Sunday, January 12, 2014

"I'm not that different from Roger"

Back in July, when a jury acquitted George Zimmerman of murdering Trayvon Martin, President Obama responded by saying "Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago." In other words, our President knows that - but for the grace of God - he could have been that young black man in the wrong place at the wrong time and wound up dead through no fault of his own.

Although it was much less noticed, this week he did it again.
Growing up, Roger spent some time in the foster care system before going to live with his mom, who was working two jobs to make ends meet. When Roger was in 6th grade, his mom entered his name in the Promise Academy Charter School lottery and prayed. And Roger won a spot.

Now, the way I hear it, Roger, you were still having some problems sometimes. He was the class clown and acting out, and almost got himself expelled. But the teachers and the staff did not give up on him. They saw something in him. They kept pushing him. And then one summer when Roger was home visiting his foster family, he looked around the room and he realized nobody in that room had gone to college, and nobody in that room had a job. And at that moment, something clicked. And Roger decided he wanted something better for himself -- and for his mom and for his two sisters that looked up to him.

So Roger buckled down. He went from failing his classes to passing his classes. He became a member of the first graduating class at the Promise Academy. And today Roger is a sophomore at Hunter College in New York, one of the best colleges in the country -- the first person in his family to get that far. And now he wants to go to medical school and become a neurologist.

If you want to know why I care about this stuff so much, it's because I'm not that different from Roger. There was a period of time in my life where I was goofing off. I was raised by a single mom. I didn’t know my dad. The only difference between me and Roger was my environment was more forgiving than his. That’s the only difference. If I screwed up, the consequences weren't quite as great.

So if Roger can make it, and if I can make it, if Kiara can make it, every kid in this country can make it. But we've got to believe in that. We can't just give lip service to it. And it can't just get caught up in a bunch of political arguments.
I have to admit that when I watched this portion of the President's speech, I cried. What we're witnessing for the first time in this country's history is a President who knows these struggles - just like we now have a Supreme Court Justice who embraces the fact that she grew up poor and Latina in the Bronx and an Attorney General who speaks openly about what it means to have "the talk" with his own teenage son following the shooting of Trayvon. The world looks different when viewed through the lens of those who have lived these experiences. I suspect that means an awful lot to young people like Roger. I know it means a lot to me.

1 comment:

  1. Very well said. When we expect the best from our kids, it's funny how we get it.