Growing up black in America is something many people are not aware of when it comes to how it impacts education. There is this misbelief that education is fair and equitable for all students. Nothing can be further from the truth.
As I first started going to school I was exposed to examples of discrimination even through I was not aware I was being discriminated against. In grade school black students were the minority with white students being the majority represented. I was a pretty bright student so I did fairly well as I was progressing from grade to grade. My sister was 2 years older than me and she was also a good student although she had to study real hard to maintain her grades. For me it naturally came easier so I would study less and still do well.
As I entered the 5th grade I saw the first signs of racial discrimination. My grades were among the highest in the school and when we had assignments I noticed that the white students who were having trouble were able to get help from the teacher. When any of the black students were having the same troubles the teacher would tell us “to figure things out.” It came to the point where I stopped asking for help, learned how to research things on my own and when I saw my fellow classmates struggling I would turn them on to how I was finding my answers (basically I spent my Saturdays at the library near. my house doing my homework. My teacher saw my initiative and willingness to share my research with other students. Not once did he ever encourage me or say I was doing a good job. At this early age I learned I had better encourage myself because nothing was coming from his class.
By the 8th grade the teaching staff knew that I was bright and a contender for the Valedictorian award at the end of the year. A few of us students were hand picked to go to a neighboring high school for a special science project they were doing. The goal was to help us develop a love for science and get ready for high school. I found the program enlightening but discouraged by the fact that I was 1 of a few black students chosen to participate because of my grades. I found the criteria for choosing white students to attend was not really fair but I knew this is just how it was.
As the year progressed the top two candidates for Valedictorian was myself and another student named Jeffrey who happened to be white and a good friend of mine. Our classes rotated and we had four 8th grade teachers. All 4 of these teachers gave Jeffrey additional tutoring before and after class and took a special interest in his excelling that year. Even though my grades were better I got no real encouragement,help or anything to do better. I found this to be most unfair and could feel resentment building up as we got closer to graduation. Jeffrey and I would talk and he would say “I don’t know why I am getting all this attention and special help when clearly you have the better grade point average and should be Valedictorian. For some reason they are pushing me to beat you out. I wish they would stop.”
In the end I did beat him out and became the Valedictorian. I gave the graduation speech and my family said I should not make it about the injustice I saw but about what graduating means to me and my fellow graduates. My mom would say “don’t stoop to their low level of discrimination. Rise above it because you are better than that.”
She was right.