The other day I was listening to "Forum" on KQED, an interview show on a local NPR station. The guest was author and Silicon Valley venture capitalist Bill Draper, who has written a new book, "The Start Up Game." Draper extolled the role of immigrants in innovation in the United States and talked of the stupidity of immigration laws that allow for non-citizens to be educated here in our colleges and universities only to be sent back to their home countries to apply for citizenship. Why would we send someone who has already been educated and ready to enter our work force back to another country, he asked. As he went on praising immigrants and what they've done for the U.S. economy, one thought crossed my mind:
What about us? What about African Americans?
It seemed that, when Mr. Draper was discussing innovation, venture capital, and start-up businesses, we African Americans didn't even appear to exist.
Since this happened in the week before the Dr. King holiday, it got me thinking that perhaps African Americans had squandered the inheritance of equality under the law given to us -- or rather, fought and died for -- by our elders in the civil rights movement.
"We're a squandered people," I wailed to BMNB. "We haven't lived up to the opportunities provided us." I thought about all those who fought and died for integration in schools, and yet an achievement gap persists in those very schools, a gap that doesn't appear to exist for most immigrants. I was troubled that we don't even enter the picture when other races talk about innovation, investment, and contributions to the American economy. I then started railing against a movie I have yet to see, "Waiting for Superman," simply because I disagree with the premise -- that we should be "waiting" for anyone outside of ourselves to save our children and the public schools they attend. "Superman ain't coming," I said to BMNB in frustration.
Luckily, I had the chance to cool off a bit. The Soul Train Awards came on BET yesterday, and I didn't get a chance to see it when it previously aired. I was lucky to catch it when a lot of young and not-so-young singers were paying tribute to one my favorites, Anita Baker. As I sat and listened to Chrisette Michele, Tamia, Goapele, Lalah Hathaway, Faith (Evans, not Hill), and Dionne Farris pay tribute to this wonderful woman in their own unique and fantastic ways, with not a one of them lip-synching or auto-tuning, it dawned on me:
We are more awesome than we know.
Mind you, I get that excellence in the arts isn't excellence in science, math, business, etc. I get that. But when you consider that this is just one facet of what we as a people are capable of, when you consider what we've overcome, when you consider the innovations we have created (the cell phone -- HELLO!), I had to remind myself that just because others don't know or recognize our excellence in a field doesn't mean that that excellence doesn't exist. Or that we are incapable of excellence.
That said, I am dismayed by the premise that government intervention can and should save the education of our kids. There's way too much at stake for us to wait for the government to do right by our kids when it rarely ever has. I don't know what the next phase of my life is going to involve, but when I get a chance to sit down face-to-face with my best friend and brain-sister (because when we brainstorm, we create things far greater than what either of us could have created individually), we're going to put our efforts towards a movement to improve the education of African American children without government intervention or the support of others outside of ourselves, no matter how well-meaning they may be. If we don't save our children ourselves, the lesson that will teach them is the worst lesson of all: That we as a people are incapable of saving ourselves.
And that is a lie from the pit of hell, because we are indeed more awesome than we know.