Destined for College — or So I Thought!

“Mom, I am not going to college; it’s not for me!” These words pierced my brain like the screech of a tire before a car crash. I felt like my circulation was being cut off. My son blurted this at me during a parent-teacher conference with his math teacher. He was seventeen years old and one year away from high school graduation. The words seemed unreal; there was never a thought that he would not go to college. In my mind, my son was going to be great!…

…He decided he wanted to be a “rapper”! How could my son want to be a rapper? I did not even play that music in my house since it seemed to celebrate violence and denigrate women. That was back in the late nineties when rap was extremely popular. After careful consideration, and learning a little about teen psychology, I decided not to fight it but be supportive. However, I told him that his music needed to be positive. I dismissed it hoping it would wear off since most black boys at that time either wanted to be rappers or ball players.

My Son’s Education—both in and out of School

Living in a middle-class, white suburb has its advantages and disadvantages.  We felt physically safe, and my children also loved our home, but they had quite an adjustment. Although my daughter was the only black in almost all of her classes from first through fifth grade, she had lots of friends. My son, however, had a hard time adjusting, as he started feeling the prejudice immediately.

When he went in the supermarket, for example, he said he felt awful when old white ladies would clutch their bags closer upon seeing him. My heart sank, and I silently cried. He was accused the second day after moving in the neighborhood of stealing a bike, simply because we lived close to a 7-Eleven. Later, the kids in the neighborhood found out that one of their friends had taken it as a prank. In both instances, my heart sank deeply into the pit of my stomach, and I wondered if I had made the right decision. I knew it was not going to be easy, but I would rather see my son alive facing prejudice than having him killed on the street by some senseless drive-by shooting.

Social Strain on the Street

…But nothing was able to shelter my son from being treated as a black man living in a white suburb. He was tall, muscular, bald, and dark-skinned. As soon as he started driving, he was pulled over for the silliest of reasons.

One of the more strange events was when he was stopped on his block while jogging and asked to show his ID. This was 8.00 a.m. Immediately, two backup police cars came and said they had received a phone call that a black man was on the block sitting in a van. My son was properly interrogated about his reason for jogging without an ID and then was allowed to go home. It is important to note that he had lived on that small block since he was twelve. He was twenty by then and was clearly a threat, being a full-grown black man. As a mom, I feared for my son’s safety, and my husband and I kept explaining how he should act if pulled over.

Frustration at the obvious racism in the system tugged at his heart strings, and we kept encouraging him to work with it and do nothing out of place. My son didn’t drive a nice car, but he was given tickets for stopping over the white line, having an air freshener hanging from his rearview mirror, dropping off a passenger in front of his house instead of pulling in the driveway at midnight, and sitting in his car parked in front of his house. One night, he was sitting in front of the house with his best friend, and the cops came for a second time asking for his ID. …