The Big Disconnect

This piece was written by Reginald Barbour, a father of two boys in Washington D.C.

The new school year has started and as much as I was excited, I was also nervous. My children – ages 6 and 10 – were starting first and fifth grades respectively. They attend the same high-performing school with its loving and nurturing environment that has enveloped my children in proverbial hugs every day that they’ve been students at their school. Both kids have gotten off to great starts this year. They have great teachers, friends, excitement – the whole shebang…the whole nine yards.

 

Then why am I nervous?

When I ask myself why I'm nervous, I realize there is a multitude of reasons. From being nervous about whether they will have successful school years to being completely frightened about raising two black boys in a time when we, yet again, find ourselves having to openly and publicly prove our worth and our reason for being. Dust off that record. We’re singing “We’re Black and We’re Proud”…again.

 

I’m nervous as a dad who enjoys witnessing his children grow and learn new things everyday, but who also knows that at some point we’re going to have to have the conversations. We will talk about driving while black, shopping while black, wearing a hoodie while black, being pulled over by the police while black, surviving while black, and understanding how all of this matters simply because we’re black.

 

I really just want to go to soccer practice and watch them play with their white, black, Hispanic, Asian, and Indian friends – without the drama. I don’t want to have to share my experiences with them about being pulled over for no reason and forced to feel like a criminal when I was just driving home from work; but I will. I don’t want to talk to them about being raised and reminded to always stay “two steps ahead” of my white counterparts because we have to work twice as hard as they do to make less money; but I will.

 

Which reminds me, in the pit of my stomach, that I know there is a serious disconnect with our society when it comes to education. For those of us who believe in and advocate for high quality educational options for all, there’s a disconnect at the end of our K-16 road. I have seen and stood beside education advocates and parents of all colors demanding and fighting for education reform all across this country. We want our children to be “career and/or college ready.” We celebrate high school graduations and send them off to college only to celebrate even more when they complete their higher education goals.

Insert that disconnect here.

Looking at the professional workforce that propels people into at least the middle class, typically, I don’t see the diversity that we fought for in K-12 education. What happened? Where are the advocates who fought to have education equality for all? Our children followed the path. They graduated. They’re ready and capable. And yet, they are still passed over for jobs. I’m guessing it’s because they applied while black.

Why is there a disconnect between fighting for high-quality educational options for communities and families that have historically been marginalized to hiring them for positions that will give them the economic freedoms this country has to offer? There’s a big difference in saying we need more diversity at the table and giving up your seat at said table in order to see diversity actually happen. If you believe in equity in education for all, how can we get that to translate to your hiring practices and decisions?

So you see, as a dad, I have a lot to be nervous about. My two handsome, wonderful, intelligent, creative, black sons who are destined to be leaders deserve to live in a world where good matters, and fair treatment matters, and empathy exists, and tolerance matters. They need a world that for once, allows them to do all things while black without having any reason at all to feel nervous.

I live for that day, America.