By Alban Boucher
One day after work as I walked to the train station I bumped into an old classmate from high school. As we joked about the old days he asked me if I just started working at the nearest department store, Target. I told him about my profession and he looked amazed. He then told me since he didn’t graduate from high school and chose to work instead of attending college; he had been working at Target for the past seven years. He repeatedly told me about his regrets about not perusing his education and how he wished he could change his circumstances. We said our goodbyes, but I thought to myself how many male (black) adults have told me the same story, their regrets over educational attainment.
During my tenure working in an urban charter high school, I see countless young black men. Some are in need of a stable home environment. Others could use some tough love. While others just need a hug because they had a rough night. Nonetheless, all these men need an education to succeed.
According to the Schott Foundation for Public Education, NYC has the 6th largest black and white male high school completion rate in the country. Since 2006, 59 percent of young black males who enter high school graduate and only 9.6 percent are deemed college ready. Without a college degree not only do the chances of finding a job decrease but so does potential earnings. For example, the average earning for a college graduate lie between $40k-96k a year while the average earning for a high school graduate is stuck between $17k-33k a year.
Couple these stats to the racial discrimination found while hiring black males in the workplace. According to the NYC Bureau of Labor Statistics, African American millennials (18- to 34-years-old) faced a 16.6 percent unemployment rate, which is well over twice the unemployment rate for white millennials in the same age range.
Haitian American men in particular, face many obstacles when it comes to attending and graduating from high school. Their success in high school all depends on how quickly they can assimilate into the American culture. According to Doucet & Suarez-Orozco, first and second generation Haitians assimilate differently into the American culture because they have different goals. First generation Haitians who come as adults to America in search for a better life are more concerned with surviving and adjusting to the new context. Their priorities are supporting their family back at home financially and building the best possible life for their children. Contrastively, second- generation Haitians may have only one great challenge and that is gaining a sense of identity.
According to Doucet & Suarez-Orozco, the first wave of Haitians who migrated to America in the 1950’s, was characterized as upper-class, professional and educated individuals. The second wave of Haitians who migrated to America in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s were more impoverished than the Haitians who migrated during the first wave. The arrival of these new Haitians created a negative image of Haitians in the eyes of Americans.
The Social Mirror refers to the idea that “the child’s sense of self is profoundly shaped by the reflections mirrored back by significant others.” (Winicott, 1971.) Identity development is dependent upon the reflection of oneself in the eyes of others, or the reflections mirrored back by others. The Haitian people are associated with a negative social mirror. Because the Haitian culture is reflected negatively, it is hard for second- generation Haitians to find their self-worth in America. Exposure to a negative social mirror can also affect academic engagement, which then leads to low high school graduation rates.
There are two types of responses to the negative social mirror that youth- age Haitian American men have when trying to assimilate into a dominant culture. One response is lacking hope, which results in anger. This type of group typically has no interest in school and join gangs because that is the only place where they feel accepted. The other response is maintaining hope, a sense of pride and self-esteem. No matter the stigma they face day-to-day of being a Haitian American, they are still determined to prove everyone who ever doubted them wrong. This group typically does well in school and results in being successful.
A lot of the time I tell my boys about their futures and the possibilities they face if school isn’t taken seriously. Some of them let me know they are listening while others let me know they aren’t. They are constantly reminded of their potential to succeed and what it looks like after school: College enrollment and college completion.
On report card day, one of my students ran up to me and showed me his report card. He told me “ Mr. Boucher…….I just want to show you what a young black man is capable of doing”. He had straight A`s.
Alban Boucher earned his B.S. degree in Social Work at Nyack College and a M.S. degree in Non-Profit Management, with a focus on Social Policy, at Milano the New School for Management and Urban Policy. He is Dean of Students at New Visions Charter High School.