Black-centered Early Childhood Education made real in Spokane through RAZE

By April R. Eberhardt Black Lens News

How transformational would education be for Black students if they were taught through the lens of Black American history? Raze Early Learning and Development Center was founded in 2023 in Spokane with a focus on Black culture and excellence starting in preschool. The name “Raze” denotes the tearing down of things that hold us back and keep us from obtaining our dreams. Doors are expected to open in September 2024.

Kerra Bower, owner and CEO of Raze, envisioned recreating what it means to be a Black student, particularly in predominantly white places like Spokane. The first five years of a child’s life is when their initial blueprints for life are built.

“I want Raze to be a place where you can make Black history, you can learn about Black history, but even more than that you can fully understand, fully grasp the fact that Black history is American history,” Bower said.

As important, when children of other races also learn about the beauty and excellence of Blackness in America, it is less likely for them to believe in untruths spoken about their Black peers. All children, regardless of race, need to know that Black history is integral to American history.

“We want to embolden children to not just be allies but to be partners in creating equity,” Bower said.

A profound insight that Bower gives is that no matter what race a child is, the more that children understand about themselves, the less they can be influenced by untruths.

“I want this to be a place where we celebrate the excellence of Black people. I think of my mom, and she tells me the stories of her going to a desegregated school and the embarrassment that she felt when she did not know the answers because she had not been given any instruction and then being ridiculed and singled out in front of everyone; this was in the ’60s … I just think about how much our kids still go through that.”

Bower opened her first in-home child care center in West Central nearly 15 years ago. She served students from across the city and began to see differences with the homework her students were given and how expectations varied depending on the school students were coming from; certain groups of students had different standards; she noticed a trend among her Black students who were given less homework and lower expectations.

Bower grew her in-home preschool into Little Scholars, now located in the Garfield-Emerson Neighborhood on North Monroe Street. Little Scholars focuses on cultivating learning through a multicultural lens. At the time she opened Little Scholars, the Salish School of Spokane was also opening theirs for Native American students, with a focus on revitalization of the Salish language and cultural renewal. Seeing this model of teaching and learning planted a seed that Bower has not stopped watering, and ultimately it flourished into Raze.

Bower’s aspirations took 10 years to take root.

“I do not want to build on a broken foundation,” she said.

Bower knew she had to build a solid foundation of support and funding to ensure longevity. She created a synergy around the vision of Raze in Spokane and across the state, including Gov. Jay Inslee, State Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, state departments and agencies, and local unions. Spokane is ready and Bower has made sure of that.

Bower knows that Raze can change the educational trajectory for Black students, one that does not only teach to their trauma or hold lower expectations, but one that emphasizes their value and contributions to the world by showing them the value and contributions of those who came before them. Learning through the lens of tradition and culture is a pivot from the norm in today’s educational system. Bower believes that identity awareness can foster a sense of belonging for Black students the same way the Salish School does for Native students.

Social emotional learning will be paramount in the learning paradigm at Raze, as understanding the impact of poverty, racism, and the effects of trauma on a child’s ability to learn is critical to their success and healing. Going beyond the trauma, once it is effectively supported, is equally as important.

“An early childhood education ensures the opportunity for Black and Brown children to not just survive but thrive,” Bower said.

Please support Raze by attending the upcoming listening sessions.