Monday, June 4, 2007

Thank You Jesus

It has become a rite of early spring to announce the latest state of the gap between black and white students on national standardized tests. Each year right after the Dogwood Festival, we are presented with a new data point on the persistent racial achievement gap in education. These springtime statistics constantly reinforce the challenges of urban education and the relative underachievement of black students. The grim numbers never tell nice stories. They do not reveal how these students, their families and friends experience positive accomplishments – high school graduation for example.

I recently attended a high school graduation in a South Atlanta high school where I had been tutoring. It was a fantastic experience. Several students in this small academy reflected the grinding face of black Altanta poverty. One of the girls I tutored, for example, had an all too common R.I.P. + name and date tattoo on her arm. She was a 17 year old senior and the “Rest In Peace” tattoo was in memoriam of a still born child she had two years prior. Among some of the other students there were all of the problems with academic fundamentals that create the depressing springtime statistics. The circumstances of these students made their accomplishment so special.

At the graduation, the guests reflected the condition of the community. There were several very young girls that were pregnant. There were hosts of young black boys – friends and relatives of the graduates – whose top and bottom front teeth were covered in gold caps. Several of the parents had the names of friends, relatives and partners tattooed on their necks. There were whole selections of braided extensions ranging from copper color to blue. Many of the men, both young and old, donned the contentious style of wearing enormous beltless jeans while others sported oversized purple suits with hats and shoes to match.

This is the experience that lies beyond the numbers. This is the face of the black community for whom these graduates are potentially first generation college students. The significance of the graduation and the accomplishment that it represents relative to the community is extraordinary. It is in stark contrast to north county schools where accomplished parents and families gather at high school graduations and reminisce about their days before college and graduate school. In those circles high school graduation is certainly a happy occasion too, but it is an expected and unspectacular milestone in the lives of their children. Here, where high school drop out rates can move between 30% and 40% and college is a prayer not an expectation, high school graduation is extraordinarily special and the significance is reflected in the emotions of the community gathered to witness it.

There were prayers and heartfelt renditions of gospel songs which reflect not only the accomplishments of the graduates, but the obstacles they overcame to get there. The guests were painfully aware of the challenges that the students had endured. As such, the audience was there not only to congratulate the graduates, but to corroborate their story. Some of the young mothers looked at their sons and daughters on the stage and cried and seemed to mouth silent prayers of thanks that their children had survived.

As I sat in the auditorium with tears in my own eyes, it was clear that this graduation was extra special. The children of the siege had succeeded; at least in limited measure. The numbers can't tell us how special accomplishments like this are to communities that have so few. One grandmother standing close to me, wrapped herself around her grandson and with tears running down her face said, "Thank you, Jesus."



class of '96 crew said...

kamau ~

luvlife0702 said...

great story.

i know that the white kids in my race & ethnicity class still tell of classrooms with no books and some of those very same white kids lived on the wrong side of some tracks in some town or other and were used to not having anything but worksheets for math (i.e. no textbooks). of course, they were living with the black folks.

we have decided to tolerate the tax structures that facilitate the underfunding of urban schools.

we also 'let people be' and not hold each other accountable for our performance.

i know of the miracles my sister creates in her classrooms where she simply tells students that they can be losers elsewhere but only winners exist in her class. but so what if they all read at grade level (some improving 3 grades in one year!) leaving her class to go on to the next school where 90+% of their 6th grade does not.

we need more folks in teh community who will hold a dude by his ear and drag his half naked butt (but overcovered legs:-) home from the corner.

we can tell that young girl about contraception and take her to the planned parenthood since the only love she may be getting is a few minutes of body contact with a boy so aint no point telling her about abstinence. and we could show her that love is a firm hand that's got her back and not just some empty words whispered through glass at the county jail.

if we wanna be saying 'thank you jesus' at the end then we must be doing more than praying at the beginning.

but most of us are just too busy to do much more than talk about disparities. shit! i'm tired of hearing about in a liberal city full of black officials where we have a continental divide in the academic performances of the 'races'.

so when my 'guilty white youth' tell me they feel they are not doing enough, i give them major props for actually showing up in a classroom and trying to do their bit to change the world. i expect nothing less and have no tolerance for inaction.

anyway, sorry for the rant and thanks for sharing such a poignant story of the flip side of the popular stats.

the proverb may talk about villages but it takes a country, lots of money and job's wisdom to raise a child and but no thought and a fleeting moment to create one.