This past week I have had the honor and privilege of traveling to California with my son and visiting some of the best Universities in the world. I call our father-son time together, the California Dreaming by Plane, Train and Automobile Tour.
As proud and excited that I am to be the father of a son who has the academic and extracurricular background to make him a qualified applicant to attend any school of his choosing, it would be disingenuous not to admit that the Tour also left me discouraged. I’m not disheartened because he will be leaving home. I have grown accustomed to him being away. He has spent the past year living abroad playing soccer in South American soccer academies.
Instead, I was saddened by something or more precisely someone who was noticeably absent on our Tour – a significant number of people who look like him.
Behind The Eight Ball
According to the U.S. Census, “Black or African American” people make up 13.1% of the U.S. population. However, wherever we went, Black students were underrepresented. I dare not elaborate on the presence of Black males – outside of athletes – which could be titled like Ralph Ellison’s 1952 novel – Invisible Man.
Like all parents, I want my son to attend the University that “fits” – elite academic ranking, superb career placement, matched intellectual capability, Fortune 500 internships, international study opportunities, influential alumni, cultured location, world renowned professors, tropical weather, etc. All the things that will get your child to leave home and never want to come back.
Jokes aside, I also want my son to attend a university that will encourage him to be his best, allow him to continuously celebrate his glorious heritage and do so without having to carry the burden or be the mouthpiece for all things Black. Yet as good a “fit” as some of the universities seem, our obscurity makes me anxious.
The odds are that the place my son calls home for the next four years will look drastically different than the statistics reported by the U.S. Census. Consequently, to many on campus he will be “different”. To me he will be an embarrassing and preventable societal numerical anomaly that should no longer exist. He will be involved in an exclusive experience that was to be resolved long ago – living separate with the educated minority and partaking in unequally shared educational opportunities.
Separate and Unequal
In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that “separate but equal” has no place in public education yet the educational outcomes of Black children remain undeniably unequal.
According to the Alliance for Educational Excellence, Black students are graduating from high school and college at alarmingly lower rates than White Students. Black students graduate from high school at 67% while White students graduate at 85%. Black students graduate from college at 38% while White students graduate at 60%.
These woeful unequal educational outcomes might have been expected in 1954 but certainly not in 2013. The benefactors of our increasing technological global society are those who have college degrees. In 1973, 72 percent of jobs were open to high school graduates; by 2020, that percentage is expected to fall to just 36 percent.
It’s Just the Facts
Instead of regurgitating more sad statistics, I would like to share 5 Things Black Families should resolve to do in the New Year.
- Read, Read and Read Some More – The number one thing that we must do is improve our children’s literacy. According to the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), assessed that only 14% of Black 12th grade students scored at the proficient level in reading achievement and only 1% scored at the advanced proficiency level. My father told me as a child that if you can read you can do anything. Now as a father, I know the converse to also be true – if you can’t read you can do very little.
- Success by 6 – Many in our community are fond of blaming others for our failures and shortcomings. I’m not one of those people. The education of our children mustn’t be a subject where we seek to blame others or euphemistically pass the buck. Most of us are aware that children who do not read proficiently by third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school than children who read proficiently. Despite this information, we collectively fail to be proactive in our children’s educational foundation. This is inexcusable. There are too many resources available for any child to be illiterate – free and public libraries, online books, web-based schools, etc. There are also programs like the United Way’s Success by 6 initiative that exists to provide the tools and training so that children learn to read proficiently and have a chance to succeed.
- Let’s All Go To College – Commit to take your child on no less than 3 college visits annually. As the late Aaliyah once sang “Age ain’t nothing but a number” – the earlier the better. Wherever you live or travel find a nearby university to visit. My son has been visiting colleges – well – since he was conceived. His first scheduled college visit was at age 6. At the time, we were visiting Nashville so we scheduled campus tours at Fisk, Tennessee State and Vanderbilt University. I remember the visits like they happened yesterday. At each school, the admissions counselor walked toward us with a quizzical look. My guess is that they were wondering why there was a first grader – whose feet dangled from the chair – sitting in their office. When the admission counselors asked my son why he had come to campus, without being prompted, he proudly and confidently replied “it’s time for me to start thinking about my future”. Out of the mouth of babes. The time to start thinking about the future is long before the future becomes the present.
- Don’t Rely On Your School, City or State – I know that I promised to keep this positive but this must be stated. You just can’t trust anyone with the welfare of your children. Your children are just that “your children”. If you want to make sure that your children are getting what they need to be successful, you can’t regularly or exclusively trust that others are doing what’s best for your child. Many of our children attend schools that have been determined to be Dropout Factories. Neither your children nor you created these Dropout Factories. They were created by those who you have been asked to blindly trust. Fool me once shame on you. Fool me twice…
- And Then There Were 5 – We are fond of espousing the African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child”. However, if asked to name just 5 people who make up your child’s village how would you respond? On second thought, don’t answer that. This New Year leave nothing to chance. Introduce your children to 5 GREAT villagers – people who will elevate, inspire, encourage, mentor and be models of achievement and success. It’s time to really create a village that can raise your child to reach their maximum God-given potential.
Finally, it’s completely acceptable if you start doing any or all of the five things I mentioned now. As my son articulated at six, “it’s time to start thinking about our future”. A future that depends on the educational success of our Black children today. For without a quality education and positive educational outcomes, the Black family can’t enjoy a Happily Ever After.
BMWK – what goals do you have for your kids in 2014?