I was inspired to write this after reading "If I were a poor black kid," by contributing writer for Forbes.com, Gene Marks. Unfortunately, or rather should I say fortunately, for Mr. Marks, who is, by his own words, a "middle-age, short, balding, white man from a middle-class white background," he could never fathom what it means to be a "poor black kid" from West Philadelphia or anywhere else for that matter.
I am a 23-year-old, African-American woman from West Philadelphia, who has faced and overcome many adversities that have allowed me to get to where I am today. I come from a drug- and violence-infested community, where for many making it past age 21 is a godsend and graduating from high school is rarely heard of.
As the first of 16 children to graduate from high school and attend college, I can say from first-hand experience that there is no "magic recipe" for success, and if there was, I never found it among the bare kitchen cabinets in my home.
I have ten older brothers, three younger brothers and two younger sisters. I also come from a family of repeat ex-offenders and high-school dropouts. Before I was able to walk I was seeing the inside of a prison to visit my father and, years later, while in the first grade, I was sitting inside a courtroom watching my two oldest brothers, age 16 and 14, on trial for murder.
For most of my life I was surrounded by people who made it out through jail or death. My mother spent more nights behind bars then she did at home; as for my father, I never had a life with him, because he is serving life for murder.
I grew up watching my ten older brothers, the only real male influence left in my life, finding themselves acquainted with a jail cell or, in the case of my brother Andre, losing his life a month before his 21st birthday.
So you see, one cannot and should not imagine what its like to be a "poor black kid" because the reality of it isn't fit for cable television.
I didn't write this to make an excuse for my family or others like mine. I also didn't write this to insult Mr. Marks, although I feel in many ways that he has belittled my experience. Instead, I wrote this to point out that there is no magic potion that will make "poor black kids" successful or place them on an even playing field with their white counterparts.
Wrote Mr. Marks: "So life was easier for me. But that doesn't mean that the prospects are impossible for those kids from the inner city. It doesn't mean that there are no opportunities for them. Or that the 1 percent controls the world and the rest of us have to fight over the scraps left behind. I don't believe that. I believe that everyone in this country has a chance to succeed. Still. In 2011. Even a poor black kid in West Philadelphia."
Well Mr. Marks, you were right on two counts: it was easier for you, and it's not impossible. The problem that many black youth face, particularly in inner cities, is that they believe it is impossible, and that alone can deter a young person from trying.
Until we as a society are truly ready to have a serious discussion about the state of black youth and the uneven distribution of resources; we will continue to see an alarming number of young people lose their life to the barrel of a gun, get pushed out or passed though the education system, going to sleep hungry or being forced to call prison home.
For solutions to be made, young people have to not only be involved in the discussion, but also in the creation and implementation of the solutions. Real change will happen only when we get past calling this a "black issue," instead analyzing how it affects our whole society.
Like everyone else, black youth need love, mentorship, quality education, safe environments, access to healthy foods and accessibility to resources opportunities.
We have to create a world where there is equal opportunity for everyone. If we fail to do that, the "poor black kid" will forever be defined by his or her race or zip code.
Some would ask what the odds are. In my case, 1 out of 16. But my little brothers and sisters are a work in progress.