Friday, March 23, 2012

0.03 Percent

I walked into a classroom the other day, and there wasn't much going on. 

I sat down and talked to a few kids, who were listening to music or playing on their phones.

"What do you want to be when you grow up" I asked, feeling kind of salty for raising such a generic question.

"A Physical Therapist" one kid said.  "Eeeew," giggled a few.  "You know they have to go 'down there.'"  I assumed "down there" meant penises and vagina's, so I reassured them that Physical Therapy doesn't really have a whole lot to do with below the belt.  (My guess is they were thinking of the physical exams they get which often time include a pap smear, etc).  

"What do you want to be," I asked a kind of roundish (i.e. overweight) young man, slouched in his chair, one headphone in.  "A basketball player," he said, with an uninterested/i-really-don't-give-a-fuck look.

I took a deep breath, because I knew I needed to proceed carefully.  

My first thought was to say, "If I had a dollar for every young black male who told me he wanted to be a professional athlete, I'd have quite a bit of money.... but if I had a dollar for every young black male who told me that AND lived to see/make it happen, I'd be broke." 

"Okay," I said.  "I want you to get online and look up what is the likeliness of that (playing pro ball) actually happening."  I thought if he did the research, maybe he could come to the conclusion that he may want to have a back up plan (i.e. an education, etc).  

I checked in with him a few days later, and he said he couldn't find an answer, and that he looked with his teacher too.  Apparently all they found was final four basketball bracket statistics.  I was impressed that he took the time to look, but disappointed he didn't find an answer.

Upon doing a very quick google search this morning, I came across a probability chart.  If this young man makes it to his senior year of high school and is playing ball, he has (assuming he's good) a 0.03% chance of playing professionally.

According to the Parents United for Public Schools Website, 36 % of African American males in Minnesota  (like the one who told me he wants to be a pro basketball player) will graduate high school.  I'm not as good at math as I used to be, but wouldn't then his 0.03% chance of playing ball be even less, because that number is assuming he makes it through high school. 

I want to have a conversation with this young man, and I'm not sure how to do it.  The odds are not in his favor.  Most, if not all of his teachers are white.  As an Indian female, I don't know how much my words will mean to him either, because I am not in his shoes.  I never have been, nor will I ever pretend to be.

I wish all the best for this young man, who will likely go somewhere if he is challenged in a positive way, and supported by his community (i.e. family, teachers, peers, coaches, etc).  I think it's okay to show him the website with the statistics...and from there, I selfishly hope he makes the choice to really look at his future and take the steps to make it meaningful for him.  

In an age where young black males are targeted, gunned down, and left behind in the classroom, I feel it's important to continue the conversation about education, racism, opportunity and achievement gaps.... but in doing so, making sure that the voices of those who are most affected are leading the conversations.  

I'm left wondering how I can help ensure that is happening, or if that's even what should be done?  

Meanwhile, I'm in my own set of shoes, fighting my own race/gender/sexuality/economic/educational battles...

Wearing a hoodie in honor, remembrance, and hope for Trayvon Martin and the future.  03.21.2012. 


Anonymous said...

Very nice post, thanks for sharing. I think in general kids should need more reinforcement of their potential and be told that they can accomplish whatever they put their mind to and all that jazz. My parents always told me that and I think it's something that becomes ingrained in you when repeated along with other words of encouragement. However, with this case it needs some special attention with some of the loving facts that you have discovered. If it were me I wouldn't shoot down his "dream" but try to emphasize both that he can accomplish a lot in life and that this dream is very challenging. Something like that. Anyways, God bless you Asha for working with kids, it's people like you that make a difference in this world.

asha shoffner said...

Thank you. Who are you?

JC said...