more popular Scripps National Spelling Bee.

“You’re telling these young black children you’re not good enough to compete, you don’t have the parental support and school support, so we’ll create something you can win,” said Berry.  “They have a trophy that’s meaningless, there’s no honor in that.”

Terrell fired back saying “There is honor in that, we’re creating an opportunity they wouldn’t otherwise have.”

Teacher Lynnette Durant agrees, and says that’s why Ryan Middle School will send eight students to this weekend’s event.

“The majority of our students are not being exposed to the national level, because only the top students that place from the school get to go on,” says Durant.  “With this we’re able to get a greater number of our students exposed to something more than just the spelling bee we have here at the school.”

Either way, student Audra-Lynn Eveline is happy to have the opportunity.

“I’ve always liked to spell.  I don’t know why, but I’ve just studied hard and kept going with my spelling,”says Eveline.  “It doesn’t really matter if I win; I’m just very excited to participate in it.”

The African-American Spelling Bee Championships are scheduled to take place 9am Saturday morning at Jack Yates Senior High School.

Here’s another story on the Black-only spelling bee, an event many hope will raise Black self-esteem (it can’t get much higher!) and in turn, improve Black test scores:

Houston businessman Robert Garner wants to help his community. You can debate whether he’s going about it the right way, but what you can’t question is his heart. 

“We’re trying to educate our community, which we feel like that’s in peril.”

Garner sees an inner city community that is struggling. High unemployment, thanks in part to high dropout rates and after learning no black student had ever won the popular Scripps Spelling Bee that’s shown on television, Garner decided to start a separate competition for inner city black schools.

 “All we’re trying to do is be accountable for a community that’s in trouble in education. Scripps is wonderful, keep doing Scripps.”

 (students say in unison: “caller please may have the definition, caller please use the word in a sentence…”)

In this classroom, at the Boys and Girls Academy on West Bellfort, students practice spelling each day. There are three teachers who help them not just with their words, but also on how to act and carry themselves.

This is 7th grade teacher Brenda Upton.

“Make sure they are dressed right, make sure their attire is set. Ladies sit the way they are supposed to sit; gentlemen stand they way they’re supposed to stand. Things like that.”
“Anti coagulant.” 

“A-N-T-I C-O-A-G-U-L-A-N-T.”

Starting a separate spelling bee for black students raises a number of questions. The most obvious is why? Another would be regarding the message it could send to black students, who may win competing against their black peers, but not against the larger population. Garner says he’s not worried about all that.

“We’re in a battlefield, where it’s really needed, and we feel like whatever we gotta do to get these kids educated. We’re going to do it, by any means.”

Teacher Brenda Upton agrees and says it’s not about whether her students can spell better than Asian students or white students, it’s  about giving struggling children a chance to get excited about learning new words and education as a whole.

“If any one of the ten to fifteen students that we have competing Saturday win, hey we’ve done a whole lot.”

The words may not have the level of difficulty as those we’ve all heard and seen at the National Spelling Bee, but the organizers admit their children aren’t at that level. By getting the kids involved and building an interest, they hope to get there…one day.

What’s sad is that the primary reason America’s educational system is failing Black students has nothing to do with self-esteem or funding issues. Black people are just less proficient then whites, Asians and Hispanics for reasons only nature will ultimately tell.

Only I Have a Dream (IHAD) people are upset about this story. IHAD people cling tightly to the words of Martin Luther King and go one-step further then MLK in believing that neither character nor color should be used as justification for judging a person negatively. IHAD people honestly believe in a world where equality exists across the board and are completely and 100 percent color-blind.

IHAD people become aghast that anyone would dare that Black kids can’t compete with whites, Indians or Asians. Take Michael Berry, a talk show host in Houston, who was upset with the self-segregating Blacks:

Some are questioning plans to host an all African-American spelling bee in Houston this spring, saying it sends the wrong message to students.

Kids from five local schools will compete in the first-of-its-kind spelling bee in May. 

Organizer Jacqueline Terrell insists it helps level the playing field for many students.

“Most children that make it to the level to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, are either homeschooled or attend private school,” says Terrell.  “They have more access to one-on-one training than children in public or inner city schools.”

KTRH talk show host Michael Berry criticizes the separate event, and questions how African-American kids perceive themselves moving forward.

“Rather than going in and teaching the kids how to compete so they can be role models, rather than giving them the sense of accomplishment, we’ll say listen we know you can’t beat those Indian kids and those Chinese kids,” says Berry.  “So we’ll make sure a black kid will win, we’ll just have a black spelling bee where only black kids can play.”

But Terrell believes it will spark new interest among African-American children and encourage more parental involvement.

Let’s be honest: most 30-year-old’s couldn’t compete with some of the Indian, white and Asian kids featured on ESPN National Spelling Bee competition. What hope do you expect Black students, whose proficiency is far lower than expected, to have against these walking dictionaries? A scant, fleeting hope, at that.
It’s strange that the African American Spelling Bee held in Houston yesterday has yet to announce a winner. One wonders if the final was similar to the one depicted in perhaps one of the only funny Adam Sandler films, Billy Madison:
Teacher: Spell “couch”.
Little girl: Couch. C-O-W…
Billy Madison: No!
Teacher: [to little girl] No, I’m sorry, that’s not right.
[to Billy]
Teacher: Well, Billy, if you spell this correctly you pass second grade.
Billy Madison: Couch. C-O-R, uh, are you going to the mall today?
Teacher: No I’m not goin to the mall, keep spelling, mister.
Billy Madison: C-O-U-C-H!
Teacher: Correct!
Worse, perhaps the last Black student had to spell n-e-g-u-s. So don’t get so upset that Black people are having their own spelling bees. We at SBPDL hope they one day have their own science fairs.


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