Back when he was a student at Occidental College, Isa Kibira remembers living in “theory land.” He majored in political science and liked thinking big-picture about social change, studying with professors specializing in critical theory, Black studies, and education.
Weaving what he had studied into his professional life was more difficult than he thought. “You can study education all you want,” he said, “but really implementing it was harder than I anticipated. That was a big shock.”
One of the first chances Isa got to implement what he learned was as a Promise Fellow with Minnesota Alliance with Youth. He learned about the position after connecting with Minneapolis Public Schools’ Office of Black Student Achievement (OBSA), and had them as a service site when he was a Promise Fellow. He intentionally sought out an opportunity with them because he loved the office’s very person-centered philosophy – to help Black students achieve success as they defined it, and on their own terms.
In that year he served as a Promise Fellow, he supported an OBSA class for Black students at North Community High School. Serving with OBSA and that class proved to be hugely influential for him. “This was one of my first opportunities to really center blackness professionally,” he said.
A big part of the class was to help the students feel comfortable, confident, and safe. They started out with a series of get-to-know-you games, a round of life story introductions modeled by the instructors, and classroom guidelines co-created with the students. Then they moved into a study of Black history, including figures such as Macolm X and Marcus Garvey.
The next year, Isa created a curriculum of his own when OBSA hired him on as a Programming Assistant. He incorporated what he had learned in college and at North Community High School to create his own classroom exercises. One exercise was Matrix-themed and had students chart versions of their life’s path over time, earning him the title “mad scientist” from students. “The kids would be like, you’re ridiculous. It was hilarious.”