“American Blacks, the Teenagers of this World”: Think Like an Immigrant
If you are a Nas fan like I am, the title of this post should be familiar to you. If it doesn’t ring a bell, it’s a line in the track “We’re Not Alone” on Nas’ “Untitled” album that he originally wanted to name “Nigger” (great album BTW). Anyhow, ever since I heard this line it has stuck with me because it rings so true to me in what I’ve observed in my adulthood. I think of it in terms of the tools that are needed to be successful in this world we live in. Why don’t more of us who should be chasing after education and success do just that? I’m going to put this in the context of the work I currently do with youth in one of the largest cities in America. I coordinate an enrichment program for junior high and high school students that is specifically designed to expose Black and Latino students to careers in medicine and biomedical research. In recruiting students for this program I have found it especially hard to get black students to take an interest. So you’re saying to yourself right now, maybe it’s too expensive? Maybe that’s true, times are hard, but the total cost of the program is less than the average pair of sneakers or dress shoes at Marshall’s; and when there is a will, there is always a way. My frustration is that it seems that there is no will for many in my target audience.
In working with this same program, I constantly have calls from parents who are immigrants to this country. Now, it is true I’m basing my assumption that they are immigrants off of the origin of their name and that English seems to be a second language for them (pure science!). Sometimes they call months in advance, sometimes they call after the application deadline, sometimes they call after the program has started, but they always call for the same reason – to get their child into the program by any means necessary. When I say they call me, I mean they call me over and over and over again because they see the value in a program like this for their child. I respect their persistence and often daydream that I had the parents of American Black students calling me with the same fervor. (I say American Black students because the parents of those who constantly reach are usually of African, Southeast Asian, Asian or Persian descent).
Of course, this is one program, in one city in America, so I do understand my observations are purely anecdotal. However, in speaking with colleagues, teachers and other community workers, they see similar trends. This phenomenon frustrates the heck out of me because I see us, American Blacks, being left behind. The world has changed, and we need to catch up quickly and start “Thinking Like an Immigrant”. Please don’t think I’m one of those people who hasn’t analyzed the possible REASONS for this before making such a statement. I firmly believe, and many sociologists and psychologists would agree, that slavery, Jim Crow, and generational and systematic racism have caused irreparable damage to our community. Even though I know this to be true, I don’t think the powers that be care at this point. Our President is Black and because of this, many in the mainstream believe that racism is no longer a factor in America; even though we know different (I mean look at the injustice with Trayvon Martin). The general consensus seems to be that we should “get over it”, things have changed. The purpose of this post is to encourage us as a community NOT to “get over it”, but to acknowledge that we are being left behind in the world; and if we aren’t preparing ourselves and our children to be successful in this changing world, then we really don’t have time to argue about the reasons why. We need to do a better job of paying homage to those whose shoulders we stand on, those who fought and died for freedoms many of us take for granted. A few months back, I read an article that made me want to write about this trend even more. The article talks about how a mother was killed in a stampede of people trying to get her son one of the limited spots in the University in Johannesburg, South Africa. Could we in America be this aggressive even for a Gates Millennium Scholarship? (I know we would for the newest Jordans, or at least that’s all I could find documentation for.)
President Barack Obama has expressed in each of his State of the Union Addresses since the start of his Presidency that America is falling behind in the areas of math and science. In his most recent address, he claimed that there are many open positions right now with great companies, but cannot be filled by Americans because there aren’t enough of us that are properly prepared to take those jobs. Just like everything else in America, if something is not going well for the mainstream, then it is much worse for Black people. My thinking is this, if the careers of the future (and present) are heavily focused on science and technology and you don’t even have an email address, where are you going? We need to PREPARE!
To me, thinking like an immigrant is taking advantage of opportunities available to you, working hard every day to provide for your family, seeking out new skills to better yourself, demanding excellence in academics from your children, overcoming challenges that present themselves and not taking anything for granted because you know where you came from. I love us, and I desperately don’t want us to be the “teenagers of this world” forever!
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