Nicole Franklin shares how boys need to feel the love from their school community to keep from emotionally dropping out of school.
“I have five boys. We sit and we talk and I make them understand that this world is not easy.” This young mother is an African immigrant living in the state of New Jersey raising five young men who excel in school. Her middle school-aged son is an A student who just received a semester grade of F in one of his classes. His mother is now on a mission to find out why. She begins by going directly to her son.
The 12 year old tells his mother, “I didn’t want to work.”
I executive produce a documentary film series titled Little Brother (LittleBrotherFilm.com) focusing on the emotional lives of black boys aged nine to thirteen years old. According to prominent scholar Dr. Jwanzaa Kunjufu this is the period primarily when the young men of the United States “emotionally drop out” of school. I have committed myself to observe the African American community for this 10-chapter film series to determine if Black boys feel the support there—the love there—from their school community, their residential community, and their home. Do Black boys know that they are valued from birth? When media images have them assuming the position for stop and frisk, branded a thug after a hyped up sports win, and fatally shot from having the car radio on blast, then there is little room to feel deserving of a kind word or an excellent grade in school.
I have witnessed plenty of African American mothers and fathers actively involved in their son’s schoolwork. I would like to think that striving for a top education is considered kind of cool since our President is a daily example of what is possible when plans for a basketball career are put on hold (it’s ok, President Obama—we appreciate that you once held on to those hoop dreams, but you have to admit life didn’t turn out too bad).
There is plenty to discuss on the personal side when talking about the entry points of love when Black boys hit puberty—their sense of family, their crushes, their bond through brotherhood. The truth is, in normal circumstances, most of their day is spent in school. And, during these times when they are up against so many barriers to their positive sense of self, there needs to be a conscious community effort to see them succeed.
To venture behind a young man’s statement “I didn’t want to work,” we have to look beyond the words and consider the circumstances, the persons of interest, and the vulnerability of the youth before us. Why would consistency across the board have A’s, not B’s, being a young man’s standard of excellence, demonstrative of his commitment to his mother’s belief in him? And as the mother quickly determined after confronting her son, why would a teacher not like her son in particular?
I have come to know this mother and I can confirm that she has indeed given the teacher the benefit of the doubt. She is personally making sure the homework is turned in and checking in daily with her son to make sure he is not speaking inappropriately and addressing the instructor with respect. With grades at the end of last semester suggesting he only had one area in need of serious improvement, the son had one request: “Do me a favor, Mom. Just give me one last chance.”
A couple of months in this same class have now passed. The student: “Mommy, she gave me a D on my paper and she still has me at an F.
Mother: “Really? Did you say this to her?”
Student: “Yes, I showed it to her…”
Data is where the truth lies as we strive for a society based on fact versus assumption. This particular situation illustrates a systemic breakdown that an immigrant parent of color is prepared to address. According to the mother, “So many things I’m supposed to do in this world I can’t do them because I decided to sit and take care of my boys. I don’t want to come here throwing tantrums…if it doesn’t work the peaceful way, then we’ll try other ways.” Her frustration will not go unnoticed. In this case, she has indeed held court with the teacher, the principal and one of the school’s top district officials. She has come armed with obvious grade discrepancies. This force in front of them is a mother who loves her son and knows his abilities.
The emotional toll it takes on a parent of color who sees in her son the ability that he can achieve anything in this country, is an uphill battle. Because this child may see himself as the cause of an embattled parent’s angst, his once innocent view of the world is going to change—especially if he suspects his actions may have instigated this latest struggle. He knows his mother loves him enough to make multiple visits to the school on his behalf. But, as she ends up in a cycle of anxiety, he may react in a variety of ways—none of which he was originally on track to do. He was on track to succeed.
I am choosing to stay tuned to their story. I can already see that it is not going to be a fair fight. Fair warning to the school since this mother became a warrior for her son’s life from the day he was born. She states: “You can’t get A’s everywhere else and an F in this one class. They kill the mind! Make the child feel like he doesn’t want to go to school. If a teacher gives only F’s, no one is going to look at anything else. People are only looking at the record.”
And there are many records these young men are currently being asked to face. People of all races must love these boys enough to make sure everything adds up.