A couple of weeks ago, the Chicago Reader featured a story that compared two recent high school graduates, one black, one white. Both girls were at the top of their respective graduating class, but that is where the similarity began and ended. The black girl attended Hirsch High School on the South Side whereas the white girl attended New Trier.
Each girl was profiled in the article. The white girl is the youngest by six years of two siblings. Her father is a doctor and her mother a psychologist. The black girl is the youngest of five siblings. Her single mother has survived on child support and welfare.
The white girl grew up living in Glencoe. The black girl has lived in a variety of housing situations all over the South Side, subsisting barely above poverty.
The more I read, the greater the disparities showed between the two girls. The black girl’s school with its $6 million a year budget still cannot provide many of the basics supplies that inner city children need to succeed. Parents of those young people are fighting so many obstacles, that they are seldom adding their children’s education to the mix. New Trier, on the other hand, offers a plethora of activities. The parents of those students are super involved in their children’s education and extracurricular activities so much so that the students have to pick and choose between what they want to do and what their time allows them to do.
Each girl was amazing with where they were in terms of dreaming about their future. The white girl wants to be an actor while the black girl wants to be a lawyer helping the poor. By the time I finished reading the article, I was emotional as I cheered each on as they both started college with so many opportunities and potentials lying in wait for them.
I had planned on writing a column where I critiqued the lifestyle choices of the black girl’s mom. You know, having children she couldn’t afford, the choice of putting her child in a one-parent home and on and on. Personal responsibility was at the foundation of that mom’s poverty and despair.
So, what made me change direction? It was the opportunity I had this week of attending an event at UIC called Chicago Scholars. There, I saw a variety of young people and especially young black males who were interviewing with recruiters from more than 100 colleges and universities. The young people dressed in their Sunday best had all proven that obstacles that had confronted them in their lives hadn’t slowed them down. One young black man peppered a businessman from a very wel- known financial institution with questions about his work. I couldn’t help but smile as I saw the young man lay out his goals to the businessman. It was impressive to see firsthand the determination that still resides in young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. Those Chicago Scholars were in essence the young black girl from the Chicago Reader article -100 times over – proving that determination, perseverance and hard work academically is still the best solution out of poverty and despair.
So, kudos to the young girl from the Chicago Reader article and to those from the Chicago Scholars program. While we as a society still need to address many of the social ills that keep the cycle of poverty alive, the “success stories” are still too few and far between to outweigh the realities of the greater number of failures. Thus we must highlight, support, and offer a helping hand to those young people on their journey to personal success. Hopefully, they can inspire more of their contemporaries to try and do the same.