A Note for African American Males:
“Why don’t you understand…I know I’m smart!”
Dr. Jocelyn G. Drakeford, Ed.D
I know that you have pondered the world around you day after day, and you have probably tried to understand why everyone talks about you as if you were invisible. But it is not so much that they think you are invisible, but what you cannot understand, is why they think you are ‘dumb’. It makes you angry to recall the conversations your teachers have had with your mother during teacher conferences, about you not being able to focus, that you weren’t able to read (when the truth was she never called on you to read). Yet, that wasn’t the worst part. That was when they started talking about you needing all the supports of the dreaded Special Education department. How could your mom let this happen? Didn’t she know you were smart? Didn’t she know that Special Education was for “dummies”? You’re no dummy, right? And I can imagine this just added to the growing anger brewing deep within your belly.
Can I ask you to take a little trip back in time with me? I just want to make sure you understand why I know that you are smart….very smart, in fact. I promise you that I’m not trying to open up old wounds. But this is extremely necessary for you to know that you have been right all a long. Will you trust me for a few minutes? I hope so.
Remember way back when you were about two years old (I know I’m asking a lot since you are a grand old 11 or maybe, 15, or even 18), and there wasn’t a jingle that was played on the TV or the radio (did your parents have one of those?) that you didn’t know as soon as the first notes were played. You were just like the little mocking bird, because if you heard it said, you could say it and best of all, you remembered every word. At every opportunity you showed your mom and all of your family members just how smart you were, and you heard them whisper, “He’s really a smart boy?” “Can you believe he knew all of the alphabet?” But you smiled, because you knew that you were smart and that you knew a whole lot more than your alphabet. Each day, you would discover something new that you could do and you couldn’t wait to show your mom and dad and anyone who would give you a moment of time. And soon, when you couldn’t take every gadget in your house apart and put it back together again for the fifty-th time, and when you had mastered every video game and X-Box challenge, some one announced that you would be starting SCHOOL.
No one really knew how excited you were. You looked over your school supplies every night before you went to bed. You wondered if every four-year-old boy, was awake like you. You could only think about all of the wonderful things you would learn and all the things your teacher would teach you. The first day of school couldn’t come fast enough.
School finally began, and school was everything that you had hoped for. Your teacher had such a nice smile, and you wanted to tell her all of things that you already knew. You could tell that all the other girls and boys knew a lot, too. So you wanted to make sure your teacher knew that you were very smart.
At circle time, she would ask questions, and you would follow the rules by raising your hand, and she would call on Sally Ann, and then, Jane, and Bill and Phillip, then Taneshia, and Nikita, and finally, when all the questions were asked, your hand was still raised high, and you had known all of the answers, but all the chances were gone. The days began with you having hope that today will be the day you can show your teacher and everyone in your class how smart you really were. The days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months, as with the passage of time, you realized that your teacher’s lovely smile didn’t mean that she liked you, and that she believed that you were smart. You had followed the rules, and you had waited only to be over looked, so when you decided to yell out the right answers without being called on, and without any regard to raising your hand, you were placed in time out and labeled a behavior problem.
You thought the routine would change now that you were in Kindergarten,…First Grade…Second Grade. But no it got worse…you had used up all of your time outs and now it was the visits to the Assistant Principal’s Office. Each year, you wanted the excitement of that first day of school, but it never returned. And then, everyone was saying how sad it was that “You couldn’t learn anything, because you couldn’t read, or do math.” You knew that they were wrong, but they never let you “shine.” You stopped trying to tell them, you stopped trying to blurt out the right answers, but you couldn’t stop being angry about it all.
So was I close? Did any or all of that happen? I’m sorry I had to bring it up. But I wanted you to remember because what you may have missed was not that you were “dumb” or that you needed “Special Ed.” Could it have been that the people responsible for letting you “share” how much you really did know, ignored you, and decided that they would convince you that they knew you better than you knew yourself? But I have just one question for you. When did you decide that they were “right?”
Remember you didn’t answer my question (know that you should). Everyone started convincing you that you were not SMART, and you felt like the world had decided your fate. Guess what? They don’t know the truth about you.
I have had the awesome pleasure of working with Smart young African men just like you. And the thing that I discovered over the 30 odd years of teaching and administration is that you are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). You may not understand the phrase, but what it really means is that there are gifts and talents that have been placed inside of you. These gifts and talents have been waiting to be released in you, but you have to believe that they are yours to share.
All this may be new to you, but please know that you have always been Smart, ever since you were two years old. The anger that you have had to endure was not of your own doing. It was generated by those who were expected to protect your heart, mind, and spirit. LONG ago, your creator stated that you “were the apple of His eye” (Psalm 17: 8) And because you are “the apple of His eye” (Psalm 17:8) He says that “He knows the plans He has for you, plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you HOPE and a Future (Jeremiah 29:11). So you would have to be very smart for your Creator to have these marvelous plans for your life.
I know that you may still be very angry about all of the things that stole the joy of your school experience but what’s more important is for you to believe in yourself again, and to know that you can do amazing things because you are SMART. I would like for you to begin with learning a special verse for me, and it is, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13). Whenever those negative thoughts start in your head, just say the verse out loud, or if you are in a crowd, whisper it again and again. You should know that as we continue to meet on these pages, you will find your voice, your gifts, and your talents. You were made SMART because there are people waiting for your SMARTs to resolve their problem.