CharterFolk X Vol 27 – Ramona Wilder, Black History Expressed in One Family’s Commitment to Education over Generations

Good morning, CharterFolk.

Today it is our privilege to recognize Ramona Wilder, CEO of Wilder’s Preparatory Academy in Inglewood California, as CharterFolk Extraordinaire.

The story of the founding of Wilder’s Prep is deeply rooted in the historical quest of Black people across generations to create educational opportunity for students who have been denied it previously. Listen to Ramona describe the founding of Wilder’s Prep in an interview with Margaret Fortune.

Wilder’s was founded by my late father, Mr. Raymond D. Wilder, and my mother, Dr. Carolyn Wilder. Back in the 1800’s when education for African Americans – period – was not a civil right, my great-great grandfather started a school in the basement of his church building because he wanted to teach our people how to read and write. So the legacy of Wilder’s leading on education started far back. It was passed down to my father, and now it’s passed down to me.

A celebration of the history of Black people overcoming immense challenge to provide students an empowering education is deeply embedded in the culture of Wilder’s Prep:

Whether it is creating an archive of family and school traditions allowing the current generation to learn directly from the school’s Founders, such as this video when we hear Raymond D. Wilder explain how families supporting the school’s approach to education enables Wilder’s to succeed with students;

At Wilder’s we have strong parent participation. We have parents who believe in the vision of what we are trying to do. Our boys and girls believe in what we are trying to do. That’s the reason why they are successful …. That is the key to education, I feel, for any school.

Or profiling Co-Founder Carolyn Wilder’s account of the chance encounter that happened between her husband and a young person that literally resulted in the founding of the school;

My husband had this building, and they were doing some work here, and a young man stopped by. I think he was about eight or nine years old. And he said, “Are you building a school here? I want to go to that school…” My husband came home and said, “Not everyone can afford to go to a private school. Let’s do a charter school.”

Or connecting Wilder’s history of creating high quality public education for Black students to the long history of the civil rights movement.

What infuses the Wilder’s history lesson with even greater resonance is the fact that the school has become broadly recognized to be one of the most successful public schools in California serving primarily African American students. Indeed, in a recent report from the California Charter Schools Association about how charter schools are excelling with Black students generally, Wilder’s results are shown to be simply stunning, far exceeding the results of the surrounding school district and state.

These results make Wilder’s Prep not just one of the highest performing public schools serving Black students, but indeed one of the highest performing of any public school in California. Such breakthrough accomplishments have led to the school receiving many awards and distinctions including being named a National Blue Ribbon School in 2020 …

… and California’s Charter School of the Year in 2017.

Along the way, Ramona has assembled an inspiring next generation of school leaders and staff who are deeply committed to extending and indeed growing Wilder’s remarkable legacy.

Kids know that they are connected not only to an excellent school but to a family who was committed to creating a learning environment that most kids don’t get in this area, that most kids don’t get in Los Angeles, period. And so that has to mean something. It means something to them. It means something to us. And it’s our job to make sure that it means something to our students. And so when they walk through the hallways and we say, “who are we?” They say, “We are Wilders!”

Perhaps nothing demonstrates the transference of legacy from prior generations to future ones as meaningfully as hearing directly from Wilder’s students.

Like 7th grader, Daria Johnson.

I would say that you get the best of both worlds. You get to see a strong Black woman teach us and help us learn, but you also get to see a Black man, and they shed light. They help us see we can do that. We can probably be anything we want to be. They help us a lot and it’s inspiring.

And 5th grader, Melia Pettway.

[Wilder’s] just makes you feel so comfortable. If you need help with anything, they’ll be right there. It’s just like a great big family. And that doesn’t just apply to the staff. It applies to the students as well. [My favorite teacher] is Ms. Williams. She is a very nice person, and she has this group called “Be Nerdy.” It’s a group for girls. We go and she teaches us about leadership skills and how to build your future, and … your career and how to pursue your life.

Is there any question that what began back in a church basement in the 19th century is being carried forward into the 21st by a new generation destined to take Wilder’s impact to even greater heights?

At the heart of it all is an extraordinary leader who is ensuring that Wilder’s Preparatory Academy remains a walking embodiment of her family’s deeply held values …

My father had a passion about how we can be successful as a people, as a race, and the key to that was education.

… of supporting student success across generations.

In so doing, Ramona Wilder has become a shining example of the very best in our nation’s charter school movement. For that reason, we are honored to recognize Ramona today as CharterFolk Extraordinaire.