In a crime-ridden neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago (my hometown), where some people are scared to even let their children play outside, one public high school has done what many people probably considered impossible.
Urban Prep High School is all African-American. It’s all male. And every student in the senior class – 107 young men!! – has been accepted to a four-year college.
Feel free to erase some of the negative images of our young black men from your mind. We concede we may have a few rotten apples in the bunch – for a variety of societal and familial reasons – but the positive images like those at Urban Prep are ones we should be seeing more of on the news instead of seeing our brothers as the next murder suspect.
Obviously, it is possible for our black men to be successful, so where is the message getting lost?
As they reach a certain age, a lot of black males already feel as if the world is against them. So they develop a “me against the world” attitude. An old saying goes, “A closed mouth doesn’t get fed,” and that attitude probably prohibits so many of our brothers from getting the inspiration and motivation they need.
Another positive example is Greenlawn Terrace, an elementary school in Kenner, which has 369 students. Some 83 percent, or 306 students, live at or below the poverty line. However, the school has higher performance scores than the state as a whole! The school’s principal praised the teachers in a recent Times-Picayune article, saying, “They give the students confidence. They build up their self-esteem and, as a result, they do better.”
At Urban Prep High School, only 4 percent of the senior class was reading at grade level as freshmen, according to Tim King, the school’s founder and CEO.
King said people told him, “Black boys are killed. Black boys drop out of high school. Black boys go to jail. Black boys don’t go to college. Black boys don’t graduate from college.”
Take a second to overcome your disgust, and take another second to ask yourself where these thoughts come from. While a person’s blatant ignorance should never be excused, are we giving people a good reason to believe this nonsense?
How many times have we all heard our own friends and family say they want to be the next Michael Jordan? Or Lil’ Wayne? Or Jay-Z? Too numerous to count, I’m sure.
Conversely, how many times have we heard our friends and family say they want to be the next Carl Stokes, the first black mayor of a major city? Or Ralph J. Bunch, the first African-American to win the Nobel Peace Prize? Or Franklin Raines, the first black CEO of a Fortune 500 company?
Don’t worry. I’ll wait.
I say with confidence: I believe Barack Obama has now raised the bar for African-American men and has opened the minds of many black males who never tried because they thought it could never happen. We have to let our black men know that the impossible is, in reality, a possibility that hasn’t yet been discovered.