As a young child, I lived by Malcolm X’s philosophy that “Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” My grandmother learned that to be armed with education was to have a defense against systematic oppression. Her mother, born in the deeply segregated south, was denied a proper education. My grandmother did not want this life for her, nor future generations to come. So every day during my third grade year in elementary school, my grandmother, with her high-cheekbones, thick box glasses, and sandy brown hair, made sure I completed all my school work along with extra assignments. She hoarded vocabulary flashcards, scholastic news articles, math workbooks, science dictionaries and any other resource that had been given to her by one of my teachers, all of whom she befriended. I was so well prepared during my elementary years, that I could not fathom how several of classmates were at risk to being held back for not understanding the curriculum. This same feeling of academic shock visited me once more four years later when it was time to open my high school admissions letter.
Like every other student in my gifted and talented middle school, I hoped to be among the small percentage of students that would get accepted into one of the prestigious specialized high schools. I had spent the last 4 months cramming for a single test that would determine if I would enter a free academic heaven where opportunities were endless, funding was abundant, and the number of classes were in the hundreds, or an academic abyss where there were finite resources, rushed curricula, and short staffing.
When I opened my admissions letter and saw that the words “no acceptance” next to every single specialized high school I applied for, my heart sank. I was slumped for a few weeks and started to think that I was somehow inferior to my peers that got accepted. At that time, I didn’t know that the kids that I was competing against were preparing years in advanced. I decided that I would try again next year. My mother, aware of the importance of being in a specialized high school, signed me up for a preparatory course the next summer. I prepared day in and out, from dusk til’ dawn, and I thought that I was sure to pass the test this time. When I received a chunky envelope, I was naive enough to believe that there were just multiple papers that told me I’d gotten in, and not papers referring me to apply to other high schools. Of course I was wrong. I was stuck at my small high school full of black and brown students who failed the test just. like. me. For the rest of the semester, I doubted my academic performance. I developed a frustration for mundane task such as putting on my bright purple uniform shirt or simply walking through the narrow hallways which resembled a prison rather than a high school. Taking the train to school enraged because everyday, I had to pass by Fulton Street, the stop two blocks away from Brooklyn Tech. The train never failed to be packed with Techies, as I call them. Their departure created a silence in the subway cart. As the train rode off, and they all rushed to exit, I would stare at them through the stained windows and think “It should’ve been me. I should be getting off”.
You see, Malcolm X was right. Education is the passport to the future. But what wasn’t told to me and millions of others is that just like a passport, if you’ve got money, you can pay to get it quicker. If you’re of a certain ethnicity, religion, or gender, it may be denied to you completely. And even if you’ve managed to get a passport, you may still be denied entry to a country.
But I refuse. I refuse to be another Black male student who had potential but just couldn’t make it because the systems set in play were too strong to tackle. I refuse to be compliant with a system that allows my people to leave their classrooms just to walk straight into a prison cell.
We demand change, and we demand it now! Many students do not even know that they are being left behind until it's too late! When will it stop?