Daily Archives: December 14, 2011
There was an article on Forbes.com the other day entitled If I Were A Poor Black Kid, where the author reveals his strategy to overcome adversity if he were…well, you know.
As you can imagine, the article pissed a lot of people off. Surprisingly, it didn’t offend me. He says that he would focus on getting good grades, using free resources from the internet to fill in the gaps that public education can’t and eventually working hard to get into college. Near the end he even admits that most kids don’t know the resources exist because their parents and teachers are too overworked to be able to lead them to it. It didn’t sound condescending to me, but that’s the whole point of this post:
Have I lost touch with my inner city roots?
I grew up almost-poor. I figure you’re poor if you don’t have food. I never went hungry so I wasn’t poor. But I sure as hell met all of the other criteria. I slept on the floor, couch or cot in the living room for a couple of years, no heat, hot water or gas, phone cut off for months at a time, two pair of pants, couple of $5 t-shirts from Dollar Tree, and eating out of cans with white labels and black lettering. I got my deodorant and toiletries from those little bags they gave out in gym class.
Sadly I often feel the need to validate my near-poverty growing up so as to not feel bad for where I am now. I live in a decent neighborhood. Ward 3 actually and that’s the part of DC where the rich White folk live. There’s a person at the front door downstairs and it isn’t a H-U-D cop. I distinctly remember heating water on a hot plate and pouring it into old soda bottles that I’d put in the bed with me in order to warm up at night when I was younger. Now, I just turn a knob on the wall and the room heats up. It’s nice, but I don’t take the shit for granted. I remember what it was like all those years so I’m thankful for it everyday.
Still, I don’t feel a connection like I think everyone wants me to. I remember being afraid a lot growing up. I didn’t have a neighborhood full of cousins to protect me. I ran A LOT. To the store. To the library. To the bus stop. To church. I was like that little Black boy in the old PSA’s. “My teacher says to just say no, but where I live they don’t take no for an answer. They may be afraid of the police, but they sure aren’t afraid of me.” It’s hard for me to agree with the rhetoric that “All these kids in the inner city need is someone to take an interest in them. All the schools need is funding.” I remember mysterious organizations donating stuff to our school and those little bastards would break it the first chance they got. I remember the so-called “educational” camps in the summer where college students would try to teach us about math or science and the kids in the programs would have soldering iron fights a la Star Wars or throw random chemicals from the chemistry sets at each other. There were so many instances where teachers, counselors and volunteers would throw their hands up like, “I’m never coming back here.”
I’m not saying that I don’t believe in helping youth. I’m certainly not saying that it’s a lost cause. All I’m saying is that these are some of the experiences that led eight year old me to think that most of the people around me were gonna end up in jail and that I had to do my best to get good grades so I could go to college one day and not end up in jail with them. I read encyclopedias from the 60s and 70s, I walked myself to the library and read every book I could find on any subject that interested me at the time and occasionally (but rarely) a teacher or counselor came along who pushed me in the right direction.
How is that any different than what that guy said in his article? And unlike him I don’t have say IF I was a poor Black kid because I was a almost-poor Black kid.