Friday, June 29, 2012


We often think of summer as a time for students to take a break, explore other non-academic interests, go on vacation, visit family and pursue other settings. While some of your children and teens are involved in camps, enrichment programs, and doing their required summer reading, as parents of gifted children, summer can also be a time that you spend ‘brushing up’ on your advocacy skills. With national statistics ‘screaming’ underrepresentation of black, Hispanic and native American children in gifted programs, I know that one of the best ways to address this national embarrassment is through improved parent and family advocacy.

My book, ‘Bright, Talented & Black: A guide for families of African American Gifted Learners’ was written specifically to help the African American community become more aware of gifted services and the benefits of these services for their high ability students. Since its release in 2011, the book has taken on a new life as a professional development tool for educators as well as an advocacy tool for parents. (By the way, my book has an extensive advocate’s vocabulary in the appendix. Words that all parents of gifted learners should know).

I’m excited about having educators from local districts, private schools, charter schools and university professors using my book to educate, enlighten and improve access for culturally diverse children of all groups to Gifted Programs.

I’m pleased to have the educators on board with this issue, however, I want parents and families to understand that YOUR ROLE as advocates is crucial in beginning to change the course of education in general for all diverse populations, but particularly for changing the complexion, the focus, the emphasis in public-funded gifted programs nationwide!!

To do this, parents & families need to be WELL INFORMED. My book and others in the field are written for this purpose. In addition to a great number of books, websites, blogsites also provide tremendous resources to parents everyday. These resources are available but only when we know what to look for.

I make it my business weekly if not daily, to check out resources so that I can recommend them to you. I’ve come upon a couple of very exciting blogsites recently that I MUST pass on to others. I’ve listed the blog sites below and recommend them as:


Please visit created by an ingenious, highly gifted African American student - Ashley Hill, CEO , College Prep Ready.

Other Blogs & Websites to Visit:

Hoagies gifted website

Bright, Talented & Black: papers, links, other resources

NAGC Parenting Page

Social Emotional Needs of the Gifted (SENG)

Great Books To Read: 
‘Outliers’ by Malcolm Gladwell  
‘It Worked for Me’ by Colin Powell
‘A Hand to Guide Me’  by Denzel Washington

Gifted students from diverse backgrounds NEED PARENT ADVOCATES, MENTORS, SUPPORT SYSTEMS that will help them to reach their highest potential. They need you to be involved at the  local level with schools and district administrations. They need you to attend meetings, volunteer for committees and SPEAK UP ON THEIR BEHALF!!

Well, I’m off for a few weeks of rest, and to present at a couple of conferences! I’ll join you back here on this blogsite in August. Please continue to share this blog with others and network to improve access to advanced instruction and gifted program services for all  culturally diverse learners!

We're in this together!! JLD

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Helping parents of Black gifted children navigate the maze: The lifelong commitment of mentoring

This week's guest blogger is Tiombe-bisa Kendrick, Member of the NAGC's Diversity & Equity Committee.  Tiombe is also on the Board of Directors of SENG (Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted). She works as a school psychologist who works in a district that serves many students from challenging life situations. She tells a touching story here of one young man she met, prior to his birth.

While talking with a profoundly gifted black male recently, I inquired about his future career goals. I have been acquainted with this child since his mother gave birth to him as a teenager eleven short years ago. Although this young man was born into what many would be quick to label as adverse circumstances, it seems this child was destined to excel. Prior to his birth,  his mother attended a local school designated for students who were parents. As it would turn out, his mother’s enrollment in this school was probably one of the best things she could do for his early childhood development. As a participant in the program, she was required to enroll this young man in the school’s early childhood development center which was housed on the same campus as her school. He attended this program from infancy to age three. During those three years, I believe he was exposed to language stimulation, cognitive stimulation, and activities that were critical for the development of young children.

This school also provided the mother with services such as parenting skills, supervised bonding during the school day, nutrition counseling, and medical services.   As a young preschool age child, I could remember being shocked about his ability to correctly pronounce the scientific names of dinosaurs. In the primary grades, teachers actually considered referring him to special education due to some mild behavior challenges. Looking back now, I believe these minor behavior challenges were most likely manifestations of his boredom in the classroom. I also remember some years ago I was in a local book store with this child and his mother. I found it fascinating that he seated himself with a book in the children’s section of the book store and began reading. I was shocked because neither his mother or I realized he could read. I realized at this moment, I would have to remain in this child’s life forever, if it meant his entire lifetime.

