I will go to my grave rejecting the assertion that African Americans can do nothing to improve success outcomes for children in our lowest socio-economic echelon, e.g., in poverty. Irrespective of who says it, that contention is racist on its face because it implies inherent genetic defects instead of the conduct of America’s institutions.
If families want to give their children a 98% chance of avoiding poverty altogether and a 72% chance of joining the middle class when they reach adulthood, using all the means available, they must:
1. Ensure the children understand that their genetic make-up and ancestral history will not impede their capacity to achieve academic excellence and, consequently, life success; will not impel them toward wrong-doing; and will not exonerate them from the consequences of bad behavior. Underscore, in particular, that if they do not succeed in life it will be due to their own failure to work hard.
2. Beseech them as strongly as possible to complete their high school education, in high school. Our greatest resource remains public school education; and no educational level is as important as the K-8 experience.
3. Demand that they get full time jobs, or several part-time jobs, if necessary, after their “launch” into adulthood at eighteen; and even if they do not leave the parents’ nest, or if they boomerang.
4. Insist that they wait until at least age 22 to get married or the “Contemporary Equivalent” of living together.
5. Implore them to delay creating children until after age 25, for themselves, but, especially, for the children.
TRUTH WILL OUT: Black students who complete 22 core courses in high school and earn excellent grades, score about 65% higher on standardized tests as compared with Black students who take fewer than 13 and do poorly grade-wise, and higher than white students in the latter category.
Researchers grouped students by time devoted to study into three groups – high, middle and low. Students in the highest study-time group have the lowest percentage of missed classes; are not likely to attend classes without having completed their homework; are not likely to experience behavioral problems; take the highest number of core courses; and earn 3.6 times more “A” grades than the lowest study time group in English, Social Science, Foreign Language, Science and Mathematics. In addition, the high group test highest on standardized exams.
Education, income and behavior are tightly correlated: College completion is now the most powerful predictor of economic success. In 1979, the average college graduate earned about 38% more than the average high school graduate. The figure today is nearly 80%.
Nearly 6 million Black Americans earn more than $75,000 annually, the base figure for happiness if one lives within his or her means; 3 ½ million Black people earn between $100,000 and $200,000 a year; 610,000 earn more than $200,000 a year; and more than 35,000 of us are millionaires.
If you track back to how they got these salaries, you wind up on college campuses, not in sports venues. Only 2.1% of Black women and 1.4% of Black men with BS degrees or higher are below the poverty line. In some college majors, African-Americans earn more than their white counter-parts.
The incidence of incarceration among young people who drop out of high school is more than 63 times higher than among college graduates. Nearly 70% of incarcerated men are high school dropouts.
In 1980, about 2% of the Black males incarcerated were college educated; and about 10% were high school dropouts. Currently, the college number is still about 2%, but the high school dropout incarceration is nearly 40%. (Pew Public Safety and Mobility Project, Harvard University).
It is not that Racism, for example, the major bane for Blacks in America, disappears for educated Black people; but rather that educated people are cognizant about new opportunities; are qualified to acquire available resources; know how to access the sub-systems that control their lives; and approach their world with competence and confidence.
The five “mandates” stated above, 1 – 5, are difficult to inculcate into children in low-income environments, and exceedingly challenging for their parents to enforce, especially number 1, given the signals from society directing them to accept, inculcate, and behave in keeping with historical stereotypes. But local leaders must assist families in realizing that failure at any of the caveats will retard, even prevent, children from developing the capacity to build assets for successful lives in America. The millions of African Americans who have acquired the success assets prove the success case every day.