October 3, 2010

Building a Better Community

Lately, I’ve been obsessed with education reform. It’s everywhere in the media, from the recent Education Nation summit in New York this past week, to the premiere of the new documentary Waiting for Superman. It is widely understood that the American public education system is failing, and that it is lacking the innovation and energy of our international counterparts. What remains unknown is the best way to fix it. Many policy makers and teachers would like to think that “smaller is better,” hence why urban schools are falling behind their suburban peers. However, Brockton High School, just 2.5 miles down the road from Stonehill, is an image of success.

A recent NY Times article highlighted the success at Brockton High whom with more than 4,100 students, nearly twice the size of Stonehill’s student population, has proved itself to be a model for large high schools. As a Stonehill student, I’m constantly encouraged to go “into the streets” and assist the many non-profits that help Brockton residents. However, I find sometimes that the message can be condescending and have a bit of a “savior complex” attached to it. I’m not saying that the efforts of Stonehill students are not noble or worthy of praise, because they are. However, can one help a situation that they don’t feel connected to? How can you truly help someone without understanding their strengths and recognizing what they have, as opposed to what they lack? If we can recognize that, then by bringing our own talents we can truly assist an organization, a community, or even a child.

Perhaps, this is what the administrators and teachers at Brockton HS have realized in order to prepare their students for academic success. Perhaps, they were finally able to understand that the key to helping students achieve is to understand their background and to not pity their circumstances, but to complement their abilities with their own. Clearly, the quality of the Brockton HS educators is outstanding. Through identifying and addressing the academic as well as social needs of each student, we can create change. In addition, if we can understand the needs of a community and truly go “into the streets,” we will create a more “just and compassionate world.”


Defacing the Future

Allure magazine’s “Faces of the Future” article attempts to promote mixed race people as innovative and trendy. I found it offensive that the magazine labeled the concept of multiracial people and interracial relationships as futuristic, considering that they are present today. It just reminded me of how forgotten we are as a people. We are still here and have been here since the beginning. The model for the magazine had fair skin, freckles, straight hair, full lips, and Cleopatra like eye makeup. Although this was an artistic interpretation, it was still upsetting to me that not one of her ethnicities were represented. She is essentially what the photographer viewed her to be. Based upon this picture no one would ever imagine that she is actually Barbadian, German, Irish, Creole, Scottish, African-American and Blackfoot. I feel that in real life multiracial individuals are continuously misrepresented or mistaken for other races.

In my own experience, when people ask me the notorious “what are you?” question one of two things will happen without fail. The person will either be completely surprised as to what I have to say or will sound disappointed and say something such as “oh, so you’re just black and white?” In my mind I’m thinking, “No, I’m not just black and white; I just explained to you that I’m Portuguese, French, Irish, English and Liberian.” For the sake of being polite, I just nod and say “yes, I’m black and white.” What’s wrong with being “just that” and why do people feel unfulfilled when they meet someone who is “just black and white?”

I looked at the picture again, just shook my head and thought that this is the stereotype of my people. Exotic, intriguing, desirable yet clueless about their culture. Was this our contribution to society? To populate the world with as the article says “biracial super babies?” What happened to the importance of unity, interracial relationships, and cultural tolerance? A person could be mixed with ten different ethnicities, but what good would it do them if they are not embracing or practicing at least one of those cultures? Apparently that will not matter in the future. This article was sending the message that what the future is seeking is not cultural diversity but attractive people.