top of page

Brief History of Roots Activity Learning Center


In 1977, Mama Bernida launched Roots Activity Learning Center on North Capitol Street, Washington D.C,  where infants and preschoolers, including her children, learned foundational songs, games, and stories as they participated in activities inspired by the African-centered curricula she developed. Nearly a decade before launching Roots Activity Learning Center, Mama Bernida taught in Ohio, and later at Brookland Elementary School in Northeast DC and Seton Elementary School in Northwest D.C . Though teaching had been a lifelong dream for Mama Bernida, she said she developed her African-centered pedagogy while participating in study circles on the campus of Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio during the 1960s.


The Roots Activity Learning Center is an independent school founded in 1977 by former D.C. Public School teacher Bernida Thompson. With its Afrocentric curriculum, it started as an infant daycare center, then expanded to teach first through 8th grades. The school offered classes for students in pre-kindergarten through 8th grade and hosted over 100 students each year during the 1980s and 1990s. Using the seven principles of the Nguzo Saba, teachers treated all grades like part of a large family, where older students helped to teach younger students. Adjusting to the change, Roots has returned back to its “roots” where it offers services for infants and up to Kindergarten.

In 1977, Mama Bernida launched Roots Activity Learning Center on North Capitol Street. Located in upper Northwest Washington D.C., it started with the enrollment of infants and preschoolers, including her children. Under her leadership, children learned foundational songs, games, and stories as they participated in activities inspired by the African-centered curricula that she developed. With the urging of the African-American community, community, she founded the sister school, Roots Public Charter School, located on Kennedy Street, NW. For more than 50 years, Dr. Bernida L. Thompson, with the help of several conscientious mamas and babas, has provided an African-centered education for hundreds of Black children who’ve walked through the halls of Roots Activity Learning Center and Roots Public Charter School, both located in Northwest. As she gears up for her retirement and emeritus status, Thompson, who goes by Mama Bernida, remains steadfast in her assertion that Black children in the District benefit from an educational model that promotes the greatness of their African culture and heritage, immerses them in a family-oriented environment, and exposes them to academically enriching material. In making her point, Mama Bernida points to what she describes as her vibrant school community that, even in the midst of the charter school boom, spans three generations. Decades after opening, Roots Public Charter School continues to serve young people, some whose parents have matriculated through the program. Several alumni are even serving as instructors. “As long as Washington, D.C. has children of African descent, Roots is here to take care of their psychological, emotional and academic needs. And even with the other races of children, it’s a scientific fact that all races came from an African woman,” said Mama Bernida, principal and founder of Roots Activity Learning Center and Roots Public Charter School, both located in Northwest. “Our young people [should] know about the genius that’s in our genes and how the enemy can do things to make us not accomplish [our goals],” Mama Bernida added. “African-centered education inculcates children with who we are, where we are and what we must do to liberate ourselves and our community.” Mama Bernida, retired as Dr. Bernida L. Thompson, Principal Emeritus in August of 2023.

We will also commemorate Queen Mother Virginia (Aziza) Jones. Mama Jones was born November 1, 1935, in Canton, MI. Mama Jones attended the Mississippi Industrial College in Holly Springs, MI and Omaha University in Omaha, NE. She was awarded a Bachelor of Science in Special Education from D.C. Teachers College. After teaching at Houston Elementary School, Mama Jones joined Roots Activity Learning Center to open the Primary Division in 1978. As a skilled and seasoned educator, Mama Jones served as a mentor teacher, Head of the Primary Division, and Principal and Treasurer of the Board of Directors of Roots A.L.C. Transitioned August 31st, 2017. Queen Mother Virginia (Aziza) Jones. Mama Jones was chosen by the National Association of Secondary Principals as DC Middle Level Principal of the Year 2010

Albert Leroy Robinson AKA “King Kamau”, was born Dec. 5, 1955 in Rock Hill, South Carolina. King Kamau was an extraordinary principal and teacher at Roots Activity Learning Center from. He began teaching Middle School in January 1985 and was a Teaching Principal from 1999-2005. During his tenure, Roots students achieved some of the highest standardized test scores in the city. King Kamau loved children, his family and his friends. He believed teaching and learning were teammates on every lifelong journey. In his leisure time he especially enjoyed reading, African Art, and traveling. Our dear beloved Baba Kamau made his ancestral transition December 31, 2005

Ida Flemming, aka Mama Nkechi From 1977 until 2022, Mama welcomed parents, students, teachers, staff, and the community to Roots Activity Learning Center. First, as one of the first teachers in the infant center, then as Principal, beginning in 2006 to 2022. Mama Nkechi understood that our children are the community's future and that teachers as well as parents must strive to guide them toward higher academic achievements in order to secure the success of our community. As a former Teacher, Head Teacher, and later as Principal, she imbibed the mission of Roots, which is to offer a culturally relevant (African Centered), academically stimulating curriculum. Up until her retirement, Mama Nkechi was an active member of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, National Black Child Development Institute, the Washington Association of Child Care Centers, and the National Alliance of Black School Educators. She holds a certificate in Child Development, a Bachelor’s in Early Childhood Development, and a Bachelors in Organizational Management and Leadership, and as Director of Early Childhood Development, she held the position of Secretary on the RALC Board of Directors. Mama Nkechi was also a Certified Trainer with the Office of the Superintendent of Education, Division of Early Childhood Education. She also carried the title of Professional Development Specialist for the Council for Professional Recognition.

bottom of page