American Promise: The Struggle with Youth and Cultural Identity at PWI’s

American Promise (2013)

American Promise (2013)

American Promise is a pretty insightful film. Maybe not in the way the filmmakers intended, but it gave me more insight into the shared experiences of many students of color, especially Black students, in schools where they are drastically underrepresented. American Promise tells the story of two Black males from Brooklyn, NY, Idris Brewster and Oluwaseun (Seun) Summers, and their journey at a prestigious, historically White private school on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, The Dalton School. Both of the students begin the school in kindergarten, but due to academic challenges, Seun leaves Dalton after eighth grade to attend a predominately Black, public high school. While the documentary’s purpose seems to be to show the difficulty Black Males experience in a predominately White School due to a difference in treatment by administrators and teachers, to me, it more-so reflects the cultural identity struggles that students of color experience when attending predominately White institutions. As an African American whose educational background is somewhat similar to Seun’s (I started off at a private PWI in elementary and later transferred to a predominately Black school during middle school), I have selected three scenes in the documentary that I identify with. Hopefully, these shared experiences will shed light on a few of the cultural identity challenges many of us face during childhood, when we do not see a strong representation of ourselves in our schools.

1)     Seun’s mom wants him to feel comfortable around White people, because she does not.

Somewhere in the beginning of the documentary, when asked why she wants Seun to attend Dalton, Seun’s mom in true transparency tells the camera that she wants Seun to be comfortable around White people because she is not. How loaded of a statement is that? The belief that attending school with White people will make one more comfortable around them, can be argued, especially for me, but there is also the implication of the opposite of her statement. By being one of two or three Black people in a class, and one of a handful in the school, over time, how will that affect the way the child feels around Black people, specifically, Black people who are not being socialized by private, prestigious, predominately White schools such as Dalton and the like?

I related to this because of the well-intentioned beliefs of our parents who choose to sacrifice and work very hard to put us in schools like Dalton. I am grateful that my mother and grandmother worked hard to give me a “better” education, but where I can relate to Seun’s mother’s statement is in our parents’ beliefs of what qualifies as “better.” More challenging academics, exposure, and resources, yes, I agree that those qualities make for an awesome educational experience, but socializing children, especially students of color, to talk in a certain way, not have an opinion, look a certain way, “behave” a specific way, and basically fall in line with the majority to allow white people to feel comfortable around THEM (because it’s never about US feeling comfortable around THEM) is a crap-load of respectability politics that is extremely harmful to the child and can take a lifetime to unlearn.

2)     Idris is teased by the kids on his neighborhood basketball team (mostly Black) because of the way he talks.

This scene pulled at my heartstrings, not only because I’ve experienced it, but also because every Black person with a similar educational background can probably tell you the same story. There is a huge struggle with being true to yourself, which is speaking however you have been taught in school, to fitting in with those who look like you, live near you, and often, live WITH you. I don’t feel bad for adults of color who constantly complain and rant, usually on social media, about people saying they “talk white” because I have found that they typically fall into one of two categories, 1) those who want to be perceived as smarter, better, or in my mind “more White” than others in their racial group, or 2) those who typically sound stupid anyway but they need a reason to pat themselves on the back. It’s all a bunch of attention-seeking nonsense to me, but watching a middle school Idris, honestly explain learning to codeswitch hurt my heart. I wanted to hug that little boy through the screen and tell him to love himself, and don’t worry about those who are teasing him because its only their hurt speaking because they have not yet learned to love themselves. Love them and love you, but love you more because that’s the only way you can truly, genuinely love them.

 

3)     Idris asks wouldn’t it be easier to be white since none of the girls (White) at his school wanted to dance with him at the Bar Mitzvahs or seemed to be attracted to him.

I didn’t mention it earlier, but the entire documentary was filmed by Idris’s parents, Joe and Michele. In this one scene, Idris, who I believe was in eighth grade at this point, was speaking to his Dad who was holding the camera. His father asked if he ever kissed a girl or did he want to kiss a girl, which was extremely awkward on camera, and Idris went on to tell him how none of the girls like him, and everything would be easier if he was White. He asked his Dad was this true, in hopes of receiving some validation of his belief, but his Dad did not answer, he just let him ask several times with no response. I hope that his father spoke to him off camera, but it was one of the harder to watch scenes in the film for me. I remember being one of two and sometimes three, Black students in my class throughout my elementary education at a private school, and as ashamed as I am now, I experienced the same thoughts, only I did not talk to anyone about them because I didn’t think anyone else could understand, and at that time, I was right.

