Thursday, January 12, 2012

When I was a poor black kid


Almost a month ago, to the day (12/12/11) Forbes.com writer, Gene Marks penned an essay on being a poor black kid in America and how to overcome it. It angered many. Pleased some. And sparked dozens and dozens of Internet and media responses.

My husband and I had quite the interesting conversation about his piece. We each saw the material (through the eyes of former poor black kids) pretty differently.

From the same community, schools, and block we both had single moms who raised us in the way they knew how and grandparents that did tremendous amounts to pick up the slack.

It's amazing that after all the new news stories since 12-12-11, I still keep thinking about what it means to be a poor black kid. Perhaps because I live next door to many. Tutor a few. And am raising three that have no concept of what poor means.

My sisters and I often marvel at how three girls raised in the 'hood could be so NOT 'hood. The answer for us was our Village.
"It takes a village to raise a child." --African proverb
There were teachers who actually taught us well. Several of whom bought Christmas presents, school uniforms, and books for us. Grandparents who made sure we had a home, food, and clothing. After-school programs and camps to keep us occupied. Church youth groups to shape our behaviour. The list goes on and on.

And with all of the input and effort that adults put into our lives, there were plenty of friends and classmates we knew who had no such luck. Kids who were poor and Black/White/Latino who did not have anyone who gave a damn.

Who did not become a teacher's pet. Who were raped and lost will-power. Who were randomly jumped (beat-up by a group) or abused and became angry and disenchanted. Who became homeless, in much of the same way we did in high school, but did not have a generous grandfather to step in and provide shelter.

Kids who shared Honors and AP classes with me but still did not go to college. Or went and then dropped out because of family stress/finances/pregnancies/lack of support.

I can not stop thinking that I was a poor black kid that did not realize I was. My mom/nana/aunt/teachers/church somehow blocked that realization from me. Because had I known how close we were to the edge I may have given up. May not have reached for college. May not have dreamed big.

May not be raising three middle class black boys who don't understand how good they have it. Three boys who have never taken an cold "shower in the sink" because the water is off. Or went to the food pantry because the refrigerator was empty.

My village saved me. That was the point my husband and I adamantly agreed on. Now it's our turn to be the village for the children around us. And teach our boys to count their blessings.

It's not enough to overcome being a poor black kid, or write articles about how they can pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

We have to be the village we want to see.