Dr. Ulysses Byas dropped out of high school two times before finally finishing and serving as a journeyman and a cook in the U.S. Navy. He graduated with a degree from Fort Valley State College (now University) in Georgia, and went on to get a master's degree and a doctorate before taking over as head of schools for Macon County Public Schools in Alabama, making him the first Black superintendent of a mixed school district in the South.
As a leader, Dr. Byas was vocal about the disparities in funding for predominately Black schools. (Though Brown vs. Board of Education had been the law of the land for 16 years by the time he took over at Macon County Public Schools, Alabama and his native Georgia were slow to desegregate.) He was well-known for his ability to turn around budget crises in districts, as well as his ability to bridge the gap between different sectors in education.
Dr. Byas believed in the importance of people -- especially Black educators -- having a voice of their own, undiluted by the agenda of the majority organizations. He knew that one of the dangers of integrating into white organizations was that they didn't always speak for the interests of the Black educators. "It's ironic that at the time that Stokley Carmichael was preaching Black power that the Black teacher's organizations were giving up power by merging with the larger white organizations," he said. And so the National Association of Black School Superintendents was formed, and Dr. Byas was named an early president.
Young Students (K3-2nd Grade)
Dr. Byas believed it was important for people to use their own voices to speak up for themselves, instead of letting others do the talking for them. How can you use your voice to speak up for yourself?
Middle Students (Grades 3-8)
Dr. Byas said he thinks even the best schools are 50 years behind in their philosophy. Do you agree or disagree? Why? Do you feel like school is preparing you for the world of the future, or some world of the past? Why do you think that?
High School Students (Grades 9-12)
Why do you think Dr. Byas and the other founders of the National Association of Black School Superintendents (later Black School Educators) thought it important to form a group that would advocate specifically for Black eductors? What considerations do you think were missing from the majority educators' group, and why?
Dr. Byas said even the best schools were behind in their philosophy, and called out Georgia, saying "they must have been 200 years behind." How relevant is your classroom pedagogy? Are you teaching and managing your classroom in a way that was relevant 50, 200 years ago because that's how it's always been? Or are you adjusting to what we now know about how children learn best?
About the Series
A Black Child Can was founded to create a better world for students by empowering the adults around them with the knowledge they need to advocate on their behalf. The 2022 blog series builds on this foundation, encouraging educators to participate in the discussion and reflect on the ways they're showing up for their students.