Wednesday, July 22, 2009

CNN: Black in America 2

Soledad O'Brien is back on CNN to continue the discussion of what it means to be Black in America. Tonight's focus was the Black youth in America. A large majority of the young and the Black in America lack pretty much everything, have absent or drug addicted parents, don't have enough money for groceries or basic necessities, are two, three or four grade levels behind in school, and college is never even thought of as an option....well, unless they play basketball. But there is always someone who knows that so many of these children deserve so much more and have so much to they do what they can to help. Even if it starts with just helping a handful.

Chris Rocks' wife Malaak Compton-Rock has created a program called "Journey for Change," that is a year long empowerment program that sent 30 underprivileged Black kids from Bushwick, Brooklyn to Africa. This being the first time most of the kids left New York....who would ever dream they would get to go to Africa. While in Africa they were there to volunteer their services to help the children of Africa who are suffering tremendously, living without electricity, plumbing, beds, clothes, food, and living infected with or affect by the ravishes of AIDS.

The American kids, who essentially believed that they were as poor as it gets, were awakened to what their lives could be. As hard is was for many of them, it was fantastically empowering. Some of the students with non-existing confidence began to step into the light, those who didn't see school as important discovered that they can go to school for free, without a uniform and fees, while the African students don't have that ability, those who may be poor but still have parents see that there are children raising children. Two weeks of their life on another continent where they see that hardships, pain, and suffering are not unique to just them and if they really thought about it, they are actually privileged.

Returning to America didn't stop the change. These kids decided that they would use what they were given and make the best of it. They don't have to be victims of their surroundings, their backgrounds, and what they don't have. They will take advantage of what they do have and discover what they can do to give back to the world. Ultimately learning that being Black in America can actually be a good thing.

In Connecticut, a Black man by the name of Steve Perry decided to make a difference. He founded a year-round school, Capital Preparatory Magnet School, that would give Black students a chance to not only have an education but the opportunity to build a life for themselves. Connecticut is a state with one of the largest achievement gaps between black and white students in the nation, and those that are accepted into Capital Prep are often three to four grades behind. Literally being in 9th grade reading at a 5th grade level. Yet, Steve Perry has managed to send every graduate of Capital Prep to college.

He is the parent, the bus driver and even the school janitor and he does it for "his" children. He sacrifices time with his own family, his wife and two boys, to support his other children. These children do not have parent support or even the means to get to school, but Mr. Perry has made it his business to do what it takes. He is a child of a teenage mother, grew up in the projects and was most likely on his way to jail. Fortunately, his fourth grade teacher saw his potential and made it his business to set Mr. Perry straight. He chose to be better and pay it forward, to help others be better and do better. His dedication, his strength, and his belief in what can be is astounding, admirable and awe inspiring.

What about Black kids in America who are children of CEOs, doctors, lawyers, and business owners? They too struggle. Most Black and White people don't even realize that the affluent Black community even exist. In America the stereotype which stems from nuggets of truth, is that Black people are on welfare or only get to do anything thanks to affirmative action and even with that, they might own a house or get to go to college, but they aren't necessarily wealthy or successful, unless they are rappers or athletes. How do they find their place when the are in a small minority amongst their own race but still looked at as a charity case or a "nigger" by White people?

Affluent Blacks stick together. They help each other carry on the legacies of their families, specifically pointing out the Tuxedo Ball which was formed by Dr. Carlotta Miles, which offers wealthy and privileged Black people the opportunity to network, find mentors, jobs, and more than likely find someone of the same pedigree to date/marry to maintain affluence, education etc. on both sides. The goal, however, is to grow this group. It is easy for this group to be almost invisible because they aren't always recognized (unless they get arrested in front of their house like Dr. Gates), people within their own race reject them because they don't believe they can relate to their struggle and White people don't care how much money they have...they're still Black.

Helping with the growing of this group is John Rice. A Black man who grew up affluent and surrounded by the best of the best amongst Black people. He left his executive job with the NBA to start Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT)a program for minorities that prepare them to be CEOs and leaders in the corporate America. He understands that while education is more than necessary, there is so much more to excelling in corporate America that cannot be learned in the classroom, and is especially not taught to Black students. In reality, networking skills, leadership skills, and general business acumen is taught to those, especially White people, as kids and continued throughout their lives. They witness their parents having business dinners, making deals on the golf course, and attending black tie affairs where companies are started, kids are accepted to college before filling out applications, and promotions are made while sipping on Dom Perignon. Most Black and Brown people do not have a clue, and even after getting a college degree and doing what they are told is the best way to succeed, still end up in a middle management job for their entire career watching those around them become executives, VPs, and CEOs. Programs like MLT help those who understand that there are ways to reach the top of the top, get there.

Shout out to my girl Ms. Wonsley who is gorgeously, fabulously, and successfully Black in America. I saw you!!!!

Part 2 of 2 of Black in America, tomorrow.


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