In first or second grade, one of my classmates had a birthday party at her house, and she invited most of the girls in the class, except for me. When me and my bestie at the time asked her why, she explained that her grandmother did not like Black people so I could not come into her house. I brushed it off and pretended not to care. I buried the experience deep, so deep that I didn’t even remember it until over twenty years later when my department did a team exercise where we had to talk about a painful time related to one of our identities. That was mine.

Would I place my own children in a predominately white school in order to provide them with the best formalized education possible? I’m not sure. I am not yet a parent, but I do understand the desire to provide your children with the best resources possible to better the chances of them having a successful life. The problem is that as I mature, my definition of success changes and therefore so do the desires I hold for my unborn children. Right now, my greatest desire is to raise a Black child who is self-secure and free. Free from society-imposed standards, free from living for others, free from self-doubt, and most of all, free to be whomever he or she wishes to be. Maybe raising my child to be free has less to do with the formal learning institution and more to do with the learning they do outside of the classroom. Either way, one thing I know is that we must work on being free parents in order to raise free children, regardless of the source of their formalized education.

 

American Promise is currently available on Netflix under “Documentaries.”

Asking The Right Questions: Researching Company Culture

Photo Courtesy of https://unsplash.com/

Photo Courtesy of https://unsplash.com/

Part 1 of our 3 Part Company Culture Series

Imagine it’s Monday morning, you have just adjusted into your slightly uncomfortable desk chair and you are waiting for your computer to boot up when into your cubicle walks your boss. Take a deep breath, you remind yourself. It’s not that you’re nervous as much as you were not yet mentally prepared to deal with her at this point. “Tameka, I need you to do …” and she continues to rattle off a list of mundane, busy work for you to accomplish for the day as she does every day, all day. If you are like me, what do you do? You scroll your favorite job site as soon as she walks away in hopes of finding something more fulfilling, but before you jump to apply to that cool position that seems to utilize your gifts, be in line with your purpose, and pay you a salary worthy of the talented and skilled professional you are, STOP. That’s right, do not collect twenty dollars and do not pass go. It’s time to research your prospective company’s culture. Here are three questions to consider when researching a company’s culture.

1.What necessary traits must my next company have for me to feel like I belong?

This may sound simple, but as minorities, we have all been somewhere where we just didn’t feel we belonged. A big part of creating a sense of belonging and community is feeling completely comfortable being yourself, uncompromisingly in your environment. Does this new environment embrace your differences? Do you need a community of others who look like you to feel at your best at work, or are you perfectly fine with being the only person of your background in your department or company?

2. Does this company fit my lifestyle?

This question kind of piggy backs off of number one. Are you a parent? Do you need an employer who is understanding and flexible given the needs of your child or children? Maybe you are a caretaker for a parent and you occasionally need a late start or to leave early to take your loved one to an appointment? Maybe you need to work evenings because you have other responsibilities during the day. It is important to think of our careers as a part of our full life, and not as our life.

3. Does this company respect my boundaries?

Some of us have no problem working late with little to no notice, others? Not happening, and guess what? Both responses are right. Your boundaries in the workplace especially how far outside of your job description and duties you are willing to go is completely up to you. How often do we hear that voicing the infamous 4-word phrase “That’s not my job” is career suicide? Or makes the person saying it the worst type of employee? There’s reasoning behind these beliefs .Employers want employees who are as invested in the company’s success as possible. They want people who can cover all bases, and have a great attitude while doing it, and while this makes complete sense, it is not to say that we, as employees, don’t have the right to set boundaries. After all, we are defined by more than our jobs. The problem falls in not choosing companies that will respect our boundaries. A great example of this is a company in my past that really valued work-life balance. Although salaried, with this company I was able to come in late on days when I was expected to work late. There were also a variety of employee time-off benefits such as flexible scheduling, comp time, vacation time, company holiday breaks, and Summer Fridays. In this position, I did not have to make a stink about working long hours because the company culture reflected my value of work/life balance.

 

Whatever is important for you to work at your best and be at your best are all things that you should consider when researching a potential employer. Like families, neighborhoods, cities, and different groups, each company has a unique culture. Because you don’t feel “apart” of a certain culture does that make it wrong? Not necessarily, it can mean you need more time and to be more open to adjust, or it can simply mean it’s not the best place for YOU to thrive. There is so much more to consider in regards to company culture including politics, mobility, and communication structure. Although we will cover those areas in future posts, please check in next week for the 2nd part of our Company Culture series to learn of 3 great research tools, and to answer the question of “How do I get the real deal about a company’s culture?”

