A Glimpse Into My Life

See it through my eyes & understand me a little more

What If “The Fresh Prince” Had Been An Honor Roll Student?

Today, I was reminded of a time I came of age (geez, I say this and sound “old”) while speaking with a younger cousin of mine. The conversation started out innocently enough where I simply asked if he found that he was enjoying his school year thus far. All of 11 years old, he emphatically responded with “No.”

No.

That’s it. A simple word, yet it seemed to hold the weight of something much heavier. Inquisitively, I asked him for details. I’ll note here that like most boys, my younger Cousin doesn’t bring his problems to me. Why would he want to present himself as “weak” to (his words here) a family member with the Lady Parts? As other Black men in my family, he wants to be seen as strong, so I knew that the words following his audible sigh were sure to be unexpected.

“I’m not cool because I’m smart. They pick on me because I’m smart. Why can’t I be cool and smart?”

I’m going to make a provocative statement and people can take it or leave it — but kids, especially Black boys, can’t be cool AND smart because parents don’t encourage that behavior.

Now, to me, this kid is possibly one of the coolest people I know. He’s a borderline genius and he’s humble about it. He’s not one of those “I know the answer to everything so let me answer the question that you didn’t ask” type of children. He’s also the kind of person that helps out those when they need help. He’s athletic but he’s a bit on the short side; and he’d rather just be himself rather than conforming to some trend.

Take it or leave it — that’s been his attitude until now. Now, he’s wondering, “Why don’t they like me?” and as someone who dealt with that, I know how dangerous it can be to navigate “life as you know it.”

In a day and age where parents already have to worry about their Black boys being tracked into slower classes, being reprimanded more than non-Black peers, or being tracked into the juvenile justice system via zero-tolerance polices, no one is seriously discussing what we value in our culture and it’s impact on what is already a challenging time.

As a culture (I cringe a bit when I type this), we focus too much on toughening our boys physically; yet we hesitate when it comes to encouraging our boys to strengthen their intellectual prowess. As a culture, we’re ready to cheer on our boys for their physical displays of excellence through sports such as basketball and football; yet we cringe when they inquire about chess, checkers, writing competitions, or unorthodox sports. As a culture, we focus on our bigger boys and reward them for their luck in the genetic draw while we disregard or neglect our boys who are shorter in stature or slighter in build.

But it leads me to the question of, “What if the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air had been an honor roll student?”

I bring him up because like most people my age (I’m 25), I’m aware of his character and what he meant. He was the cool kid on the show (and in life) and I can only wonder how my male friends who faithfully watched the show would have approached school if they made it look like Will Smith’s character loved school? I even wonder about Eddie Winslow, the free-spirited but not-so-bright foil of Steve Urkel’s character on Family Matters. I even think about how wonderful it would have been had they shown Theo, the academically-challenged only son of the successful Huxtables, overcoming the limitations of his dyslexia and exceeding the academic standards that were set for him.

What would be different today had a generation of young men grown up watching the Cool Kids also exhibit characteristics of the Smart Kids?

Possibly nothing. But the idealist person that I am thinks that maybe something today would be a bit different. Maybe more of our young men would have become Scholar-Athletes. Maybe more would have found a way to balance the commercialized rap/hip-hop culture that became so prevalent to us as pre-teens and teens with the academic geniuses that many of them were capable of being. Maybe this group would have reached back to help out the younger boys behind them, thus starting an academic culture that was accepting of the Smart Kid Only or the Smart Kid Hybrid.

Maybe and then maybe not because as I think about this, I go back to my original point — it’s up to the parents to encourage accepting the Smart Kids at school and it starts with accepting the Smart Kids at home.

I just hope that my Cousin, and young boys like him, can find a way to navigate through school without succumbing to the pressure of “dumbing it down.”

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