For Moms of Color Being an Education Advocate Is Part of the Job
When my son started school, I was a nervous wreck. And while I was fretting for many of the same reasons all mothers fret when their little ones start school, I was particularly anxious for a few reasons only mothers of color may understand.
Studies show, black male achievement begins to decline as early as the fourth grade and by high school, black males are more likely to drop out. Fourth grade! That’s scary stuff.
In the Latino community, the achievement gap is also widely evident. While Latinos represent 25 percent of the nation’s students, only half of Latino students graduate high school. Of those that go to college, many drop out because of financial reasons and lack of academic preparation—so only 13 percent of the Latino population has a bachelor’s degree or better.
President Obama recently signed the Hispanic Education Initiative to help combat those figures and improve educational opportunities for Latinos.
Meanwhile, one in four Black men will enter prison at least once, compared to only one in 23 white males having the same experience, statistics show.
According to the United States Department of Justice, Black males currently constitute 12 percent of the national population but 44 percent of the prison population.
I say this, not to regurgitate depressing facts but to highlight the challenges mothers of color face in raising their children. I thought about how, someday, I would have to sit with my son and teach him his legal rights and what to do and not to do when approached by the police. I remembered how my own brother was often stopped by the police for no good reason. Many times I was with him when it happened. It still happens.
I remember our family’s unspoken sigh of relief when my brother reached his eighteenth birthday and then his twenty-fifth birthday and was still alive, never incarcerated and college educated. He had beaten the odds. These are powerful milestones for our black men. I don’t think white mothers have the same worries over their boys.
Lately, I’ve been remembering how my mother would beg my brother, who was an ace student at Hofstra University, not to dress in certain street fashions like baggy jeans or baseball caps because she feared that he could be easily mistaken for a “thug” by policemen who may shoot first and ask questions later. Even then, as a big sister, I felt my mother’s pain. Today, as a mother, I know my mother’s pain and her fear and her worry.
As my own son set off for kindergarten, I had to recognize that everybody, even the best teachers, has their own biases. They come from our upbringing, the influence of the media and many times we aren’t even aware of them. It's only human. But what if those biases affect how the teachers and principals view my son?
Will they give Michael 3000% percent if they are subliminally thinking he will likely be dead by 18 or that his future is really in sports or hip hop and not in academic excellence? Will they see my beautiful brown boy for the person he really is? Will they view his Latino classmate as a potential drop out?
And so I’m afraid. My job, as a mother of color, is to make sure any teacher, principal, or school administrator sees my son for his brilliance and not the statistic or stereotype this world often perpetuates. My parenting needs to be on-point so that my son knows that he is destined for excellence, that he is not a statistic or stereotype and that he is loved unconditionally even in a world that fears him. I am learning how to be his education advocate and working closely with his teachers and principal to stay involved. What do you do?
I hope mothers of color join me to share ideas and start open and honest conversations about how we can make sure our children get the best education possible. They need us.