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
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."