Brian Hughes Kasoro
*white lady reading book title*
"'There Goes the Hood'?... hmmm I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing... it has to go somewhere right?"
I almost started rolling on the floor in the middle of the cafe.
Yesterday I was in this gentrification styled cafe in Washington, DC... you know, we all have one or two in our city.
It's that place where right across the street to the west, there are people cracked out, just being idle, looking hopeless. And to the east across the street there are either new lofts, or construction workers hurrying to build them.
This cafe has a bookstore, a theatre room for watching cool independent movies, nice food and a peaceful atmosphere.
All of a sudden the white lady in front (this pic was shot as they came out of the bathroom, after already having made their declaratory statement)... spits out that sentence shaped in the form of a seriously concerned and confused question.
And this is somewhat related to the story you'll see below.
Post-segregation history in America has seemed like a failure in many instances, especially in solving the problem that Martin Luther King died trying to solve... poverty.
It's like with Brown v. Board of Education (the supreme court victory that sparked the desegregation movement) a door of escape from the ghetto opened up and those upper and middle class people and families who has the legs to run through the door did just that... they ran.
What were they thinking when they ran? I'd bet they were thinking that they had to save themselves. That their kids weren't going to be sacrificed for some pipe-dream of economic integration where kids from well to do families could help save the ghetto by remaining in dangerous conditions serving as beacons and as examples of success.
I often hear of men who are the ones willing to do this -- sacrifice the upward mobility of their families for the risky benefit of uplifting the spirits of an entire community by staying in it. Plenty of women who I talk to say that it's just not realistic, that because they value the safety of their kids more than some romantic dream of unity in the community... that they will have to leave the hood if the opportunity comes and the circumstances get dangerous (and everyone has their definition of "too dangerous I suppose").
But as you'll see below... this is a real life story that has unfolded just like that pipe-dream.
One in which two dads made the sacrifice and took the risk for the dream that their kids would have something great to offer, just in their existence, to the larger community. That their kids could serve as living examples of success.
I'd say that for most human beings what we do not see is not possible... and so it's only logical to me that if we are trying to motivate we have to do show by illustration.
And how can those illustrations be drawn when exodus is the norm?
And who else do black families expect will be the ones to stay if not them?
Integration brought with it its own pipe-dream if you ask me... mainly the assumption that people would be willing to make these kinds of sacficies across racial lines. That white families would move into black neighborhoods or send their kids to black schools for the sake of collective uplift.
That has proved false.
Race is a social construct. But it is also a cultural, social, physical, mental and economic reality... made so by the construction of this nation. And that construct cannot be deconstructed by a denial of that... but only by an acceptance of that.
Already the tendency is for humans to flee problems that pose potential dangers to their personal beings and spaces, including families. If we were all color blind that would be the natural way of things and what force of unity would inspire us to do the opposite?
Our Collective Americaness? Yeah right.
Our Collective Humanity? Yeah right again.
So race in the short view has its redeeming qualities, mainly that historically it has served as a reason for people to partake in the act of personal sacrifice for a collective good.
We're not yet at that point where white families are going to sacrifice themselves for the sake of a black school or community. And the same holds true for Blacks, Natives, Latinos, Asians, etc. in every combination with "vice-versa" attached onto the end of them.
Click here to read the full article. What follows in an excerpt. Published in the Washington Post
...Eighteen days ago, Jachin Leatherman, 18, graduated from Ballou. He was the school's 2006 valedictorian.
His best friend, 18-year-old Wayne Nesbit, also graduated. He was salutatorian.
Jachin and Wayne: They love Ballou.
Four years before, at the end of middle school, both had scholarship offers to an elite private high school in the Maryland suburbs. It was an offer that few from Southeast Washington, where Ballou is located, would refuse.
But both ended up at Ballou because their fathers decided that an all-black inner-city school, rather than a mostly white suburban school, was what they wanted for their sons. They also figured their high-achieving sons were precisely the kind of examples Ballou needed.
It was a decision that both boys agreed with, making a private pact with each other that by the time they graduated from high school, they would have made Ballou a better place to be young, black and male.
"My whole thing is to change the stereotype of people in Southeast," said Wayne, who is tall with thick dreadlocks that flip and fall when he moves his head. "We wanted people to say that good, intelligent, athletic students come out of Ballou."
...the morning collection point for students is at the blue entry doors, where they line up and move single file through a metal detector and into a school that reflects much of the data reported across the country depicting how black males are at the bottom of most academic measurements and experience the worst sociological outcomes.
Statistics show that African American males have the lowest reading and math proficiency levels of any group. The Schott Foundation for Public Education paints a particularly bleak picture: Although black boys represent only 8.7 percent of the nation's public school enrollment, they make up 23 percent of students suspended and 22 percent of those expelled -- the largest for any group. Only 45 percent of black males receive high school diplomas with their freshman-year classmates, compared with 70 percent for white males. Moreover, according to the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, black male students are overrepresented in special education programs.
