On my way home last week from the ‘Achieving the Dream’ conference, I met a young man from Senegal named Malick. He was working at a newsstand at the Dallas Airport while he goes to a community college to learn English and to get his degree in hospitality management. His parents moved to America 25 years ago just after he was born, but Malick stayed behind in Senegal with his grandfather. A year ago, after his grandfather died at the age of 96, he moved to America. Malick speaks five African languages and French. In Senegal, there are 38 different languages spoken and the native language of the family is used when you visit someone. Malick said if he tried to speak Wolof, the national language, in the home he would have been in trouble with his grandfather even though his grandfather spoke Wolof. It was important to respect and maintain the family culture and language. Malick said the hardest thing he has ever done was to come to a country where he did not know the language. In Senegal, he never had an English or Math class so he will undoubtedly be in developmental courses but he is far from ‘stupid’. Malick talked of America as the land where dreams become reality. I suspect that with Malick’s drive, America will be his land of opportunity. Unfortunately we have many more students who come through our doors and leave with their dreams unfulfilled.
The major theme at the Achieving the Dream conference was helping students of color or low income successfully complete college. Malick grew up with a strong sense of identity so he will be able to overcome many obstacles. What happens to our students without that strong sense of identity or support? Often, we place people into categories such as low income, middle class, and rich; or black, white, Asian, and Hispanic to try to understand them. I think this can be a barrier to understanding if we believe that all people of a specific group think and act alike. Every Black man does not think alike nor does every poor White woman. How can we help someone like Malick if we only see him as a Black man? We are bound to be more effective in helping Malick if explore what drives him instead of telling him what our vision of the road to success looks like and being disappointed when he does not choose to walk our road.
Two recent studies have been published concerning Black men and their college experience. At https://www.gse.upenn.edu/equity.pdf you can read Shaun Harper’s study “Black male student success in higher education: A report from the national black male college achievement study”. This study found that almost all black men who succeeded in college had at least one influential teacher who encouraged them. The teacher’s influence went beyond teaching to seeing something special in them that became a turning point in their lives and deepened their drive to succeed. The second study is “Achieving the Dream’s Terms of Engagement: Men of Color discuss their experience in Community college” that you can find at MenOfColorInCommunityCollege.pdf. This study reported that few Black men develop a relationship with a faculty member and that one negative experience could be enough to keep them from seeking further assistance from a faculty or staff person.
The importance of relationships is important no matter what race or gender. This week I encourage you to make a stronger connection with one student. There is a student in your class who needs an extra bit of support or encouragement. You can make a huge difference to a person who might need it this week.
Bad joke to start the week
There are three kinds of people in this world; those who are good at math and those who aren’t.
We must merge our traditional sense of schooling with the real world. What we do in school must not insult the child’s past but must build upon his past and encourage future learning. (Sigmund Boloz)