I'm not sure if it sounds silly or condescending, but as a Black person... I kind of contemplate the, "If I Were a Poor Black Kid" scenario to myself all of the time. It's almost impossible to address everything in a single blog entry.
To be successful and Black in America, in my opinion, takes a hell of a lot of luck. Once you have a broad range of lucky conditions... then you have to work your ass off. Since I studied undergrad at the University of Michigan between the Supreme Court Cases of 2003 and the transfer of the Wardell Connerly movement to Michigan in 2006, I've been thinking a lot about what it takes for a Black child... especially a broke Black child.
One of the things that the Forbes article doesn't account for is every Black person in America, whether they are conservative or liberal, knows that you any Black person has to learn everything twice. You have learn everything that is on the surface which Marks addresses and then you have to learn what it means when you are black. (Then, if you are a woman you have to learn how to navigate patriarchy and racial issues). It is extremely difficult to learn this concept by yourself. It's damn near impossible. Basically, in addition to learning the academics you have to learn 1. how to have white teachers, 2. how to have white classmates, 3. how to be a token in networking situations, 4. how to be a token in corporate or academic situations, 5. how to have a drink with a bunch of white folks in academic or corporate situations... I haven't really found any book on it. It really takes a Black person in academia or a Black person in corporate America to say, "Look, this is how everything really works."
1. Grades. A lot of people undereducate Black children. Even if you have the best grades... it's hard to compete with someone who is being taught 2-4 levels ahead of you. For instance, when I entered U of M wanting to be a physics major... I realized that many of the white folks had already completed Calculus 2 (or AP Calculus BC) and Differential Equations. On the other hand, many of the Black students from Detroit did not come from schools where AP Calculus was available... let alone Intergral Calculus or above.
So even if you get the best grades in Trigonometry or Algebra... How do you compete with someone the same age who has already been taught so much more?
2. Libraries. Many libraries close by 7pm. If you are lucky you might be able to find a nearby university that stays open until 12. But if your not lucky... then what? Many suburbs have internet cafes... but inner cities don't. And even if they did, you wouldn't have the money to pay for them.
3. Even if you get a computer... How in the world would you pay for internet? You need credit, good credit in order to buy the internet on contract. And so far they don't have prepaid internet services.
Perhaps you can go to McDonalds, but they don't have any sockets to actually plug in your lap top.
4. And if you are an inner city black kid... There just so much that you won't be exposed to... Your music departments will be cut. You won't learn an instrument until you get to high school because the middle school programs are obsolete. So how do you win a scholarship for music when you've only been playing for 4 years... versus a person with private lessons who has been playing since they were 4 years old?
You won't have a swim team, or a lacrosse team, or a soccer team, or a hockey team. You might have a track team that may or may not have a track.
5. And what will you eat. A person's diet has a huge effect on their long-term brain development. Most inner cities don't have very many health food stores... And most of the grocery stores in the cities barely carry produce. I don't know.
And that's just the basics. I don't know anything about going to schools where there are metal detectors. And actually partial police departments based on school grounds. I don't know anything about going to school where there are active gangs. Sometimes folks can't just get "good grades".
I just shake my head. I don't know what a broke kid could do. Or should do.
A year ago, I read an article about a young Black man who was valedictorian of his high school. It was a congratulatory article, praising the young man for going to college in spite of all of the odds. But at the end of the article, it mentioned that the young man was going to community college! I was so furious! If was was valedictorian, with decent scores... and he went through everything the article mentioned. I think he should have had a full ride to Harvard, Stanford, Michigan or Wharton... There's no way in the world he should have been going to a community college.
But that would take a guidance counselor to say, "hey-- you've gone through enough... there's money out there. Here, apply to Harvard. Here, apply to Northwestern. Oberlin." Whatever.
Part of the problem when your Black... is just having enough people tell you that you really can compete with White folks. Really.
Everyday, I'm reminded of how priveleged I have been a Black middle class lady. I didn't have a car, or name brand clothes... But I definitely had one of the best educations a Black person could have in America.
What would I do if I was a poor Black kid?
1. Girl Scouts/Boy Scouts
2. Jr. Achievement
3. Free Sports Teams
4. Free or Cheap Private Lessons for a Musical Instrument
5. The smartest, coolest, most-down-to earth Black frieends I could find in the city
6. maybe Jack and Jill parties (to learn how to network with Black folks)
7. Church (maybe that should have been number one)
8. A mentor or two or three or four (who are black)
9. And the most important thing is summer programs. Every major college has summer programs for people of color or people without the most money... Sometimes they are absolutely free.
10. A lot of inner city Black schools won't let you take college courses while your in high school, but a lot of white schools will. I guess if I was broke I would try like hell to take college courses while I was in high school. Even if I was just auditing and couldn't get credit...
Its really hard to know what you don't know. I don't know how I would have known about summer programs 1. if I didn't have sibling who went to college before me, 2. if I didn't have Black friends going to the programs, 3. If I didn't have a guidance counselor who knows.
I don't have any real answers. In some ways, I'm still trying to figure out what I would do (or will do) as a poor Black parent.