Yolande Beckles: A Woman Building A Tribe

Yolande Beckles: A Woman Building A Tribe

Last year, NAAAPY: The National Association of African American Parents and Youth was a newly founded organization with only 15 founding members. They were parents who needed to be sure that Southern California schools, mainly in the Los Angeles Unified School District, had their, and more importantly, their children's best interests at heart concerning education. Today NAAAPY has blown up to 400 constituents, nine board members, and its original 15 founders. 

The driving force behind all the growth and the moving and shaking of this nascent education organization is Yolande Beckles, or Miss Beckles. The best way to describe Beckles is as a woman on a mission.  She just won't be denied.  Thoroughly unsatisfied with NAAAPY's growth in the past year, Beckles mentioned she had a vision and will not stop: “Until I have all 46.8 million Black people in America join NAAAPY. Until then, my mission will not be accomplished. "

Born in London, England, to hard-working Trinidadian immigrants, Beckles said she had an "amazing upbringing" by a father who was an "avid reader" and signalman for British Rail and a mother who was a computer whiz and worked for a book company named Hatchards — where none other than the Queen of England would acquire her books — so her parents, having the occupations and interests they did, allowed Beckles to grow up around books turning her into a gifted pupil throughout her schooling in the United Kingdom. Beckles reminisced: “The book that changed my life was the biography of Malcolm X… the impact of what was going on in the U.S.  affected my family.”

Beckles credits her drive to an experience at age 14, with a person speaking at school, giving her the entrepreneurial drive she displays daily.  “At age 14, a man named Mr. Sargaent said he was an entrepreneur and that he never had to work again… That was the moment I wanted to become an entrepreneur.” Sargaent told them two things that stuck with Beckles. “You have to be passionate, and the money will never be as important as the passion.” “Since then,” said Beckles, “I've mainly worked for myself… since the age of 14.”

I asked Beckles if Mr. Sargaent was partly or indirectly responsible for creating NAAAPY. She answered, “No.” Sargaent was responsible for Yolande Beckles, the entrepreneur. She revealed the true inspiration behind NAAAPY. “NAAAPY would not exist without the Black Lives Matter movement.”  NAAAPY is only one of the searing marks that this civil rights organization has left on America in the few short years since its inception.

“A woman building a tribe” is another excellent way to describe Beckles, and it is how she describes herself. When I asked about the essence of NAAAPY, she remarked, “What you see is what you get with NAAAPY, we are doing the work… we are a working nonprofit… the tribe is really changing the game of education.” And they are growing as well; some of the growth of the past year can be attributed to the fact that “every member's mission is to recruit ten people.”

I asked more about the growth of the organization and what events she had planned for its future. Beckles answered, “NAAAPY's major work this year is the Black Student Achievement Plan, funded to the tune of $124 million… NAAAPY will make sure every dollar reaches a Black child or a Black educator in the LA Unified School District… We also won our first grant this year from Amity for $150,000. We partnered with a Latinx group called the Parent Organization Network and its executive director Araceli Simeon.  Beckles was sure to point out that the partnership was more than a coincidence; they partnered purposefully to show cooperation and prove that the two communities could come together despite some strife in recent years. And it paid off with the Amity grant.  

Beckles and Simeon have also recently spoken about being unapologetically Black and Latino in San Francisco. Beckles I spoke in front of the State Board of Education concerning what California will be doing about the stunning and heartbreaking statistic of 84% math illiteracy rate among Black youth in California. NAAAPY also launched the very first Black Family University on July 22, 2023, and is about to launch a Black Parallel School Board very soon. Furthermore, NAAAPY will have its second annual Black Family Summit on Thursday, the 15th of February 2024, an event that sold out last year, so get your tickets now.

I leave you with this bit of wisdom from Beckles herself: "When Black people come together with a mission and vision to want to build a powerful tribe, it can be done if you are focused and motivated, but most of all, through loving each other… It is OK to disagree… if you come from a place of love, you will always find a way to move forward together. "  

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