Growing up Black, in the Blackness that is Atlanta, Black heroes were thrown in my face. And not just the Civil Rights leaders that are our avenues and boulevards. But the more understated.
The young. And the Black. And the outstanding.
When you’re nine, you learn of that really smart, Black 12 year old that has skipped grades and is already in high school. When you’re in middle school, you read about those three high schoolers that got scholarships–academic scholarships–to schools all over the country. And when you’re ready to go off to college, you’re having parentally orchestrated mentorship playdates with Black twentysomethings who have graduated Summa Cum Laude and are now on track to be the next great Black doctor, lawyer, or engineer.
These are the most tangible Black heroes growing up, the ones that are proof someone that looks like you, and is from a place like you, can make it out. And their existence is supposed to give you the drive and motivation to be the next outstanding Black.
Growing up like this, and then turning into a moderate representation of that model example, it still feels good to hear about these stories. And the existence of these tales still seem necessary. But there’s always been a part of me that’s been uncomfortable with the transition of these local youth heroes going from just that–local–to actual pieces of news. Yes, their presence and successes should be applauded. But there’s an aspect of the “newsworthy-ness” that often felt as if we were reaching for anything, almost as if the examples of excellence were that rare.
Since high school, I’ve had back and forth relationship with this. But the one thing I knew to be true was that it felt very wrong to vocalize any dissident opinions. Who wants to be the one to say “let’s stop publicizing our Black success stories,” even if it occasionaly feels like family secrets being spilled out into masses. But I still knew how I felt, which was that there’s some bad in Black success stories being interpreted purely as exceptions to the norm. But, again, it never seemed like a worthy cause to get behind. So I dropped it.
But then this morning, a story presented itself. The first time I saw it was via The Root, a publication with the tagline of “Black news, opinion, politics, and culture.”
The piece in The Root referenced a Daily News article that originally told the story. It’s a great story, one of Long Island student Kwasi Enin getting into all eight Ivy League Universities. An amazing achievement. While applying to all eight isn’t necessarily a normal thing to do, I’ve never heard of anyone that’s pulled off such a feat.
Nowhere in the piece does it mention that this is an achievement, simply because he’s Black. And I was pretty thrilled with that. The Daily News, while a widely-read publication, in reporting on this story is doing something that falls under it’s jurisdiction: talking about local stories from the New York region. And this is certainly a story.
I was completely okay with the news surrounding Enin’s Ivy League sweep ending there. And not hearing about it again from any other outlet. I was thrilled with there being press, but a controlled level of press. Appropriate press.
But it grew. And I knew it was growing mainly because Kwasi was Black. It was making the rounds on Twitter, with many of my Black peers shouting him out for his success. And, again, it felt good to see this. Seeing young Black kids succeed will never get old. Never.
After a few conversations about it, for a second time, I was ready to close the book on this story. But it wouldn’t go away, with the story eventually making it to USA Today.
Reading the piece, it felt a lot like the others I’d read, with the exception being the inclusion of a college admissions expert, Katherine Cohen, the founder of IvyWise, a consulting firm. Continuing to read, it all seemed fine, until a line from said expert:
It’s the line I always feared reading in this type of piece. Understanding everything about the context of the line in the piece, how college admissions works, and the very real collegiate educational attainment differences between African-Americans and 1st and 2nd-generation Blacks from a certain African and West Indian countries, this is still the line I always feared. The thing my gut always told me would be the end result of these pieces. The end of the cycle, from these kids going from local models of excellence to examples that Blacks can be elite, no matter what the majority of them turn out to be like.
Going from an achievement to a rare exception. Or an anomaly. Or, better yet, a newsworthy glitch. It’s terribly problematic. And I don’t know what to do about it. Because, for every kid like Kwasi Enin, I want to stand up and cheer. But days like today also remind me that sometimes, perhaps it’s better to pridefully whisper.