I originally wrote this article a few years back for the Huffington Post. The message is just as relevant today. What are the expectations we are setting for our students? How are we acknowledging the inevitable struggles that come from growing up in the hood while at the same time setting our kids up to be able to face what this world will undoubtedly through at them? Important questions. Leave your thoughts.
Let’s start this the right way, congrats to all my young black men that just graduated from high school. I know this is a huge moment for you and you are currently taking it all in this summer. This article is for the adults in your life but you are more than welcomed to read this. If you are new to my posts, I specialize in black male achievement. Feel free to read some of the other posts I have written.
I’m blessed to be a part of a collective called the College Bound Brotherhood 2.0 (look them up, Google is great for that type of thing). Their primary function is to support young black males through all levels of education with the purpose of getting these individuals into and through college. Every year, the Brotherhood rents out the Oakland Museum and throw a huge graduation celebration for all the black males graduating from high school in the Bay area. It’s always a beautiful moment.
This year it was packed beyond capacity. So much, in fact, that overflow rooms were opened. There was so much pride and hope in that room. It was powerful. The applause for these young men roared through the building.
As I sat there, it took me back to my own graduation. It took me back to seeing how proud my parents were. It felt good because it felt like I crossed a finish line of sorts. See, for my family, as with many other families out there, this whole graduation thing was new. As I sat in my chair at the museum, this phrase just kept repeating in my head, “Applaud with caution.” That voice got louder and louder, almost as if it was trying to drown out the celebration. But why?
It was because of the expectations we set for our community and more specifically our young men. We have a responsibility as the folks that came before them to properly instill the expectation of greatness and not merely the minimum. Our expectation are so low it hurts my feelings. Seriously! All of these young men were on their way to college. Some were going off to a two-year college, some four-year universities. Some were staying local while others were moving clear across the country. It was emotional to see nearly 200 black young men in that positive light. The community’s role is and has been clear to me. As someone that these young men are looking at and listening to we have an obligation to learn and master the art of applauding with caution.
Since you are reading this, you are (at least in my mind) signing on to do this so let me explain what I mean. What the term means is that we lift up our people and show them their greatness and potential while putting them on the hook for it. We let our young men know that we are proud of them, we are proud that they are not selling drugs. We let our young men know that we are happy that they are not incarcerated. We let them know that we are relieved that so many of them completed the largest milestone in their life thus far by graduating from high school in neighborhoods that have lost more people that look like them than has been lost in the Iraq war.
However, we let them know that they are far from done and while they may have completed a lap in the race of life, the finish line is still quite a ways off. Not only do we expect them to perform but we expect them to perform at a high level. We tell our young people, “Young black man, I expect you to not only graduate from college, but I expect you to wreck shop there!” We acknowledge that they may be starting from behind in many cases to which we say tell them that we know and yet we still expect greatness. We tell them to tap into campus resources and make it happen. We celebrate these folks when they graduate college.
We then tell these young men that when they graduate from college that it is just one more lap in the race of life. Still quite a ways from the finish line. We tell them that they are expected to create a living for themselves that in turn lifts up their community. We tell them to create a career that they can be proud of. We tell them that they are expected to excel there as well. We tell them that we expect them to help guide the folks that are coming in behind them.
Our work is still not done as the folks holding these young men in both high esteem and responsibility. Nope. We tell them that if they decide to have families that they build strong ones. We tell them that we expect them to treat their wives like queens. We tell them that they build a family so strong that we make significant strides in rebuilding the black family unit that it affects our communities. We tell them that they set high expectations for their children.
As you can see, our young men have a lot of work in front of them but hopefully you all see your role in this. We play a large role. Low expectations have robbed our community of so much. I want to be clear about something, I am aware of the society we live in. I’m very aware. I know the importance of Affirmative Action and the Voting Rights Act and I am a strong supporter of such legislation. I don’t want that to get misconstrued. I love my people. I love working with youth so much that I have dedicated my life to it and it pains me — it truly hurts me — to see the expectations being so low. They were extremely low for me. I can only imagine where I could be if I were held to a higher standard and dammit our young men don’t have to feel that. I expect this from folks that may not be a part of our community, whether that is a good or bad thing, I take responsibility and the criticism for that feeling. I have higher expectations from my own community though.
I’ll speak to the young men in a different article but I’m speaking to you. You reading this on your phone or iPad or computer. Whether you read this because you follow my blogs or you stumbled over here after surfing the net, you are here for a reason. You have power here. Real power. I don’t care if you didn’t complete the fifth grade or have a Ph.D, you have a responsibility and you can make a difference. It is a tough fight and we may lose some but we work to serve all. So again, I ask you to join me and “applaud with caution.” Set high expectations for the youth of our community. We need them to excel; mind, body and soul. It is important and it will take the efforts of us all. You can save lives with your support. We need you. Thank you for reading what I had to say.
– Cole Out