Parenting is defined as, “the raising of a child by its parents.” I read this to mean both parents working together to raise a single child properly. And for many kids, that’s exactly what happens. But for many others, this definition must be amended.
I am one of those kids. All I know of dads in kids’ lives comes from people outside my family. I see my friends who have dads they can consistently rely on for day-to-day needs and in times of great stress and I realize that I have missed out on something invaluable. The whole father-figure thing just hasn’t existed for me.
I have a dad who was imprisoned for almost half of my life and remains in jail today. In other words, he has been virtually nonexistent, up until some fairly recent attempts at parenting. Still though, there’s no one in my family showing me how to grow up to be a college-educated Black man in America.
But I have to do it anyway.
And I need help.
There’s lots of talk about all the Black kids without fathers and how bad that is for society. And it probably is. I know kids like me are often seen as a burden. And I get it. It takes more to get us across the finish line.
But the truth is, kids like me need extra supports if we are to make it. It’s just that simple. While lots of kids in America grow up with one or two parents who went to college and who expect their own kids to do the same, kids like me never hear anyone in our homes or the neighborhood even talk about college. This conditions our youth, creating generations of Black adolescents who reject the idea of higher education.
And let’s be real. It often feels like it isn’t meant for us. Putting poor Black and Brown kids in schools that value police officers more than they value guidance counselors sends the message that even our own schools don’t believe that college is in our future. And how are we to feel when schools full of White students have plenty of counselors and no police officers at all?
The recently released 2013-2014 Civil Rights Data Collection for the first time counted how many schools have a sworn law-enforcement officer:
Twenty-four percent of elementary schools and 42 percent of high schools. Among high schools with predominantly black and Hispanic populations (i.e., more than 75 percent of students were black and Latino), more than half—51 percent—had an officer.
I was lucky. I finally found a high school where I found the supports I needed. I graduated on my 20th birthday and just completed my sophomore year of college. But still now I rely on the support of adults who are not in my family, adults who can help me navigate a system that is foreign to me and everyone in my family.
But luck isn’t a solution.
So while it may require out-of-the-box thinking, extra work, and even extra resources, our only chance of reaching our full potential depends on adults outside of our families helping us to make it happen.