Fast forward eleven years. This child is now a rising sixth grade student. I strongly believe career planning should occur prior to enrolling in high school. I also feel very deeply that early career planning is critical for the lives of gifted students from low socioeconomic and culturally diverse backgrounds. He informed me that he loves nature and wants to become a scientist that involves dealing with nature. His revelations regarding his career goals and areas of passion engrossed me into deep thought. I began to ponder about the barriers and challenges this student would surely encounter on his educational journey.

As a school psychologist, I also recognized that he was also approaching adolescence which has many challenges of its own and would benefit from attendance at a middle school that could meet his myriad of needs including those related to his intellectual abilities. Soon thereafter, his mother called to consult me about a school she was considering enrolling him in for the upcoming school year. I was very familiar with the single gender school which has a small student-teacher ratio and a reputation for academic rigor and educational excellence. Silently I thought to myself, God is looking out for this young man as this really is the type of school he needed at this exact point in his development. I will be in attendance with  him and his mother at his upcoming school orientation. As a result of this experience, I have  learned that mentoring another person is a life commitment. I now must prepare this student and mother for the grueling and competitive worlds of middle school, high school, and college.

I will begin to educate this mother and student about national talent searches, national math and science young scholars programs, and get them familiar with terms such as AP classes, dual enrollment classes, and acceleration. Everyday I am so grateful that I am able to assist parents of gifted Black children navigate what often seems like a continuously confusing maze called ‘an equitable and excellent education’.

By :
Tiombe-Bisa Kendrick, S.S.P., NCSP
Nationally Certified School Psychologist

Join Tiombe & I at the SENG Annual convention next month in Milwaukee:


Sunday, June 10, 2012

Rising Above the ‘Triple Quandary’ of Being Young, Gifted & Culturally Diverse: Celebrating the Strengths of Diverse Gifted Learners

{This is post is dedicated to my brother, the late James Robert Lawson, Jr. whose birthday is today--one of the most  gifted people I have ever met...whose strengths were often overlooked, and thus, his gifts never fully developed. I know you're watching, Jimmy, and I hope I'm making you proud}

As a young man, William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was identified as a ‘gifted’ by school officials and embraced by community leaders who helped to provide resources to assist DuBois as he attended a predominately white, affluent high school in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. Du Bois, the son of a single mother, excelled in the school environment, published his first writings early, and became well known within the community (Lewis, 1993).

In 1890, Du Bois was the first African American to earn a graduate degree from Harvard University. While he excelled and was successful as a student and young leader, he was often challenged by his ‘double consciousness’, that of ’being an American and being a Negro’ at the same time.  I would daresay that part of his struggle was also that he was profoundly gifted and functioning in a predominately white environment posed certain challenges for the young black scholar.  In his own words, DuBois noted:

“one ever feels his two-ness, an American, a Negro, two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings, two warring souls in one dark body, whose ‘dogged strength’ alone keep it from being asunder”

Many years later, Dr. A. Wade Boykin, noted African American scholar, wrote and provided some clarification of this ‘double consciousness’ as he researched the challenges faced by many African American students who find themselves having to cope with the oppression of the minority experience in America, live in mainstream society, and maintain their black legacy and traditions (Boykin, 1996). Boykin’s ‘triple quandary’ theory described a complex existence of these young people- likening their condition to a quandary- which is defined as a ‘dilemma, predicament, jam, or a sticky situation’.

These students often find themselves often having to live in three worlds simultaneously: Being a member of an oppressed culturally diverse/minority group; being gifted; and being a participant in mainstream society. As challenging as this ‘triple quandary’ existence appears to be—there is documentation that some minority group learners have also shared that they possess their own forms of ‘dogged strength’ characterized by a strong sense of identity/purpose, ability to rise above negative circumstances, and have a confidence that enables them to self-actualize, envisioning themselves as positive and successful in the future. Students who have shared their unique abilities to succeed despite external circumstances and biases they face on a regular basis - appear to have some traits in common (Davis, 2007; Grantham, 2002; Hrabowski, Maton, & Greif,1998):

Ø  they have a family member or other person who has been a strong source of support;
Ø  they have found a peer from a similar community with similar goals;
Ø  they participated in an advanced educational program or had a mentor; and
Ø  they are often encouraged by their circumstances to ‘prove the stereotypes wrong’.

