“MAMA” FELA BARCLIFT
Founder, Little Sun People
Jun 16, 2022
Fela Barclift has not only raised her four children in Bed-Stuy, she’s educated four generations of Bed-Stuy kids.
In 1981, after looking for a daycare that would give her eldest exposure to people who looked like her — and had books that championed Black heroes and dolls that were Black and brown — she came up woefully short. Recalling her own traumatic schooling in the South, Barclift decided to start her own school. She launched Little Sun People preschool in her brownstone the following year.
“I see the difference when we teach our children about having pride in themselves, their family, their community and who they are,” “Mama” Fela told the Associated Press last year. “It creates such a strong sense of self-assurance and a sense of confidence and belonging.”
For 40 years now, Barclift has fostered a community around an Afrocentric worldview, teaching kids about trailblazers like Rosa Parks and Malcom X decades before “critical race theory” entered (and became warped by) the public discourse. “Everything I had ever heard about Africa was negative, horrible. And I didn’t want to be associated with that,” Barclift told Spectrum News NY1 last fall.
That vision has paid off not just for hundreds of Brooklyn youth, but for Barlcift herself, who was named one of the winners of last fall’s David Prize, an annual $200,000 award for select New York City residents, named after billionaire real estate developer David C. Walentas of Two Trees Management Company.
“I remember learning Swahili, how to play the drum, lots of reading, singing Afrocentric songs and being a part of culturally based shows,” one Little Sun People alum wrote in New York Amsterdam News in 2017.
Since her early days, Barclift has earned a bachelor’s degree in education and political science from Brooklyn College, and a master’s degree in administration and supervision from Bank Street College.
Next up, she plans to extend her school to include kindergarten through fifth grade and is authoring a book of poetry and affirmations for young Black and brown children that can be used in classrooms everywhere.
“My educational experience was a nightmare, to say the least,” Barclift told NY1. “I never felt like I belonged.” She does now.