Morning Zen Guest Blog Post ~ Anita Thomas
I was sitting in a "Standing in the Gap" mentoring session with African American male middle school students and African American male college students. The program was developed as a brainstorm of the principal who was concerned about the differential achievement of the black male students of the school. She approached some faculty who were involved through the university, and the brainchild of having older black students, in college and who have made it, mentor the younger boys, was born.
The program has sparked a lot of great discussion about education, stereotypes, images of black males, and violence. We have met through the grand jury decisions of Eric Garner and Michael Brown. We have watched these young men, 11, 12, and 13, struggle between the disconnect of academic achievement that we are pushing, and the reality of their lives. School for boys after 3rd grade is a challenge in general. More and more they are being taught by young White females who are enthusiastic about teaching, but the academic content is becoming more rigorously challenging, but the content and teaching to tests does not encourage their natural curiosity and exploration to thrive. For African American male students, the disconnect is greater, particularly in urban areas. If you are worried about violence, police misconduct, gang recruitment, drug abuse, you have no use for the common core. And the common concerns of life, that's some distant memory and pleasure for others. Not black boys.
This became real to me when in our closing comments, one of the participants expressed his concern with a dress. You know the one, the dress in a picture that for some seems white and gold, and for others, black and blue. Millions upon millions debated the color on social media, an instant viral phenomenon discussed on all the news programs. Is it the same dress? Is it an optical illusion? Color washing from flash photography?
But a complete waste of energy for this young man. The picture of the dress was a major news story on February 26. The anniversary of the death of Trayvon Martin. For him, it was a sign of the lack of attention to the important. To the notion that Black lives matter. To the fact that he is a potential victim, only to be forgotten over the trivial.
Thank you son, for that reminder. Your life does matter. Trayvon's life matters. The lives of all young Black boys do matter.
Anita Jones Thomas, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Counseling Psychology in the School of Education at Loyola University Chicago. She teaches courses in multicultural issues, family therapy, and human development. Her research interests include racial identity, racial socialization, and parenting issues for African Americans. Dr. Thomas has served on the American Psychological Association’s Committee for Children, Youth, and Families and is the Diversity Board member for the Division 37, Child and Family Practice and Policy of APA. Dr. Thomas is also the incoming Dean of the School of Psychological Sciences at the University of Indianapolis.