 

Every Piece Will Get You There

Photo Courtesy of http://www.freeimages.com/

Photo Courtesy of http://www.freeimages.com/

 

As a first-generation college graduate and professional, I know how easy it is to get caught up in the work-a-holic culture that is extremely popular in the era of start-ups, remote access, and #TeamNoSleep, however, it is equally as important to remember that those experiences outside of your 9-5 not only make you unique, but they also serve as building blocks for your life.  The goal is not to just be an expert at our jobs, and fail miserably at all of the other roles we occupy, but rather to live up to our fullest potential. To do this, we can’t ignore the things about us that make us who we are.

I’ve loved writing since I learned how to hold a pencil. The way that I could paint pictures with words excited me. I was so entranced by the written word, that at around age five or six, I announced to my family that my new writing name was Dasia (pronounced Deja) Deveroux. With a subconscious love for alliteration and the last name of my favorite Golden Girl, I went on to write composition books of poems, stories, and random lists and shared them with my family for years until I grew up and learned that living in “La La Land” was not going to help me get into college or be successful. Dasia was dead.

It wasn’t until I after a stressful period in my life, right after college, when I couldn’t find a job, my confidence was nonexistent, and I was at one of the lowest points in my life, that I decided to write again. First, I started writing a bunch of depressing journal entries, and although when I read them now, I think “ Girl, take a chill pill. This is far too emo”, at that time, writing in the journal helped me to see my life more clearly, vent my frustration, and ultimately, find peace. As I began feeling better, I would write advice to myself, much of it business-related, as at that time I was job searching and studying best practices for finding a job for hours on end. One day, I had the bright idea to share some of the thoughts I was having during my job search with one of my favorite online magazines, Madame Noire Business, and a few weeks later, I was published. I ended up freelancing for that site for a couple of years and it built my confidence and was a great talking point when I interviewed for jobs in my desired and completely unrelated career field.

Writing may not be something that is a MAJOR part of my career right now or in the future, but does that make it less valuable to me? Not at all. Writing finds me when I’m lost. Writing is my interesting portion of the “Tell me about yourself” answer. Writing is an outlet for my creativity, creativity that serves as an asset in every job I do. Writing is how I best express my love to my family. Writing is a part of me.

Which one of your passions is not perfectly at home in your 9-5 but adds to the value of your life? Are you nurturing it? Do you trust that even in times when you do not see how it is benefitting you, it has, is, and will help you get to where you need to be? Remember, every PIECE will get you there.

 

Be Love!

 

P.S. Writing this made me think of the following Bible Verse: Romans 8:28King James Version (KJV)

28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

College is Not for Me!

college-undecided

Photo Courtesy of https://unsplash.com.

 

“College is not for me.” is one of the most common statements I have heard throughout my higher education and mentoring career. Although a college degree is not necessary to claim financial independence and success, it serves as a letter of permission to suit up for many People of Color who strive to set foot on the corporate career playing field, let alone, attempt to even it.

A 2014 study, by the national non-profit Young Invincibles, entitled Closing the Race Gap reported that African American millennials have to earn two educational levels higher than their white counterparts in order to have the same employment opportunities. The report went on to say that African Americans and Whites have nearly the same chance of employment with high education levels (pg. 8). The findings of the first part of this report are nothing new to People of Color, especially African Americans. Many of us grew up with the same words of wisdom from our elders, “You have to work twice as hard to get half as much.” It’s a sad reality, but not many will deny that it is still a reality.

The second part of the finding, I find hard to believe (as did a few commenters who shared their feedback on the non-profit’s site). As a Masters-level professional who was led to career-writing to encourage others who may relate to my experience, I have come across countless People of Color, especially African Americans, who are highly educated and qualified, and drastically underemployed. At the risk of coming across completely crazy, I must admit that I have found underemployment to be worse the unemployment. This is very much due to my  past experience working the same job I worked in high school, years later, only with 2 degrees, years of internship and professional experience, debt that amounted to a pretty healthy down payment on a 3 bedroom house, and a defeated spirited.

Knowing what I know now, do I still believe college is for me and you? YES! YES! YES! Although my college degree did not pay off immediately after graduation,  “Sallie Mae” and “Navient” have been added to my list of bad words, and throughout my career most of my equally-paid (or so I think) peers have had less education and experience, I am finally at a place where I can say my degrees opened doors. My degrees got me in rooms that would not be open to me without them even if those rooms were made more easily accessible to those who do not look like me. My college experience taught me valuable lessons about business, networking, and life. That experience combined with my struggle in and after college have grown me, and I am a firm believer that your higher education experience will grow you as well. So yes, I do believe that college may not be for everybody, but I do believe it is for us.

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