My parents were educators who dedicated their lives to helping young people through teaching, tutoring, mentoring, advising, and yes, being part of the village to help young people reach higher ground. My late father, Ollie Elex Culbreth, Jr., became the principal of the elementary school that he attended as a child (Public School No. 14, Jersey City, New Jersey). The students in the school were amazed when they opened a time capsule (that my father and his classmates placed in the school’s vault when he was a child) and saw his picture and other memorabilia. It gave the children hope that they could achieve their dreams.
My father passed away in a tragic car accident in 1995 and as our hearts broke, so did the hearts of the numerous young people whose lives he touched and made a difference. I recall my father’s funeral being so crowded that people were sitting in the balcony of the church, there was standing room only on the main level and still, many stood in line, which extended around the corner. Many of those people were former students and young people from the community who were just as touched as we were. When they mentioned the dash between the year of my father’s birth and his death, the dash was noted as being extraordinary. You see, my father and mother were members of the village. They gave back and were concerned, compassionate, giving, loving, caring, realistic, forward thinking, no-nonsense, community activists, change agents and most importantly, they lived the village’s legacy.
After my father’s death, the school was named after him in honor of his legacy (Ollie E. Culbreth, Jr. School). My parents gave back and helped so many young people in so many ways. My sister, brother and I grew accustomed to the daily presence of other young people in our home and did not waver when they began calling our parents “mom and dad.” You see, we were a part of the village as well.
We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers and as such, we are tasked to advise, guide, mentor, support, train, instill life-long learning and help young men and young women of color reach higher ground in life. Members of the village are concerned, compassionate, caring, forward thinking, realistic, giving, change agents, mentors, and activists. Most importantly, the village represents the change that is needed in this country in an effort to uplift young men and young women of color to reach higher ground in life.
Listen to Preparing Youth of Color for Promising Futures Using S.U.C.C.E.S.S.
As an educator, too many times I have noted academic deficiencies with students in general, regardless of their race. However, I have noted entirely too many instances in which students of color at the high school, undergraduate and graduate levels do not possess good writing skills and cannot apply what I have identified as Dr. Culbeth’s CLARE Concept (critical thinking skills, logic, analytical skills, reasoning skills, and ethics) (2006). I smile and feel good when I find myself giving so much of my time to help young people reach higher ground. I also smile when young people in my community call me or ring my doorbell seeking help of some sort. Despite my hectic schedule and numerous projects, I always find the time to help each young person. You see, I am a member of the village.
As a community activist, too many times I have heard parents as well as young men and young women note that activities and programs in their communities are non-existent. Recently, the mayor of Baltimore, Maryland noted that there were no programs for inner city youth and I shook my head and declared it a shame. I dream of the day when the National Girls and Women of Color Council, Inc. and I Am Beautiful Global, Inc. will be housed in their own community centers. Until then, I will continue to work with as many young men and young women of color as they continue their journey to higher ground. You see, I am passionate about the village.
Our communities can and should be rich in activities, programs, and events that are not only culturally based, but sound in their purpose, mission, vision and goals. Communities can unite to do better and offer more to young men and women of color. We need quality after school and summer programs, weekend activities, and diversity initiatives with a focus on academics and life-long learning while building character.
I often use the following analogy to explain the journey to higher ground. The journey to higher ground is similar to building a house. Accordingly, a solid foundation is necessary to ensure that the house will remain standing throughout time. A village that provides young people with a solid foundation that fosters life-long learning, increases intellectual and positive thought processes, teaches self-discipline, the importance and value of obtaining a quality education, the ability to make good choices, the importance of morals, values and ethics, the importance of being accountable and responsible for individual actions, and the value of hard work, has built a solid foundation upon which young men, and young women of color can begin and continue their journey.
We must focus on the importance of building the futures of young men and young women of color one-step at a time, one day at a time, and one goal at a time as they pursue their dreams, goals and aspirations. Even a “brick aspires to be something more than it is” (Khan), and when that brick, along with other bricks are cemented together, they become the foundation that eventually becomes a beautiful home. Windows, doors, insulation, flooring, etc. cannot stand alone. It is the first brick laid that begins the process. Likewise, young men and women of color aspire to be something more in life and therefore, a village that equips them with a solid foundation is crucial in order for them to reach higher ground. It can be done! It must be done! It will be done!
We should instill what Judge Joe Brown identified as “proper home training.” Tough love and good discipline have more benefits than we could ever imagine. We must begin and continue talking to our daughters and sons about healthy lifestyles, safe sex, birth control, self-esteem, self-love, self-identity, self-pride and self-respect. As members of the village, we must encourage young people to dream big, bright, colorful dreams that can be achieved through hard work and perseverance. We must talk to our young people about their dreams and provide the support, encouragement, and tools among other measures to begin building foundations for life-long learning. We must encourage young people to reach for the stars, tell them that the sky is the limit, and to sparkle like diamonds in the sunset. If our young people understand the importance and value of making good choices, although the choices may be unpopular with their peers, they will be preparing for brilliant futures. If we can find a way, as members of the village, to collaborate in unity to prepare young men and young women of color for successful futures, we have done our jobs as members of the village.
As members of the village, we must give young people of color every opportunity to be all that they have dreamed of being in life. We must begin and continue talking to our sons and daughters about the dangers of drugs because drugs defer dreams and diminish hopes. Most importantly, we must show our children love, both physically (I.E. hugs) and emotionally (saying “I love you”).
Our schools must provide every child and young person of color with a quality education that will prepare them with a solid, academically rigorous education. Education systems must also challenge students to learn, while supporting them academically, in an environment that is conducive to every child’s leaning style and needs. See The Purpose of Education.
We must talk to our children about the importance and value of a quality education and take an active interest in their learning. If school systems are not making a difference in your child’s learning, then challenge them. In addition, we can provide other resources at home for our children to learn especially about our history, diversity, racism and colorism among other important topics.
As a member of the village, the role you may play can be huge or incredibly small. The most important factor is that you play a role, make a difference, and help a young person begin walking on the path to reach higher ground. It begins with each one of us reaching out and making a difference in the life of a young person. Extend a helping hand and be a hero in your own right!
Will you join me and help a young person reach higher ground? Thereafter, you can sit back, smile, and marvel as you witness success stories. I guarantee that you will feel fulfilled and elated because as a member of the village, you made a difference. This will be your legacy and one that will note your dash as extraordinary.
Dr. Donnamaria Culbreth