After the Palm Beach County School District deemed Louis Jean-Baptiste “unfit” to attend any other Palm Beach County school, an alternative school was his only option. That is, until his mother heard about Joseph Littles-Nguzo Saba Charter School.
“I had the biggest disciplinary file Joseph Littles has ever seen,” Jean-Baptiste said. “I wasn’t a bad kid. I would just do stupid things.”
Jean-Baptiste, a Florida A&M alumnus, said graduating with a political science degree was an accomplishment society did not think was practical, nor was graduating magna cum laude.
JL-NSCS is the only African culture-centered school in Florida. Founded on Jan. 20, 1999, the school teaches K-8 in West Palm Beach.
JL-NSCS, which has accepted many African-American children into its classrooms, has used a curriculum focused on African-American history and values since its inception.
Students gain a sense of self-value as an individual of African descent through in-depth teachings of African history, said co-founder and former headmaster Amefika Geuka. He said disciplinary and academic difficulty do not prevent students from becoming successful.
“We know the children have the talent,” Geuka said. “We attempt to impact them in spite of obstruction, freeing students of the things that encumber them.”
Jean-Baptiste feels these teachings have increased his knowledge of African history and education.
“Traditional public education teaches you about the civil rights era, Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks,” Jean-Baptiste said. “Joseph Littles takes you further, learning about Mali, the Middle Passage; Mansa Musa. That got me into history and developed my passion for law and justice during my tenure at FAMU.”
Jean-Baptiste credited his success on JL-NSCS, saying his life could have taken a worse path.
Now, 10 years later, he has been admitted into Florida State University College of Law. Jean-Baptiste, the son of a single mother, said Geuka was a father figure who gave him this advice: “Everybody is born intelligent. You can’t take credit for your intelligence. It is God given. Not everybody is smart. Being smart is using your intelligence in a good way.”
Jean-Baptiste said that is how he became smart as a young man.
Jervin Bienvenue, a fourth-year business administration student at FAMU from West Palm Beach, said transferring to JL-NSCS was divine intervention.
“At my previous school, I kept to myself, and I had what is now known as autism,” Bienvenue said. “When my siblings and I were at risk of repeating the academic year, that’s when we learned about Joseph Littles.”
Bienvenue said JL-NSCS provided him with leadership skills. He also said he displayed these skills through his first job tutoring seventh grade students in algebra.
He further applied his skills this summer when he interned with Chevron, an integrated energy company ranked third in the U.S. in 2012, according to Forbes Fortune 500.
“One principle that I refer to is ‘umoja,’ meaning ‘unity,’ ” Bienvenue said. “Joseph Littles has a unique vision and is not the typical school. They look at the community to address issues while celebrating black excellence.”
Bettye Dawson, co-founder and board member of JL-NSCS, said she and other faculty members expect no less than the students’ best.
“I expect great things out of all of them, which is why we keep pushing them,” Dawson said. “We burst with pride like we’re their parents.”
JL-NSCS tries to have an active approach to students learning the material including having them sing karaoke, Geuka said.
“We want the children to be actively engaged,” he said. “We (African-Americans) are active learners. We learn as we do. We attempt to modify to the way the students learn best.”
Diriki Geuka, Amefika’s son and a FAMU alumnus, admitted being a student at his father’s school was tough.
“There’s obviously pressure to a certain extent because you have to be a model of what the school wants to embody,” Diriki said.
The pressure of being the model student at JL-NSCS brought achievements such as interning with Parks and Crump Attorneys at Law, starting the 1887 scholarship fund at FAMU and graduating with a 3.6 GPA. He views his father starting JL-NSCS as an accomplishment in serving African-American families in the educational system.
“There’s definitely a need for schools to cater specifically to black students and low-income communities,” Diriki said. “That has created a void in public education. If my dad didn’t fill it then who else will?”
JL-NSCS has been occupying a vacant Roosevelt Full Service Center in West Palm Beach for the past few years. However, this academic year will be its last year in the building.
“We are trying to build a new facility in Palm Beach County that we can design ourselves,” Amefika said.
According to him, the Palm Beach County School District has not been actively involved with JL-NSCS. At one point, he said, the county even attempted to shut down the school. However, Amefika said he sees a change in the district with its current management.
“The district wants to be helpful in us finding a new facility, and we are currently not being harassed,” he said.