Beating the Odds: Raising Academically Successful African American Males

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January—February Illinois Alumni Magazine. The National Academies. Inside Ed. Baltimore Sun. Retrieved April 18, History Makers Project.


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Chapter 1, "Successful African American Males and Their Families," sets the context for the book, and chapter 2, "Father-Son Relationships: The Father's Voice," shows the significant role fathers have played in the development of these students. Chapter 3, "Mother-Son Relationships: The Mother's Voice," explores the roles of mothers and the investment they have in their sons.

Chapter 6, "Parenting African American Males for the Twenty-first Century: What We Have Learned," offers specific advice and guidance on essential strategies for effective parenting: 1 child-focused love; 2 strong limit setting and discipline; 3 continually high expectations; 4 open, consistent, and strong communication; 5 positive racial identification and positive male identification; and 6 drawing on community resources.

There are a lot of brilliant people who just did not have the opportunity but can somehow use that brain power to help their children. It was most important for the boys to give them examples of people who were not nerds, but who were smart. Think about it.

Beating the Odds: Raising Academically Successful African American Males

What black boy in American society on TV in the s and s was known for his brains? There was only one. His name was Steve Erkel, a quintessential geek little boy who had his pants up to his chin. The reality is, we do not have examples of cool kids who are smart. We need a lot of smart Doogie Howsers. Just think about it. We need more smart little girls on TV. Our kids do not see the examples. I just want you to hear this because you never know the background of a child in your class.

I am going to share with you an essay written in a freshman class by a very polished young woman. The professor was so taken by it that she sent it to me, and I was so touched that I made it the beginning of the first chapter of our book, which discussed successful African American women and their families.

This is what she wrote: 3.

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As I walk toward my house, I look to my right and we see a couple of drug addicts sitting on what used to be my aunt's favorite couch and enjoying the comforts of her once humble abode. On the steps there sits a high-school drop out, no older than the age of 17, counting the money he earned from selling drugs. At the corner, the mother of a local drug kingpin took on his responsibility after he was killed in cold blood.

My parents always stressed the importance of a good education and taught me to strive to be the best. What you don't know is that I have witnessed the effects of drugs and alcohol firsthand with them, and it has taught me that drugs are not the way to deal with life's bleak realities.

I use society as my motivation to excel in all that I do. As a teenage, black female, I am not expected to do well. There is a sense of satisfaction in knowing that I have achieved more than was expected. Even more important, I achieved more than I expected. My hard work paid off.

This is a young woman who is now a college junior, with a 3. What made the difference? In the Meyerhoff Program, we write poetry together. I want the students to be broadly educated and not just technicians.

Beating the Odds : Raising Academically Successful African American Males

The biggest challenge you face with so many young people is that there are a million ways they can get off track. The Meyerhoff scholars are bright kids who come in with scores between and on the SATs, and they have high grades and they have had advanced placement chemistry in high school. The fact is that, if we did not spend a lot of time supporting them and holding discussion groups about what it means to be smart, black, and love science, and if we did not kick their butts, while loving them, most would change their majors.

What happens if I were a student who wanted to be accepted by my friends, but my friends spent one-third the amount of time studying and still could get Bs in the social sciences? In the meantime, I am working so hard to get an A, or sometimes a B or even below a B. If I am not careful, even though I might like Dr. Summers' lab, I could move toward a much easier life if I majored in political science and became a lawyer.

Our students might entertain these thoughts, if we did not get involved. There is good news on our campus, where 11, students are enrolled; 9, are undergraduates and 2, are graduate students. We are producing between 50 and 60 Ph. Sixty percent of the undergraduate students major in science and engineering, with the typical student belonging to an honor society. One of the things that makes our university competitive is that we have so many first-generation Americans—whether they are from Russia, one of the Asian countries, Nigeria, or the Islands—and they are all focused.

They are hungry. They push my typical American student, black or white, to do more. We have worked to create an environment in the Meyerhoff Program where the most prestigious people are the highest achievers.

That is why I make chess a big deal on our campus. We are the national chess champions.

African-American Males and Academic Success - Dr. Ivory Toldson and Mr. Charles Gibbs.

I am very proud of that. We actually give chess scholarships. The chess team has black, white, Asian, and all kinds of students participating in chess tournaments. The goal is to create a climate in which it is great to be smart and to create a climate in which people talk about the sciences.

I stress this.

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Look at the black kids and the white kids. Many—not all, but many—are talking about the party from the night before. It is part of American society.


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We have worked to encourage group study for all students. The chemistry involved has a wonderful effect on faculty and everybody, so that the students are involved in group study, with heavy emphasis on tutorials. The chemistry tutorial center is a place you go, not because you want to pass, but because you want to be the best. There is no stigma attached to it. That makes the difference. UMBC is working with companies to discuss multilevel partnerships.

From my perspective, if we are going to make a difference, we must develop the kinds of partnerships that will work with kids from high school through the postdoctoral level—and do so in such a way that we know where those students are the entire time. For instance, I still have an NSF grant that allows me to monitor all the hundreds of students who have gone on to graduate and professional schools.

As well prepared as they are, they still need that push from time to time.

We want to encourage the students to use email and work with each other, so that when things get tough, there are other people they can talk to—for example, to talk about what it means to be the only black physics Ph. I encourage you to look at ways of identifying students with the ability and giving them the support. You have to have it at all levels, but I am emphasizing the time through high school. We enroll students from 45 states and 91 countries, but some of my best students come from right outside of Washington in Montgomery and Prince Georges counties—from Roosevelt High School and Montgomery Blair High School.

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