I was inspired to write this after reading “If I were a poor black kid” by contributing writer for Forbes.com, Gene Marks and unlike many others, I do believe that his heart was in the right place.
Unfortunately, or rather should I say fortunately, for Mr. Marks, a man by his own words who is a “middle-age, short, balding, white man from a middle class white background," could never fathom what it means to be a “poor black kid” from West Philadelphia or anywhere else for that matter.
I am a 23-year-old, African American woman from West Philadelphia, who has faced and overcome many adversities that have allowed me to get to where I am today.
Like many of my peers I come from a drug and violence infested community, where for many making it pass the age of 21 was a God send and graduating from high school was rarely heard of.
As the first of 16 children to graduate from high school and attend college, I can say from first hand experience that there is no “magic recipe” for success and if there was, I never found it among the bare kitchen cabinets in my home.
I know you're saying to yourself 16? Yes, 16. I have ten older brothers, three younger brothers and two younger sisters and as you can imagine, there was never a moment of silence in my house.
But what many of you also can’t imagine is that I also come from a family of repeat ex-offenders and high school drop-outs.
Before I was able to walk, I was seeing the inside of a prison to visit my father and years later, while in the first grade, I was sitting inside of a courtroom watching my two oldest brothers, Calvin,16 years old and Kevin, 14 years old, on trial for murder.
For most of my life I was surrounded by people who made it out through jail or death. My mother spent more nights behind bars then she did at home and as for my father, I never had a life with him, because he is serving life for murder.
I grew up watching my ten older brothers, the only real male influence left in my life, get pushed out of their educational institutions and in turn finding themselves acquainted with a jail cell or in the case of my brother Andre, losing his life a month before his 21st birthday.
So you see, one cannot and should not imagine what its like to be a “poor black kid” because the reality of it isn’t fit for cable television.
I didn’t write this to make an excuse for my family or others like mine. I also didn’t write this to insult Mr. Marks, although I feel in many ways he has belittled my experience.
Instead, I wrote this to point out that there is no magic potion or secret recipe that will make “poor black kids” successful or place them on an even playing field with their white counterparts.
As Mr. Marks pointed out in his article:
“So life was easier for me. But that doesn’t mean that the prospects are impossible for those kids from the inner city. It doesn’t mean that there are no opportunities for them. Or that the 1% controls the world and the rest of us have to fight over the scraps left behind. I don’t believe that. I believe that everyone in this country has a chance to succeed. Still. In 2011. Even a poor black kid in West Philadelphia."
Well Mr. Marks, you were right on two counts: 1. it was easier for you; 2. it’s not impossible. However, the problem that many black youth, face particularly in inner-cities, is that they believe it is impossible and that alone can deter a young person from trying.
Can you blame them? Or me, had I not tried? My experiences are not inclusive to me, there are young people everywhere who are experiencing similar or worse situations and unlike you, death, starvation and abuse is a reality they face all too often.
Until we as a society are truly ready to have a serious discussion about the state of black youth and the uneven distribution of resources; we will continue to see an alarming number of young people lose their life to the barrel of a gun, get pushed out or passed though the education system, going to sleep hungry or being forced to call prison home.
For solutions to be made, young people have to not only be involved in the discussion, but also in the creation and implementation of the solutions.
Real change will only happen when we get past calling this a “black issue," instead analyzing how it affects our whole society.
Don’t pity us the “poor black kid,” but rather get up and question the world we live in. Like everyone else, black youth need love, mentorship, quality education, safe environments, access to healthy foods, accessibility to resources opportunities.
We have to create a world where there is equal opportunity for everyone. If we fail to do that, the “poor black kid” will never have the opportunity to rise above his/her given circumstance and become more than their predecessors. Instead, they will forever be defined by their race or zip code.
Some would ask what the odds are and in my case, 1 out of 16, but my little brothers and sisters are a work in progress.