In 2012, Jennifer Dunn, my wife, authored “Transforming the Educational Experience of Young Men of Color.” It boldly proclaimed, “The dreams of young men of color are being lost in the current education system. Young men of color are overrepresented in special education, more likely to be in the streets, in prisons and die at a younger age.” In 1933, Carter G. Woodson wrote in his book, The Mis-Education of the Negro, “The same educational process which inspires and stimulates the oppressor with the thought that he is everything and has accomplished everything worthwhile, depresses and crushes at the same time the spark of genius in the Negro by making him feel that his race does not amount to much and never will measure up to the standards of other peoples.” These two statements are nearly 80 years apart but sound eerily similar.
Just this year, I participated in the forming of our parent organization for my son’s school. They hired a company to assist us in forming an equitable, diverse group. This company exists “to support parents, staff, and school-based and educational system leaders in partnering to co-design equitable, anti-racist schools that advance collective well-being.” It also states the following on their website, “Though public education is premised as the great equalizer, our institutions of learning mirror the injustices of our society, evidenced by the persistent opportunity gap between Black, Brown and Indigenous students and their White peers.” It is pretty evident to me that nothing has changed in nearly 100 years.
James, my son, started 2nd-grade last week. Starting school always brings an added anxiety because you are trying your hardest for your child to not be negatively impacted by this system. You are trying to ensure that he doesn’t get lost. You are trying to safeguard his spark of genius and love who he is at his core. You are trying to put him on the right side of the opportunity gap. He feels the pressure and you try to diffuse it by saying, “Just try James, Give your best, Focus!” However, you know you live in a world that looks at the cover of the book and not the heart of a man so you have to get results. In my mind, if he doesn’t get results, his future happiness is at stake.
Thus, the battle begins with the education system yet again. The battle centers around the fact that young men of color matter. They are important to look after and grow. They are important enough to tweak a part of our system to see them excel academically and love who they are as young men of color. The battle also begins with parents of Young Men of Color. We have tried for centuries to eradicate the ills of the system. It’s apparent that’s not working so maybe it’s time to take things to another level. Ultimately, I would love to see the system destroyed and rebuilt to accommodate everyone but that’s not likely for our children in school right now. What is likely is for us parents is to unify and attack the system together. I’m sure there are some fathers and mothers out there that feel similarly to how Jennifer and I feel. Let’s find ways to provide supplemental education to the current system or alternatives altogether. Let’s work together to advance the collective well-being of our children. At a minimum, we must be involved and not expect the system to do right by us. In 1933, Woodson also wrote the following, “History shows that it does not matter who is in power . . . those who have not learned to do for themselves and have to depend solely on others never obtain any more rights or privileges in the end than they did in the beginning.”
Ultimately, the final battle is with yourself. You have to remain consistent and positive. Your behavior will be modeled by your children. Give them something worth following. Give them hope and confidence that the problems are solvable. Give them the love of learning because it is the equalizer. Give them joy in who they are and their role in the community is necessary and required. Give them vision and creativity so they have direction along their own path without ever getting lost.