“Hey, what class are you in this year?” I asked the tall young man standing before me as I handed him a computer pass.
“I’m a senior this year,” he puffed up full of pride, his chest sticking out.
A smirk came over my lips as I lowered my head and raised a brow. “You’re a senior?”
“Yep,” he took the pass and swaggered off.
“You really think you’re going to graduate?”
“I’ll watch,” I said skeptically. I suspect over the last year and half I’ve seen him more than his teachers have. He constantly skips here and maybe once or twice he’s been caught in some truancy sweeps. I wonder if he passed the Ohio Graduation Test? I wonder if he has plans for life after high school? I tried talking to him and his friend G before we banned G for two years because he was acting up. I sent them to the college advisor we have here every Tuesday. I told them I didn’t want to see them in here during school hours any more. But they seem hell bent on living up to the low expectations society has set for black men.
Although a lot of attention is put on underachieving African Americans who attend low performing innercity school there’s a growing number of blacks who attend private schools. (No, not charter schools). Often, the plight of black students from various economic backgrounds who attend private majority white schools gets overlooked. But new research intends to shed light on them
The first comes from University of Cincinnati doctoral student Michelle Burstion-Young who recently presented a paper the 104th annual meeting of the American Sociological Association (ASA) in San Francisco about high achieving black students in elite private schools. (Full disclosure: Ms. Burstion-Young is a good friend of the family.) In her study Burstion-Young writes:
“Little is known about how students negotiate the social world of school or how being labeled black (by others and/or self) may influence their social decisions, either by removing options (such as being purposefully excluded or not being included) or creating other options (such as a black social world)”
The paper examines four aspects of a black prep student’s life: assimilation, integration, separation and marginalization.
“One of the most important findings of this study,” writes Burstion-Young, “is that most students simultaneously use a variety of different coping strategies, but they do so in somewhat different combinations for somewhat different reasons. At the center of their negotiations, however, is an overall concern with identity; more specifically, their coping strategies are geared towards reconciling different, and sometimes contradictory, expectations on identity.”
While at GFS, I also thought of the family and the community I had left behind. We had been trained to live as second-class citizens, and I felt guilty about gaining access to this world of privilege and knowledge. I wanted to share this new world with those who were not able to walk with me. My former elementary classmates were not reading “The Iliad” or travelling the world on a choir tour. The idea for The Prep School Negro grew out of my first days at GFS. It has been with me every since. As I reflect back, I can see more clearly the internal struggles I faced as an adolescent and as a young adult. This documentary will tell my story and the story of other prep school Negroes like me.
The Obama girls are attending Sidwell Friends but they wont’ be they won’t be the only blacks there –although I’m sure there are probably only a few. Expand your mind as we shift the paradigm.