Monday, October 8, 2012
Raising a Gifted African American Male:One mother’s story
"As the mother of a gifted young man I am humbled to share my story. My African American son entered a rural area public school at upper elementary level after having attended a private, independent school during his earlier years. Even then, we knew that he was different, he had boundless energy, was excited about learning anything new, able to write cursive during preschool and was an early reader. His preschool teachers encouraged us to allow him to be ‘skipped’ but we decided against it. After enrolling in the public school, he became comfortable, entered a spelling bee and easily won first place for the entire 4th grade.
The day after the spelling bee, he brought home an envelope marked ‘TAG’ from the Talented & Gifted department. While we applauded the administration’s swift recognition of his potential, the challenges were just beginning. After identification, he was clustered with predominately White and Asian classmates who scoffed at the idea that he could be gifted. My family and church prayed with and for him as he remained ambitious and jovial. Extended family encouraged him by sharing their stories of trial and triumphs from integrating school during segregation to discriminating experiences in the workplace. As a village we were molding my youngster to overcome.
There are times when he has struggled with ‘fitting in’. It began with disruptive classroom behavior in electives where he had some friends, to acting out on the school bus to prove he was a “bad boy”. At home, he shared his feelings of being ostracized by other black students for being in classes with mostly Whites and Asians. He also explained the contempt of the gifted program classmates (those very students) when they openly discussed his being a part of their “clique“. Clearly there was an internal conflict. He wanted to fit in with those who were teasing him about “acting white” and at the same time, he felt being in the gifted classes was where he belonged. He tried to demonstrate that he was just one of ‘the boys’ by being disrespectful to teachers. On the other hand, he was adamant to stand his academic ground in core classes with the other ethnicities as his entitlement to rigorous opportunity.
Now a teen, my son is magnetic, witty, compassionate, candid and thoughtful. He enjoys courses at regional Math and Science Center and summer experiences studying Lego Robotics and engineering. He excels at Spanish (I’d like to think because of our formative lessons in his nursery), but his best grades are in his favorite subject of math. I should mention his sense of humor is mildly eccentric as it seems he’s always saying the unexpected and unimaginable. With all of his academic success, playing Football is truly his first love and extreme passion. He is a linebacker and running back on his high school team. He also participates in community service activities and has become extremely influential among his peers- standing out as a leader with conviction and integrity.
My son is now re-defining himself somewhat from student to teacher. Watching this metamorphosis is exhilarating and honorable. It warms the heart of a Mom to see her child blossom...."
This mother’s candid account of her son’s development to date is very telling..his gifts were recognized early and he was ‘placed’ in a program of services. But, being placed in the program did not prevent the psychosocial challenges of ‘fitting in’ with other students and overcoming the quandary of being black and gifted in a mainstream setting. His saving grace was his family who ‘shored him up’ with stories of their own struggles and victories over time. For so many children & youth, families can make the difference.
*This story is an excerpt from one that will appear in an upcoming book of family narratives: Multi-Cultural Families Bringing Up Gifted Children: a National Perspective
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. USING THIS STORY IN ANY FORM IS STRICTLY PROHIBITED WITHOUT WRITTTEN PERMISSION OF DR. JOY LAWSON DAVIS