I was a poor Black student that went to a poor Black school and I lived in a poor Black neighborhood and I did poorly on tests just like my poor Black peers did.

Liberal white folks that never met me created a narrative that told me that maybe I was just a poor test taker.

They blamed society. They blamed my hood. They blamed circumstance. They blamed my parents. They blamed me.

Truth be told, what I needed was for the blaming to cease and for someone to get serious about teaching me. I needed to be taught, to be challenged.

I was passed from year to year with high grades, but then got to a school with a high bar and realized I wasn’t prepared.

Later, I got to college with my good GPA and was ushered right into remedial Math and English. I was luckier than my friends who entered college with me – who were also poor, black and from the hood – but didn’t get the help they needed.

Most of them flunked out. College was over.

When I became the Program Director at a small nonprofit in Oakland, I worked with kids that grew up like me. They were poor. Their parents didn’t have college degrees. Most of these students came in on average around a 2.0 GPA going into their 11th grade year.

I didn’t care.

Allow me to rephrase that, it’s because I cared that I went harder on them than anyone else had up to that point. I challenged them. But, raising a C to a B wasn’t enough. Why not go for the A?

We struggled through that work together and I was insistent on taking no shortcuts.

That didn’t make me popular. I was tough. But the bottom line is they all graduated. Had I lost sight of that as the goal, some of my students would not have made it and I would have been responsible.

That’s why it infuriated me whenever I saw professionals, adults, lowering expectations for students who were the most likely to be left behind.

Life for these kids – kids like I had once been –  will be hard. Lowering expectations may feel like compassion, but it isn’t. Lowering the bar hurts them even more. It teaches them to make excuses and depend on a system to bend for them (a system that has never loved them).

Real life is unforgiving, especially for people who fail in school. I’m proof that poverty doesn’t cause a bad education, and that poor kids can succeed if they learn. It’s not complicated. People who can’t read and write won’t do as well as their peers who can.

Let’s be real, there’s a war raging against the poor right now. For black people it’s not getting better. We need warriors, not wimps. We need strong minds to rise from the hood, move up the ranks, and lead us to victory.

We need power.

So, I’m asking the folks in charge of educating and guiding the kids that grew up like me to do so with the understanding that the world is a colder place when you’re uneducated.

I’m asking that we stop with the blaming.

I am asking that we understand the difference between being culturally competent and lowering the bar.

I am asking that we do a better job of teaching these poor Black kids today than when I was in school.

Let’s either prepare them for the war, or make room for those who can.

Dr. Charles Cole, III​ is an educator focused on the advancement of youth of color, but more specifically Black males. This passion comes from his experiences growing up without proper support, including being homeless and attending more than ten elementary schools across the country while his parents battled addiction and incarceration. Throughout that experience, no adult, no group, no organization ever asked him how he was achieving success nor how he was surviving. Schools were not a place where students in similar predicaments were learning. This experience helped lead to the publication of his first book, ​Beyond Grit and Resilience. As founder of ​Energy Convertors​, Charles comes from the community and has shared many of the students’ experiences. Previously Charles served as a social worker, a Director for Teach for America, the Vice Chair of the California Young Democrats, Black Caucus and at a director’s level with various youth-focused nonprofits. n addition to founding Energy Convertors, Charles is a national speaker and a writer, and he can be found in Oakland and around the country working with youth on how to equip themselves appropriately to lay the groundwork for a bright future. Charles is currently a board member of ​UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital​, and co-host of the ​8 Black Hands Podcast. Charles’ life goal is to better the communities he grew up in, which include Chicago, Paducah, KY, and Oakland.    


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