Let me begin with this unapologetic acknowledgement. I am a black baby boomer who still believes in the transformational value of high quality education for all people, but especially those who look like me. Like many of my generation, I have experienced firsthand the sting of racial segregation, oppression and discrimination. I know what it’s like to be called the N-word and to have to use a white person’s back door and to be denied service at restaurants and hotels. I know the fear of having a male sibling jailed for nothing and a having fourteen year old rural neighbor gunned down by the law (police) for allegedly whistling at a white girl. Read on.
In recent months and years, there has been a growing number of incidents involving merchants discriminating against black shoppers, racial profiling by police officers, police killings of black men, legislative efforts to make it harder for blacks to vote and even the disparate treatment of President Obama by many members of congress and many conservative talk show hosts. Over the past few weeks, we’ve witnessed the racist rants and chants of white fraternities at some of America’s most renowned universities. If these behaviors don’t cause people of goodwill to do more than wring their hands, I don’t know what will. Simply put, we cannot dismiss these hideous acts as youthful indiscretions. Read on.
Among the top seeded teams in the 2015 NCAA tournament, many have teams that are overwhelmingly black. Yet, the university executive leadership teams, trustees, faculty and staff are disproportionately or all white. As I watch black athletes at PWIs entertain their fellow students, alumni and donors, I must admit that it’s a bit disconcerting. How black students can play so enthusiastically for institutions where diversity is little more than a nine letter word is mind-boggling to me. Unfortunately, many of these “star” athletes will end up without a degree and little more than the memories of their trip to the NCAA tournament. For the remainder of their lives, many of these students will find themselves significantly underemployed, if at all.
Am I saying that star athletes who are black should not attend PWIs? Absolutely not! Just as not all HBCUs are the same, neither are all PWIs. There are a number of questions, however, that I believe all relevant parties must ask and answer candidly for themselves.
- Before your son or daughter signs a letter of intent to attend a particular college or university, obtain a written copy of the university’s commitment to his/her academic success;
- Obtain the name and contact information of the person who will serve as your child’s mentor and academic advisor;
- If your child’s athletic career is curtailed because of injury, make sure there are institutional provisions in place to ensure degree completion;
- Obtain assurances that you will be contacted before any disciplinary actions are taken on matters in which your child is allegedly involved.
- Make sure there is a good fit between you and the institution to which you are making a commitment to attend;
- Ascertain the graduation rate of athletes with academic profiles comparable to yours;
- Ensure that there are written provisions in place to support you through graduation should you become injured;
- Ask yourself if this is a university that you would enjoy attending if you were not an athlete.
- Ask what the graduation rate is for students with your academic profile.
- Does there appear to be a good fit between the values of the institution and those of the prospective athletic?
- If this student were not an athlete, would we admit him or her?
- Are we prepared to invest the requisite resources and time to ensure the academic success of this student?
Just as in the past, the overwhelming majority of the athletes in 2015 NCAA men’s or women’s basketball tournament will not “go pro.” The question is whether they will obtain a high quality college education that will prepare them to compete in the global workforce where there are no cheering fans, MVP trophies or ceremonies to retire their number. To be sure, we should celebrate the athletic talents of black athletes. But, we short change them significantly if we fail to see them as young men and women who possess the ability to change the world if we are willing to help them develop all of their skills and abilities.