Ballou's attempts to counter such outcomes have been sporadic at best; by most measures, it is a troubled school. SAT scores are among the lowest in the city. Only about 9 percent of last year's 10th-graders were proficient in math -- and 3 percent in reading. Because it is unable to meet proficiency levels under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, Ballou will be "restructured" over the summer, requiring all teachers to reapply for their jobs with no guarantees that they will be rehired.
Just as telling: When Jachin and Wayne were freshmen, their class had 330 students; four years later, they were part of a graduating class of 130. What happened to the other 200? School officials could account for only about 40 who were part of a program that allowed them to graduate a year early.
...Jachin and Wayne had become fast friends on a muggy summer day during football tryouts at Hart Middle School, a few blocks from Ballou, when Wayne accepted Jachin's invitation to go with him to talk to some girls.
Back then, their achievements made them standouts -- Wayne would graduate from Hart as valedictorian and Jachin as salutatorian -- and they wanted to remain standouts in high school.
All through middle school, they had assumed that high school would be Ballou, but then came scholarship offers from DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, which caused tensions and divisions in both boys' already divided families.
Everyone "thought I was crazy to have that boy going to Ballou," said Jachin's father, John Leatherman. A white man who has been married to and divorced twice from black women, Leatherman is a cosmetology teacher at Ballou who once styled the hair of songstresses Dionne Warwick and Nancy Wilson. He has primary responsibility for Jachin. At Ballou, Leatherman could keep an eye on his son. But he also wanted Jachin to develop an identity as a strong black male, something he thought would have been more difficult at a school where whites make up about 70 percent of the student population.
"I don't like black people who don't like black people," Leatherman said. "I'm not having some yellow mug in my house think he's better than somebody else."
And so a decision was made -- one that Leatherman would second-guess only once in the ensuing years, when he had to call security to deal with a student who had barged into his classroom and was screaming at a girl. As security took the student away, he threatened to come back for Leatherman -- and for Jachin, too -- and after that, Leatherman would include in his daily prayers a wish that "my son will not get shot, not get cut, not get in a fight."
Meanwhile, a similar debate about Ballou vs. DeMatha had erupted in Wayne's home between Wayne's father and grandfather.
Wayne's father, Wayne White, had graduated from Ballou in 1981. Now a single parent raising Wayne and another son, Ricardo, Ballou is where he wanted both of his sons to go, but the patriarch of the family thought differently.
" 'You crazy, why you letting him go to that school?' " White recalled his father admonishing him. "He was mad -- he cursed me out. His whole thing being from Southeast is whenever you have an opportunity when somebody will pay for something for you, you go."
But, like Leatherman, White held firm and stayed firm throughout Wayne's time at Ballou, even when Wayne and Ricardo were walking home from a football game and suddenly found themselves surrounded by 10 neighborhood thugs. As Wayne described that night, "the guy had a shotgun and pointed it at my face. He asked me for my coat."
Coat given, that was the end of it, and as frightening as the experience was, it didn't change White's mind about sending his sons to Ballou.
"A lot of times, our brightest students get taken [by private schools] and don't get to go to Ballou," he said. "They'll take those schools to a higher level while you'll hear negative things about Ballou."
And so a second decision was made.
"Before I got there, my dad said how much of a change I'd be for Ballou. At first, I was like, 'Whatever, blah, blah, blah,' " Wayne said. "But once I got to Ballou, it started making sense to me."
...then came a string of setbacks, starting with the mercury spill, which closed Ballou for a month. Students were bused to the Washington Convention Center. Many considered the time away from Ballou a vacation, opting to skip classes altogether.
Shortly after Ballou reopened, a member of the football team, James "J-Rock" Richardson, was shot to death in the hallway near the cafeteria. Not long after that, Sherrod Miller, another football teammate, was found beaten to death in his home.
"Those were some tough days," Jachin said. "People were down." Both young men had left an impression on Jachin and Wayne, particularly Miller, who often would buy the entire basketball team a meal when it won games.
"When he passed," Jachin said, "I thought, 'I got to help people more.' "
In 11th grade, their efforts to help the football team continued full force. Tutoring resumed. Wayne became co-captain of the team. He also became president of the National Honor Society chapter and pushed the players to increase their grade-point averages to 3.0 and to demonstrate leadership qualities so they could be inducted. He and Jachin also encouraged some of the football players to take AP classes, where male students were a rarity.
Could they make a difference? they would ask themselves from time to time. Were they making a difference?
...at Ballou's graduation ceremony, Wayne spoke first, using his time at the lectern to tell the 130 students that the many trials they had experienced taught them "how to overcome obstacles" and how to "turn setbacks into setups for life."
Then Jachin went to the podium. He chided people who criticize public schools while refusing to "help by becoming tutors." He encouraged his classmates to vote "so outsiders are not determining the fate of our community." He expressed gratitude to Ballou and to his mother.
"But most of all, I want to thank my father because without my father . . ."
"Don't cry, Jack!" a girl shouted from the audience into the silence as Jachin gathered his emotions.
". . . I would not be standing here today."
We're a human development centered cooperative, producing in part through the generous and faithful contributions of our North Star members. Choose your membership: Annual ($36), Monthly ($3), ($5), ($10), ($15), ($30), ($70), ($200), ($500), ($1000).