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Kai Ajala Dupé Advocates for Technology Education Among African American Men
Kai Ajala Dupé
"Education in urban America is reaching a crisis state." This was the pervasive message that software developer Kai Ajala Dupé could not escape in the never-ending news stories, statistics, and television specials he saw on the failures of his fellow African American males.
"I want to transmit a different message," he thought. "I want to see young black men no longer considered a statistic for what they're behind on."
After over 25 years working in information technology, Dupé decided to go back to school and get a doctorate in education. "I was so upset about the educational achievement gap," he says. "I was convinced that the system was flawed; that there was something that was not known in the schools as to how to reach African American children and motivate them."
Dupé was accepted into the Pepperdine University Graduate School of Education and Psychology, pursuing a doctorate in educational leadership. With so much expertise in technology, his initial goal was to become a professor, but he soon determined that he was destined for a different path.
"At Pepperdine, I realized that there's no mystery in what's lacking in African American education. As far as curriculum and teaching strategies, that's all been done. The biggest challenge is self-esteem."
Dupé himself could have fallen victim to the "inferiority complex" he has identified as a recurring problem in the development of young African American males. "I grew up in the so-called ghetto, in a single-parent home," he shares. "A big part of it for me was building confidence early. My mother conditioned me to believe that I could do anything. These kids are constantly hearing what they can't do. That's a powerful message."
It's well documented that the African American population is severely underperforming on the standardized tests that the nation's education system is built around. Dupé believes the low scores are the result of a lack of engagement, not potential. "They aren't even participating," he explains. "They've given up and many times, will just check boxes without even reading the question."
While completing his EdD in educational leadership, Dupé found his passion for public speaking and set out to become a "change agent."
"My message is one of empowerment and personal development," he says. "It doesn't matter how poor your school is, how bad your teachers are; it's about your self respect and taking responsibility for your life. In the black community, and black males in particular, they know nothing of success or goal setting. They need a positive role model. That's where I come in."
Now a personal development coach for African American males, Dupé has taken his message of motivation to the masses via personal speaking appearances, publications, and various blogs. In December, he delivered the keynote speech at the 26th African American Men and Boys Conference in Austin, Texas. Dupé's speech, "Making Sacrifices Today for Tomorrow's Success," fit into the conference theme of "Individual Responsibility." He was also invited to speak at the Paris International Conference on Education, Economy & Society, discussing the use of virtual worlds as a means of teaching leadership.
Embracing a strategy of "culturally relevant pedagogy," Dupé has found a way to get on the level of his young protégés. "If they don't have confidence in their ability to learn, they're not going to seek out information. You have to come in and deliver it in an engaging way," he explains. "You're not going to transmit the content if you don’t engender the motivation."
Dupé remains proficient in all of the latest developments in technology as a Microsoft certified trainer, and believes that technology is the best tool for young African American men to propel themselves forward in their careers. "Technology allows you to scaffold your learning, and communicate with people who you wouldn't have access to otherwise," he says. "Just earlier this morning, I sent out my monthly newsletter, 'The Successful Black Male Project,' and immediately got all these responses back. It's whirlwind of information exchange."
Unfortunately, he finds that many young African American males have built barriers that prevent them from engaging in the digital world. "Black people are not using technology," he contends. "Many times they fear they are going to destroy something or that they don't have the brainpower."
Dupé is most rewarded when he's able to break down those psychological barriers among his advisees. "Once I get them beyond the fear, it's amazing. They'll say 'I thought this was going to be much more complicated than it is.' Now they're in a mindset where confidence can grow." On his blog, "Where Are Blacks In Technology" he shares information and promotes ideas to reduce the digital divide. "I believe that sharing information is crucial. So often in the black community that doesn’t occur. They'll make it, but they never come back. It's one of the main reasons I decided to become a motivational speaker."
As a firm believer in the practice of goal setting, Dupé does not neglect to set lofty goals for his own career. "I see myself on Oprah," he says. "I want to be the foremost thought leader in the area of personal and professional development for African American men."
Learn more about Kai Ajala Dupé's work as a change agent at http://kaidupe.com/.
By Audra Quinn