The NC State University organizations Women Empowering Society Together (W.E.S.T.), 100 Black Men of America, Helping Youth Prepare to Excel (H.Y.P.E.), and Alpha Nu Omega, Inc. hosted an event titled “Black in America,” in Fox Hall.The program focused on analyzing the progression of African Americans in society and the problems facing young black people, specifically students. The program began with a showing of one of the segments from CNN’s well-known series, “Black in America,” a documentary by journalist Soledad O’Brien. The piece focused on African American students and told the struggles they face in the public school system. Statistical studies show that of the 25 percent of American students who drop out of high school yearly, 50 percent of them are African American. The documentary explored this issue and told the stories of some of those who are striving to fulfill their dreams and overcoming the everyday battles they face due to their race and economic conditions.
At the close of the documentary, members of W.E.S.T. and H.Y.P.E. opened a discussion by asking audience members, “What do you think the problem is for why blacks are not graduating?” and “what steps can be taken to close the achievement gap?” Responses flew, as people spoke one after the other about their feelings on the issue. Replies ranged from problems within the household, due to single black mothers having to work more often to support their families, but consequently not having enough time to support their children with school work, to less available resources to black students, because many low-income black students do not have the money to take SAT preparatory classes like their non-black counterparts and many blacks living in low-income neighbors are placed in disadvantaged schools that receive less funding than wealthier districts.
Charity West, a senior in elementary education and student teacher within the Wake County public school system, commented that from her work experience, she sees firsthand how black students are often overlooked in the classroom. She has witnessed that often times black students will sit in the back of the classroom, joking with one another or simply not paying attention to the lecture, while the teachers ignore their behavior instead of correcting it. In West’s opinion, one way to close the achievement gap is with the help of the black community itself. She states, “We need more African American people in the community who are going to stay on these kid’s butts, because education is too important.” West urged people to “get into the school system, so they [African American youth] can see faces that look like them,” which could hopefully be a positive influence in their lives. Other ideas for improvement included the suggestion of Jacoby Pulley, a senior in business administration, who believes that we need more integration between the current generation of African American collegiate students and African American middle and high school students. Pulley stated he feels that the generation of college students is not too far separated from that of middle and high school aged students, therefore, black college students play an important role in closing the achievement gap by going into the schools, volunteering and tutoring.
The program closed with a guest speaker, Boris Ashford, brother of NC State student Stephan Ashford, and a current student at Fayetteville State University majoring in psychology with a minor in social work and an aspiration of becoming a social worker. Boris Ashford spoke on the struggles he faced being raised by his grandparents and the steps and guidance it took in order for him to learn what it means to be a man. Ashford touched the audience as he told them about growing up without his father or mother being present during parts of his life and the important roles the mentors in his life, such as his pastor and older cousin, played. It took these mentors to shape his way of thinking and encourage him to strive for his goals in life, such as having a “nuclear family,” consisting of a husband, wife, and child, as he always dreamed of when he was younger and has now achieved with his own wife and daughter. “We could have easily been the statistic,” said Ashford, speaking of him and his brother and how they overcame their obstacles in life and are now both in college furthering their education.
Ashford closed by asking the audience to not only challenge themselves to do better, but to challenge those around them to aim for success as well. Ashford encouraged the audience to, “Plant the seed and help them [young black people] grow and achieve.”
According to Justin Sutton, a junior in political science, “This was an excellent program. I liked the personal touch added by the speaker. A sense of community was established, and he [Boris Ashford] showed us the progression we need to see in this community.” Overall, audience members left feeling empowered and with a sense of oneness as a black community.