August 10, 2009. My room is literally sweltering. I’m not sure if the transformation that I can feel begin to take place within myself is due to the heat or a renewed sense of spirit.
My “Book of the Moment” is the literary work, “Young, Gifted, and Black” (Perry, Steele, and Hilliard III, 2003). In this work, Perry crafts a picture of the importance of literacy for African-Americans. What, exactly, does being literate have to do with the existence of an African (descendant) in America? This is the guiding question, or rather a piece of the guiding question, of this literary work as the authors attempt to explain African-American academic achievement.
But wait! That’s not what this “piece” of work is about (and by this piece, I mean the work that you are reading by yours truly).
On that sweltering night, I may have had an epiphany or a slight heat stroke. But, in just a few moments, I went from asking “Why me?” to asking “Why not me?”
This book resonated with me (yes, I read it in one night) because I was reminded of my educational experience while being a Black (person, maybe) in America.
I went through my elementary schooling where the fact that I could read at the age of 3 ½ was cute to my pre-school teachers, as though I was some circus freak. I continued through elementary school where teachers didn’t expect me to do well, but once I did, it wasn’t ever really praised (no, my Mother did that at home…along with my Aunts, Uncles, and other relatives). Finally, the mental journey that I took through elementary school ended with my stint in the Gifted and Talented Program (y’all know? The Special Ed. class for Black kids who did much better than they should be doing in the broken down schools). I was brought back to my feeling as though I was a fraud or a “race-traitor” because I managed to make it into a class where many of my peers didn’t, even though they were just as qualified (I know that my Mother pushing for more advanced work had something to do with my placement in this supplemental class).
I then began my mental journey through Middle school. No matter where I went (because boy did I travel), people were astounded at my academic ability! It became funny to me. I struggled at home while doing my Math homework probably more than any other kid in my class. It was to the point that I would ask my two younger brothers if they could explain my problems to me in a way that made sense…because obviously the damn writers didn’t know what age group they were targeting! It (my academic prowess) became even funnier when sports coaches realized, that not only was I “talented” in academics, but I was pretty damn swift when it came to some sports (but not the Black ones, i.e., basketball).
Oh, shit! She’s a double threat!
High school opened up a new arena for me. Since I’d gone to a high school where everyone (or mostly everyone, and by everyone, I mean all of the Black kids there) was Gifted and Talented, I had to distinguish myself in some kind of way (and according to Lea, my Mother, mediocrity was not an option). What they (my Mom, school, and advisors) didn’t know what that I was pretty fucking happy being mediocre (shoot me now – just kidding, wait ‘til the end). However, I took a Visual Arts (drawing, for those of use who speak plain English) test and found that I was “talented” at yet ANOTHER thing. Can we say triple threat?!?! Even though I moved, I was still expected to be great at all of the talents that people had discovered in this Little Black Girl during her lifetime.
Thank God college came along! Seriously.
In college, I had the chance to exercise my abilities in whatever way I saw fit. On those grounds, I found my voice. I became active (granted, most of it was behind the scenes) with issues that seriously disturbed my soul. I was able to work on issues that dealt with discriminatory practices, students of color feeling out of place on an almost all-white campus, mental illness among college students, low-income youth (through traveling with my school’s Alternative Breaks program), and ANY other injustice that jumped out to me.
It was also during this time that I realized I wanted to fight educational inequality, and if I couldn’t fix the system, then I would for damn sure fix the way Black youth looked at and thought of themselves. Anyway, that’s why I started off with talking about the book, “Young, Gifted, and Black.”
On the sweltering day (or maybe it just felt that way because I had no air conditioning in my unit) of August 10, 2009, I was feeling so down on myself. I began to think of myself as undeserving of what I’d accomplished through my life (all because my requests for educational loans are repeatedly being denied!). I began to think that the only reason I was where I had made it to was because someone wanted to go against the “status quo” and allow another Black child to exercise their academic ability while tackling more challenging work in school (silly me). But that book reminded me something that my mother instilled in me long before I set foot on a college campus (although college attendance was a regular topic for discussion in my family):
“Academic achievement, doing well in school, and pursuing learning, in all of these narratives, is always accomplished in the face of considerable constraints, whether the impoverished condition of the school, the absence of a local high school, laws that made it a crime to teach slaves to read and write, or a teacher’s or school’s ideology of African-American intellectual inferiority. These constraints were tied to the social identity and the political location of African Americans as African Americans.” (Perry and them).
Or in other words,
“People are going to think that you can’t do it. But know that you can. And you will. You’ll be better (than them) because they think you are inferior.” (My Momma Lea)
So, I’m no longer thinking why am I here (in the Northeast with little family around me) working on a Master’s (and incurring so much debt that no job is gonna free me from the bondage of paying that shit back)? Nope!
Instead, my thought process has become, “Why aren’t more of me here!”
And while (I think) I have an answer to this, I’ll continue to strive for educational excellence by any means necessary.
After all, I am Young, Gifted, and (I just happen to be) Black!