Once a year, local elementary schools throughout the nation have a “career day” that allows their students to “dress the part”, meaning they are to adorn themselves with the dress of their future occupation. On one particular “career day” at my suburban elementary school, my white classmates came to school dressed as pediatricians, firemen, teachers, or politicians; their professional occupations were not only endless, but also did not include aspirations to be a professional athlete.
However, the overwhelming majority of my African American male classmates, myself included, dressed as either Emmett Smith or Kobe Bryant. We each sported an athletic jersey that publicly proclaimed ourselves as the next NFL or NBA superstar. Admittedly, none of us had any idea of the endless training and God-given physical tools necessary to bring such aspirations to fruition. As I gazed over a room full of athletic wannabes, my young mind wondered why we had all chosen the same occupation. Ten years later, I think that I have the answer.
The answer that my young mind could not conceive was that we had all been brainwashed to believe, through mass media depictions of African-American male athletes, that this was not only the epitome of Black male professional success, but also the only form of success. In a nation where depictions of African American males in mass media are not always positive; African-American youth have a difficult time viewing the evening news without seeing an African American male arrested for some crime. Such matters pushed me and my young peers toward ESPN as it elevated Black athletes to the status of Gods executing superhuman athletic feats; unfortunately, this focus failed to expand our minds.
So the question before us is a simple one. Who is responsible for expanding the horizons of African-American children beyond aspiring to be either an athlete or rapper?
In my opinion, African-American parents are solely responsible for exposing African-American males to positive images that impress upon them the need to do more with their lives than just that dunk a basketball, throw a football, or sprint down a track. The black male child should know that their occupational options are endless: business owner, lawyer, professor, plumber, mechanic (automobile and airplane) or chef. Parents need to celebrate the accomplishments of African Americans like Donald Thompson, the CEO of McDonald’s, and place less emphasis upon the Derrick Rose’s and Adrian Peterson’s of the world.
When my father was a young man in the 1970s, my beloved grandmother told him, “you can be anything you want, even the president.” Some four decades later this phrase rings true as an African-American male is President of the United States of America. It is past time that we push young African-American males to diversify their professional aspirations and learn a mantra that my great-great-grandfather used to reiterate every time he talked to me, “In this life, you will be judged from the neck up.”