“Now I know to be black doesn’t mean to be loud and crazy or to be violent,” a teenage boy recently wrote. “I feel I am somebody.”
Anthony Outler’s inbox is full of emails like this.
Since 2007, when he and Kevin Mason founded Epic Empowerment, he’s been working with Atlanta-area educators and students, helping them maximize their potential through motivational speaking, consulting and coaching.
They focus especially on students, mostly African American, struggling with their sense of identity.
Epic Empowerment isn’t a religious organization, but Outler’s work is inspired by his faith.
“Ultimately, my intention to change the world comes from my Baha’i Faith and I believe this faith provides a framework for empowering individuals and helping them find their identity,” he said.
Outler, a teacher, said the school system is failing when it comes to helping black and Latino students understand and connect to their heritage. Educators, he said, aren’t able to cater to cultural needs, leaving students confused about who they are and where they come from.
“How can we sit at a banquet table of unity and relate to other people if we don’t know our own voice?,” he said. “Being a Baha’i helps me as a I guide people through that process. It’s what I’ve been called to do.”
He said America has a deep, painful history of racism and the classroom only puts a Band-Aid on it by not digging deeper into that past. He added it’s an issue teachers need training in.
“Until an individual is able to talk about it and grapple with it and think ‘OK, how can we heal the wounds created from the past,’ no true change is going t come about,” Outler said. “Far too often we skirt around the issue.”
Epic Empowerment provides training for educators so they can learn how to make their curriculum more culturally relevant, and in turn help students find their identities. Outler and Mason specialize in demonstrating how culturally relevant practices serve to connect students to educational content and curriculum.
“We understand that students who get ‘left behind’ (often labeled ‘at-risk’) are usually those who have not been given the opportunity to see the relevance of educational content to the conditions in their own lives,” they wrote on their website.
“Students need to learn something that will help them re-identify themselves as powerful and productive people,” he said.
Epic Empowerment works directly with students through a variety of programs, including B.E.S.T. Men, Inc., which helps young men align themselves with the B.E.S.T. Men Principles of Manhood: motivation, academic achievement, self-discipline, integrity, and service.
Brother-to-Brother is another program offered. Outler explained it’s designed to help young men connect with a significant man in their life, often a father, grandpa or uncle.
A new program is I Am On Purpose, where students are able to visit college campuses across the U.S.
“A lot of these students have never been outside the Metro Atlanta area, so to go to a school like that inspires them to actually move on to higher education,” Outler said.
Outler is currently working on his PhD in Educational Policy Studies at Georgia State University and hopes to be able to work at Epic Empowerment full-time and expand the organization to other parts of the country.
For information on the organization visit the Epic Empowerment website.