Daniel Fairley II wants to create a positive image for young black children.
Since taking the reins as Charlottesville’s first youth opportunity coordinator in late 2017 to address the achievement gaps for African American students, he has been piling up several projects to achieve his goals.
And the 27-year-old is doing that through many avenues.
Last year, he supervised students at Albemarle, Charlottesville and Monticello High schools in creating a documentary that featured black men detailing their experiences in the hopes of providing a more positive portrayal of black culture. The documentary has been picked up by the Virginia Film Festival and Shiz International Red Carpet Events.
Fairley is changing the focus of the film this year to feature black children instead.
“You may see me as some kid with dreads and think that I’m some football player — but really I’m an accomplished pianist,” he said. “I play for people’s weddings. Those are things that I’m super excited about. We get to work with kids this time and be able to say, ‘What do you wish adults knew about you?’”
Fairley said he hopes the video will change community members’ viewpoints on young black children.
In Charlottesville, black boys and young men endure greater challenges than whites, according to the Community Psychology & Prevention Research Department of Psychology at the University of Virginia. Black youth have poorer academic outcomes, higher levels of poverty, higher levels of involvement with the justice system and greater obstacles to getting medical care than do whites, the report said.
“How can we channel [young people’s] energy and channel their excitement into positive things?” Fairley said. “That’s what we’re looking forward to. It’s making sure that their voices are heard.”
Shaping young athletes
Fairley is partnering with UVa assistant professor Paul Harris to expand young athletes’ identities beyond their ability to play sports through a program called Men Passionately Pursuing their Purpose that is expected to launch in the fall.
“You love sports,” he said. “How can I expand your identity beyond that and then connect you to some UVa basketball players and see what it means if you come here and you want to play basketball?”
Men Passionately Pursuing their Purpose will give children an understanding on the benefits of having other skills in addition to athletics, Fairley said.
“You have to learn how to study and learn things really quickly because you only have four hours to do your homework,” he said.
Among other equity issues that affect the lives of black males, literacy is taken into consideration, Fairley said.
Forty-five percent of black males failed the reading portion of the Standards of Learning, according to recent data released by the Virginia Department of Education, and 54% failed the math portion. More than 40% of students statewide earned a standard diploma, while nearly 60% of black students earned a standard diploma; 51% of all children earned an advanced diploma, while 27% of black children earned an advanced one.
Fairley addresses that disparity by promoting reading at grade level by third grade.
This spring, he completed a book club, the Black Boy Club, in collaboration with Justin Reid, director of African American programs at Virginia Humanities, and Rob Gray, pathways coach at City of Promise. Featuring black authors such as Paul Baptiste, Westhaven students huddled at the Jefferson School to take part in the book club.
“We created an atmosphere where the kids are learning about themselves through characters who look like them,” Fairley said. “The children got to meet authors and people the characters are based on. It showed them they can be inside of books and can write books, too. That was a cool experience.”
As recommended by the Student Youth Council this year in a dialogue about equity in Charlottesville, Fairley also is advocating for the city school division to create pathways for students to achieve a standard or advanced diploma.
These pathways will direct students on the classes they should take by a certain grade level, he stressed, saying there should also be a track for those wanting to enter the workforce upon graduation.
Employment is important to Fairley, so much so that he has recruited students from the Community Attention and Youth Internship to create a documentary on black men. The program allows students to hone their résumé writing and workplace readiness skills.
Positive role models
Born and raised in Stafford County, Fairley graduated from North Stafford High School in 2009. He earned a bachelor’s of arts in psychology from the University of Richmond in 2013.
Three years later, he received a master’s in higher education student affairs administration from the University of Vermont. He previously served as area coordinator for housing and residence life at UVa.
He has two siblings, 20-year-old Maya and 13-year-old Jaden.
Growing up, he said, he had positive black male role models who influenced his adult life.
“It’s my turn to be that person to say, ‘You can do it because you are smart. You’re capable. I love you, and you’re amazing. You’re going to change the world.’” Fairley said. “I need to be that voice because kids just don’t hear that. That’s how I see my role as.”
A dialogue on equity
The youth opportunity coordinator role, advocated by City Councilor Wes Bellamy, is not the only position that addresses equity in the area. Charlottesville City Schools named its first supervisor of equity and inclusion, T. Denise Johnson, in late April. Siri Russell is the director of equity for Albemarle County.
Gretchen Ellis, human services planner for the Department of Human Services, works closely with Fairley, acting as co-staff to the Charlottesville Youth Council. She said the community is beginning to recognize that race continues to be an issue in the wellbeing of people.
“There are a number of people in the community who had blinders on for many years and said, ‘Everybody has the same opportunities and chances,’” she said. “I think as a community we are just beginning to recognize that’s not the case.”
Ellis said Charlottesville applied for a technical system grant to receive assistance to develop strategies to improve black male achievement.
“At the time, we knew our black boys and young men had the worst outcomes than any of the young people in our community in terms of academic achievement, employment, criminal justice involvement. … We began to work with these national bodies to develop some very specific plans to address those issues,” she said.
The people who participated in the work were volunteers, Ellis said, adding that they need manpower to implement some of the strategies that have been proven to make changes in the community.
“As a result of that, the alliance had been interested in having a full-time staff person for a number of years. … The Youth Council drafted a memo recommending the creation of the position,” she said.
Ellis said Fairley has worked the position from scratch.
“In many ways, he has exceeded my expectations because of how well he’s been able to connect with both young people and the community,” she said. “As with anything, we want to see something happen overnight. It’s going to take time to change what’s been a cultural situation in this community for hundreds of years.”
Charlottesville’s interim director of human services, Misty Graves, who supervises Fairley, said the city is making a more transparent effort to focus on equity.
“It kind of calls it out specifically into the mainstream conversation, and I think people are looking to the city of Charlottesville to model that for the entire community,” she said.