I recently spoke to a friend with whom I attended kindergarten through eighth grade in Detroit. I hadn’t spoken to my friend Eric for nearly 30 years. He found me on Facebook as he diligently worked to re-unite our junior high school classmates. In the course of our conversation, we spoke about the fact that during high school we were both placed in all-white environments. Such an experience was a culture shock to say the least, and quite frustrating. After living in Detroit, and attending school with almost no white students, Eric moved to Kentucky. And after one semester at an integrated high school, I moved to Oakland County, Michigan. Eric and I share two common themes: we were among a handful of black students at our respective schools and our guidance counselors told us we should not go to college – we weren’t college material.
My high school guidance counselor was a graduate of Eastern Michigan University. During a school event, the counselor advised any senior interested in attending his alma mater should visit him. He claimed he would write a letter of recommendation for any interested student. Therefore, I added EMU to my list of potential colleges. When I went to the counselor to discuss this, he told me I shouldn’t go to college. He said I was good with my hands and a vocational school would be the right choice for me.
I wonder how many middle-class, suburban white kids my counselor tried to discourage. Similar dissuasion often takes place during college and in the workplace. However, by staying focused on goals and having access to mentors and positive role models, black youth should know there is no limit to their potential. Fortunately for Eric and I, we had such mentors and role models. All black children are college material.
Needless to say, Eric graduated from the University of Michigan, earned a master’s degree at Cambridge University, and a J.D. from Columbia University. Now he is a practicing attorney and I’m confident Eric made a wise decision to attend college. I, too, graduated from college and earned a graduate degree. I also made a wise decision as my education is the foundation of my success. But in one respect my high school guidance counselor was correct; I am good with my hands. Every time I shake hands with a U.S. President, CEO of a major corporation, or use the manual shifting mode in my expensive automobile, I think about how great it is to be good with my hands.