By Nicole S. Daniel
The Birmingham Times
In 2020, with a shared vision, Yalonda Chandler and Jennifer Duckworth co-founded Black Homeschoolers of Birmingham (BHOB)—a community of homeschool families with a “vision … to create a safe place for Black and brown children to learn, play, and grow,” according to the group’s website.
When the two met through a Facebook group, they realized that they shared some similarities as it relates to wanting a community of Black homeschoolers.
“[Chandler] had planned an event at the Explore Playground and Splashpad in [Hoover, Alabama], to which she invited Black and brown homeschoolers,” said Duckworth. “We have continued from there.”
Last month, Chandler and Duckworth hosted the second annual BHOB Summit at Perfecting Reconciliation Church International in Bessemer, Alabama.
“This year’s conference was stellar, and so many attendees left empowered to start their homeschool journey,” said Chandler.
About Jennifer Duckworth
Duckworth is a wife, mother, and educator from Chattanooga, Tennessee, where she grew up as an only child in a two-parent household. Her father, Jimmy McGintis, was in insurance, and her mother, Anne McGintis, was a history teacher at several schools in the Chattanooga area for more than 35 years.
Duckworth’s mother taught on the middle school, high school, and college levels and later established the Hamilton Resource Center, a resource facility similar to Duckworth’s Birmingham-based Neighbor Foundations, which provides support to families in the community seeking access to GED or after-school-care programs, among other services.
What Duckworth didn’t know at the time: “My mom was indirectly raising me to be an educator,” she said.
Duckworth has always wanted to teach, whether it was a ballet move or in a classroom. In fact, she was a ballet dancer from the age of three until she was in her 20s.
“I’ve always wanted to be a teacher, … but I never admitted it until maybe about four or five years ago,” Duckworth said.
Growing up, Duckworth attended private schools in Chattanooga. After graduating from high school, Duckworth went on to attend the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where she earned a degree in communications studies and psychology. On the first day of school, she met her husband of 14 years and business partner, Jeremy Duckworth; they now have one son, Xander, 11, and daughters, Carleigh, 9, and Phoenix, 6.
Duckworth has been homeschooling her three children for the past seven years.
“About four years ago my neighbors [in Vestavia Hills, Alabama], saw my husband and I homeschooling our children and asked if I could teach their child,” she said, “At the time, the child was having challenges in kindergarten, [and] I said, ‘Sure.’”
Duckworth took that student from not passing to becoming the most improved student of her class. She figured if she could do that for one student, she could help others.
That was the catalyst for Neighbor Foundations, a “love thy neighbor”-based, customizable educational resource center that provides a broad range of services, as well as a safe environment for children to learn in a way that is unique to them. Through Neighbor Foundations, Duckworth also tutors kindergarten through fifth-grade students in students in math, reading, and writing.
“Outside of being a wife and mother and, of course, homeschooling, that’s what I do,” Duckworth said, adding that Neighbor Foundations has been able to provide tutoring assistance to several schools and nonprofit organizations in the community.
“Due to [the COVID-19 pandemic], when people found out I was a homeschooler they asked me to help them transition to homeschooling,” she said. “That led to BHOB.”
After years of homeschooling, Duckworth began to crave a community of homeschoolers, specifically Black homeschoolers. While out with her children, she would connect with families and invite them out for outings. Eventually, she crossed paths with Chandler through BHOB Facebook group—and the two have since partnered to grow the BHOB and its community.
About Yalonda Chandler
Chandler is a wife, mother, and homeschooler from Norfolk, Virginia. She was raised in a two-parent military household with her younger brother, Ashanti McDaniels, and younger sister, Candice McDaniels. Their stepfather was in the U.S. Navy, and the family eventually moved to Bermuda when Chandler was in the ninth grade. She graduated from high school with 12 other students in her class.
“It was a wonderful experience,” she said. “I got to travel as part of school trips … and have access to [different educational perspectives]. That’s where my love of teaching really blossomed,” she said, adding that her travels took her to Europe, England, the Netherlands, and New York.
Chandler always wanted to be a teacher because she saw the impact teachers had on her. “My biological father, Melvin Grigsby, says he remembers walking into my bedroom when I was around 4 or 5, and I was teaching stuffed animals,” she said.
Teaching comes natural to Chandler, she said. There are times she’s been in group settings in which she’s not there to teach but somehow ends up in a leadership role.
After graduating from Roger B. Chaffee High School on the base of the U.S. Naval Air Station (NAS) Bermuda, Chandler returned to Norfolk and attended Norfolk State University, where she earned a degree in English Education in 1998. She then went on to teach seventh and eighth grade students in the area for 10 years at Norfolk Public Schools, Calvary Christian School, and Norfolk Christian Schools.
“I felt like my calling in life was to teach,” Chandler said.
She got married in 1998 and had Kailyn Showers, now 22, and Cameron Showers, now 21.
“My babies grew up coming to my classroom and being around my students,” she said.
In 2011, Chandler married her current husband, Orlando Chandler, who is currently a care pastor at the Christ in Me Church in Pell City, Alabama; they have two children: Madison, 11, and Matthew, 10. When Chandler was pregnant with Matthew, she had complications that required her to stop teaching in the classroom.
“Because I needed to be on bed rest for an uncertain time, they couldn’t hold my position,” she said.
That’s when the idea of homeschooling came about.
“At that time, I had a newborn and a sixth grader, so life was imbalanced,” Chandler said.
Because she had been a middle school teacher, Chandler knew her son was not ready for the emotional, social, and academic rigors of being in a middle school setting. She and her husband discussed homeschooling, which she started doing in Virginia in 2011.
In 2015, Chandler and her family moved to Birmingham for ministry purposes. At the time, they didn’t know many Black homeschoolers in the area. Chandler tried homeschooling in Birmingham for about a year then decided to put her older children in a public school system outside of Birmingham. She also enrolled Matthew and Madison when they were in kindergarten and first grade, respectively. It didn’t work out, so Chandler took Matthew out of school and started homeschooling him.
Chandler describes her children as very outgoing and extroverted, so she began to look for Black homeschoolers again and posted on the Black Homeschoolers of Alabama Facebook site. Eventually, she met Duckworth—and the two now are partners with the BHOB.
For more on BHOB visit https://www.blackhomeschoolersofbirmingham.com/