Titilayo Bediako (left with some of her students) is an award winning teacher. She was the Minnesota Steppers Association Community Leadership Award recipient in March 2018, and is the founder and executive director of WE WIN Institute.
Titilayo Bediako (left with some of her students) is an award winning teacher. She was the Minnesota Steppers Association Community Leadership Award recipient in March 2018, and is the founder and executive director of WE WIN Institute.

By Titilayo Bediako

I am a woman of African descent. I am a teacher. I am a mother. I am an activist. I have a love for myself, my people and humanity. I taught eight years in the Minneapolis Public Schools. 

Far too often, school colleagues 
would ask, “Why aren’t Black 
children successful in school?” 
They would proceed by answering 
their own question with “poverty, 
drugs and gangs,” yet I saw 
something different. I saw the 
need to give youth an educational 
experience that embraced their 
circumstances and use culture as 
a vehicle to move them forward 
academically. I saw the deficit 
model, which was used by schools 
as ineffective and contributed to 
the continual failure of so many 
African-American youth. 

I left the classroom to create an education 
achievement model that demonstrates the 
brilliance of Black children. I started WE 
WIN Institute (WE WIN) whose mission 
is “dedicated to the academic and social 
success of all children.” Youth at WE WIN 
learn and teach their community about the 
incredible accomplishments of their people. 
The youth who participate at WE WIN are 
surrounded by Black accomplishments 
from ancient Africa to modern day 
Minnesota. They learn that their people 
have contributed tremendously to the 
development of the world. 

“I am a deserving young African! I deserve 
all good! My New thinking becomes my 
new experiences. I am deserving! I accept 
it! I know it to be true!” is from the African 
Deservability Statement* that girls in WE 
WIN’s Women of Distinction program recite 
to teach them that they are African, that 
they are brilliant and there is nothing they 
cannot do if they give their best. The African 
Deservability Statement is a component of 
the program rituals that include a set of 
words and actions that students practice 
consistently. Rituals are the foundation of 
Women of Distinction, a girls mentoring 
program that promotes an understanding 
of themselves, including cultural sacrifices, 
and honors their ancestors. When they 
recite the ritual, “We are an African people, 
and don’t you forget it,” it supports their 
collective memory that reminds them 
that although they live in America, their 
ancestors came from Africa. Students learn 
that their ancestors were brilliant — they 
created the pyramids, and they were the first 
people to read, write, and do mathematics 
and science. The girls know that the first 
universities were created in Timbuktu, 
which is in Africa. 

Black girls see their greatness through the 
eyes of African she-roes who led the way. 
They study and learn about great African 
women that look like them. Girls learn 
about Queen Nzingha of Angola, who was 
the leader of her country and fought the 
Portuguese from enslaving her people. They 
learn about African greatness in Minnesota 
through the examples women like Dr. 
Josie Johnson. She was the first African-
American appointed to the Board of Regents 
at the University of Minnesota in 1971. They 
learn about Dr. Nekima Levy-Pounds who 
demonstrates that they can be mothers, 
lawyers, writers, and activists if they put 
their minds to it. This academic achievement 
model creates greater success for African-
American girls. WE WIN participants are 
graduating from high school and going to 
college. They are becoming better readers, 
writers, and learning that they can and will 
succeed in school and in their lives. 

*Adapted from Louise Hay, Deservability 
Statement


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