This is a verbatim quote from a successful gifted high school female living under challenging circumstances. Her words demonstrate an exceptional confidence in her ability to survive and rise above her day-to-day circumstances.  

‘Being that my home environment is not as lavish as some of my peers, I feel that it keeps my self-image as an achieving student alive. When people see my home and..surroundings, they’d expect me to be of low education or incapable of educational success, because let’s face it, that’s the unavoidable stereotype….my environment encourages me to be successful in school in order to prove the stereotypes wrong’ (Davis, 2007).

An APPEAL to Parents, Families, Community leaders & School Personnel-

Each of you plays a critical role in the success of our students. In all communities are countless numbers of highly creative, intellectually gifted young people, who are looking for someone to believe in them. Someone to believe that they are ‘wise beyond their years’, and they have the ‘creativity and courage’ to work through the daily challenges. They are looking for someone who is willing to provide opportunities that match with their abilities & needs.

I encourage you to advocate and create programs at schools and in the community where they can interact with students who look like them and share the same interests. I encourage you to support their dreams and visions for success, listen to them, and take their concerns about being ‘different’ and sometimes ‘being misunderstood’ seriously.

I encourage you to expose them to successful adults from their communities who have gone through life’s difficulties, left the challenging circumstance (or ‘made it out’) and have a ‘life story’ to offer as encouragement. These young people are counting on us to believe that they have what it takes to succeed even if they sometimes feel like they are in the ‘strange predicament’ or feel ‘out of place’ or that no one understands their plight.

In closing, I must admit that this is a very complex and sometimes controversial subject, the very notion that students from challenging environments can be successful, has not been entirely embraced by the educational community. We tend to look more at what they can’t do -deficit perspective,  than what then can do- strengths perspective (Ford, 2010). This is just a continuation of the conversation. There is more to share than can be discussed in this limited space.

The purpose of this blog is to enlighten more advocates and share information that you may not have had access to before. There are numerous resources that can be provided, I’ve listed a few here and hope that they will help you to help these talented young people out of the ‘quandary’ of their daily existence into a life of hope and realized dreams.

Boykin, A.W. (1996). The triple quandary and the schooling of Afro-American children, pp57-92. In U. Neisser, Ed. The School Achievement of Minority Children. Hillsdale, NJ:Erlbaum Associates.
Davis, J.L. (2007). An exploration of the impact of family on the achievement of African American gifted learners originating from low income environments. Unpublished manuscript.
Ford, D.Y. (2010). Reversing Underachievement Among Black Gifted Students, 2nd Ed. NY: Teacher’s College Press
Grantham, T.C. (2002). Rocky Jones: a case study of a high achieving Black male’s motivation to participate in gifted classes. Roeper Review, 26(4), 208-215.
Hrabowski,F. A., Maton, K.I.,Greif,G.A.(1998). Beating the odds: Raising academically successful African American males. New York: Oxford University Press.
Lewis, D.L. (1993). W.E.B. Du Bois, Vol. 1: Biography of a race, 1868-1919. New York: Henry Holt.

Other Recommended Books
A Hand to Guide Me (2006)- Denzel Washington, Actor & Philanthropist
Bright, Talented & Black: A Guide for families of African American Gifted Learners (2010).  Dr. Joy Lawson Davis
Dreamkeepers: Successful Teachers of African American children (1994). Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings
It Worked for Me (2012)- General Colin Powell with T. Koltz
Reversing Underachievement in Black Gifted Children, 2nd Ed. (2011) –Dr. Donna Y. Ford
The Pact: Three young men make a promise and fulfill a dream (2003)- Drs. S.Davis, G. Jenkins & R. Hunt
Special Populations of Gifted Learners: Understanding our most able students from diverse backgrounds (2010)- Drs. Jaime A. Castellano & Andrea D. Frazier

Exemplary Programs/Info Websites
Jack Kent Cooke Scholars/Foundation
Meyerhoff Scholars Program, University of Maryland, Baltimore County
Project EXCITE- Northwestern University-
Sponsors for Educational Opportunity-
Uplift, Inc –Washington DC

All rights reserved by Joy Lawson Davis, Ed.D. Reproduction without written permission of the author is strictly prohibited.