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Miseducated – Brandon Fleming

(June 2023) This is such a powerful book. It’s not just the individual journey of Brandon P. Fleming, which is an odyssey of Homeric proportions; it’s how he challenged accepted beliefs about education and changed the lives of Black children by creating opportunities. It’s about the nexus of scholarship and culture.

The first part of Miseducated reminds me of Tara Westover’s memoir Educated. This is where the details of biography help us to understand the person we are connecting with. We are shaped by our life experiences. There are also true autodidacts among us and perhaps not as rare as we believe them to be.

The poverty, family trauma, institutional racism that plagues this country, the drugs and the enormous economy it’s created, athletic excellence that is valued over academic achievement, the Black culture that is seen as separate and apart from the American culture that is by default White – all of these things are woven into this man’s story.

One of the most surprising aspects of this book for me was the role of Liberty University based in Lynchburg, Virginia. Of all the unlikely places for a Black inner-city athlete to land, this was a stunner for me – a native Virginian who knows the genesis of this institution as one centered on conservative Christian beliefs. Fleming’s description of being on campus the night of Barack Obama’s election in November 2008 is indelibly imprinted on my mind. That said, he found his footing and his path in Lynchburg, VA. He also taught me much about the Harlem Renaissance, including the role of the poet Anne Spencer, whose home in Lynchburg is a historic landmark.

Fleming demonstrates time and again throughout this book that young people can do the impossible when they don’t know it’s impossible to do. He organized a Harlem Renaissance Festival in September 2012 at the Anne Spencer Museum & Garden having never organized a festival in his life.

Along his journey, he gives credit to the people who gave him a hand up, believed in his promise, and never gave up on him. There are many high achievers quick to claim they are “self-made” but that is patently false. No one moves through this world without the help of others. There are just those who acknowledge that and call out their names, and those who don’t.

This book peels back the layers of so much that is broken in how we think about education. Brandon Fleming is undeniably a teacher with demonstrable results in creating Black scholarship in children who are defined as disadvantaged and at-risk. Yet, he did this without the credentials required to establish him as a “teacher” by legal definition. His Saturday Scholars program started with plastic folding chairs and donated space. It came alive at Hardee’s over shared french fries.

I won’t give away the rest of the book. It’s remarkable for how one person could achieve so much simply because he believed he could. And for each person who supported him, it’s equally disappointing to recognize the institutions, policies, and people who failed to support him. This is a wake-up call to question “How Scholarship Meets Culture” which is Chapter 12.

I’m eager to know what has become of some of the young scholars we meet in the pages of this book, including his younger brother Ben. He gives us a bit in the book’s Epilogue, but not enough for me. I want to know who we need to be watching as these young people make their way in the world – a world that was changed for them by Brandon Fleming’s belief that they are scholars.

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