By now, I’m sure you’ve read about 17 year old Kwasi Enin – the young man who has been accepted into 8 Ivy League universities. When I read a few articles about it and the comments that proceeded them, Jay’s “Murder to Excellence” popped in my mind.
There were people who couldn’t wait for the chance to diminish a child-of-color’s accomplishments. I’ve seen everything from “he only got in because he’s black” to “it’s only news because he’s black”. Then I came across two articles that were an interesting dichotomy to the celebration of young black boys.
Esquire’s network has this show called Friday Night Tykes. It’s centered around the youth football culture in San Antonio. There was a Slate article written last week about the difference in how coaches treat white and black players. To paraphase, the author’s takeaway (which is based more on the show rather than firsthand observation) is that black coaches curse and yell at their players because toughening them up is how to keep boys away from the streets while pushing high performance out of them. Coaching by intimidation and fear is what works best on boys of color? Okay -_- I only watched two episodes of the show. But I do know that I take issue with any man that’s not me cursing at my child. The second article is what really got under my skin though.
The WaPost’s Valerie Strauss wrote a soliloquy laced in prejudice under the guise that people in general aren’t regularly admitted by Ivy Leagues. In it, she states “the percentage of kids who go to highly selective schools is a very tiny percentage of the teens who go to college. Way less than 1 percent.” That’s correct. But her entire argument was predicated on specifically mentioning Kwasi and DC student, Avery Coffey; two black boys.
For starters, let’s admit that getting into college period is hard for black boys. The decision of where to apply vs. where they can actually attend can be a dissuading process. Kwasi is a kid that did all the right things that his white counterparts don’t have to do; he’s in an accelerated curriculum, plays 3 instruments, volunteers, and scored in the 99% for the SAT. He earned every last one of those acceptance letters. Based on merit alone, it’s hard to grasp that people in this country are so intimidated to see a young black boy succeed and do it better than them. But what about the rest of our black boys?
I’ve coached and trained kids over the years. Because I’m college-educated, I stressed the importance of academics to every boy that I’ve ever trained. It was hard to see their parents not re-enforce that message though. For every Kwasi, there’s 100 black boys who couldn’t care less about volunteering, picking up a book, or having an interest that doesn’t involve football or basketball. I’ve seen parents spend upwards $2000 to send their son to an athlete-sponsored camp, pay for uniforms, and buy overpriced sneakers that are just for that sport. Why do we lack that enthusiasm to be just as diligent in the classroom?
As much as we rant and rave about student-athletes being paid, the primary argument for paying athletes is because they’re nowhere near students! Black boys don’t go to Kentucky or Duke or Michigan to get a degree. They go to get drafted. That’s not a coach’s fault. That’s not the NCAA’s fault. It’s ours. Ours as parents. Ours as a community. We can’t push the blame on taking advantage of our black boys when we often adulate them in the same narrow scope.
It’s hard to watch sports pundits and the media salivate over our young men when the NFL combine comes around. We’re already discussing Seventh Woods’ potential and he’s 15. The media and mainstream America harps on our athletic superiority because that’s where we often place our praise. We don’t often see a boy of color succeed at something non sports-related. So when it does happen, of course we’re going to be talk about it and relish the momentous occassion. Just think how different perception might be if our black boys were equally encouraged by us to be beasts in the classroom.
I never sit on a high horse when it comes to societal issues. What I do know is that positive re-enforcement of our black boys isn’t the job of mainstream society. Getting accepted into an Ivy League university is a coveted goal. But the bigger issue in this story is being an exceptional student should be the expectation, not some anomaly.
Affirmative action notwithstanding, there have been thousands of black men who have attended non-Ivy Top 20 schools. I’ve worked with black men who graduated from Brandeis, Berkeley, and Fordham. Our history is rich with brilliant black men who went to some of the best universities. My son will know that a group of black men attended Cornell and not only birthed a sub-culture of black excellence, but impacted the history of African Americans. My son will understand that being better than his white counterparts is necessary, but not the sole component of success. I plan to raise a black boy that understands success has little to do with luck or filling a quota. His hard work and ambition will never go unnoticed and not celebrated. At the end of the day, our black sons need to be reminded that success in America isn’t a novelty that only “certain blacks” can acquire.