Call to Action

Despite what you may have read in recent parenting articles, “Tiger Moms” are not the only ones who are focused on ensuring that their kids excel. As a Black mother with a daughter and two sons, I too have great expectations that my children will work hard and do well in school, and carry on our family’s legacy of achievement. And I know I am not alone. I’ve met so many moms of color who are laser focused on helping their children succeed.

While we want all of our children to do well, these days I am often especially focused on our sons, because it is no secret that Black and Hispanic boys are in crisis mode when it comes to finishing high school and college. And the crisis grows greater when you consider the small percentages of boys of color excelling in high school and college. We need to candidly assess the factors that are keeping our boys from excelling — from low teacher expectations and negative social pressure to poor work habits and insufficient parental involvement.

I have had numerous conversations with other parents of boys who are similarly concerned, both about the macro plight of Black and Hispanic boys in education, and about how their particular boys are doing in school. But these conversations generally end with more questions and concerns than action plans. It is time to focus on what we as a community can do about it, especially when it comes to parental involvement. Are we parents doing all that we can to help our children succeed and excel? If being a good student is something parents can have a hand in helping our boys to be, how can we make sure we are doing all we can towards this end? Black parents who have enjoyed the privilege of receiving a good education have the obligation to do everything they can to ensure that their sons and daughters have the same advantage. And are we doing our best to help them with their social and emotional development? How much is too much? Why aren’t we talking more about what methods work (and don’t work) for us with our children, especially our sons? And why aren’t we employing them?
In our conversations about these issues with several well educated and well intentioned Black parents recently, a couple of answers have emerged:

1. We are tired. We work hard, this first generation of professionals, to pay for school tuitions and/or after school programs, and tutors and camps. Where exactly are we supposed to find the time to sit and force our children to go the extra mile? And by the way, aren’t these things we are paying for (tuition, programs, tutors) supposed to be helping? Lord knows we didn’t have all this stuff, and look how far we’ve come.

2. We don’t have a plan. We are not going to lock our 4 year old children out of the house with no coat in frigid weather until they agree to practice their violin for 3 hours like the Tiger Moms suggest. But what is our game plan? Black and Hispanic children aged 8-18 consume nearly 4 1/2 hours more media daily than their white peers. Yet we may be ok with letting them play 3 hours of video games after getting their homework done in 30 minutes. Do we accept that our children “won’t read” or “can’t do math” as part of their DNA? What can do we do to change their perspectives… and ours?

I am a lawyer who has spent many years researching and focusing on these issues. Two of my children are in their twenties and the youngest is a teenager. I can say with certainty that there are many, many ways that we can help our children thrive and excel, and some of them do not take much more time and energy. Some of them do, and there’s not much to say about this except: Life’s no crystal stair. We’ve got to suck it up and focus on this, especially for our sons, before they become an extinct species on college campuses. We need to talk about what works, what doesn’t, share information and resources. Starting now.

Welcome to Ground Control Parenting. Here we will hear from parents and experts on best practices for helping our children succeed academically, socially, emotionally. We will also share resources and tips to help you figure out how best to help them. Stay tuned.

Carol Sutton Lewis


  1. Susan Gonzalas January 31, 2011 at 3:03 pm - Reply

    Oh my, this is a very good blog. I must check this reguarly!

    Thanks for the help,

  2. Lydia Mallett January 31, 2011 at 8:48 pm - Reply

    Love the blog. You might find this aricle interesting. Supportive of your premise but also outlines how media can camouflage some of the issues with Black and Hispanic boys.
    Gender Myths & the Education of Boys
    Rosalind C. Barnett and Caryl Rivers
    Winter 2007

  3. Caroline Graves February 1, 2011 at 2:08 pm - Reply

    This is such a critical area for us — us meaning not just black/brown parents, but ALL of society — to confront and swiftly address. The devastating consequences of not doing so impact us all, and are evident not just in the obvious places, like our outsized prison system and the sad local bar or street corner. Depression and suicide in males of color is at an all-time high as are addiction, obesity, and all manner of physical and mental illness. Male Black and Latino college students are quickly going the way of land lines. Just ask the vibrant numbers of Black and Latino co-eds who are making social and romantic choices based on their lack of options, rather than their hopes and dreams. Congrats on starting this blog! I’m eager to see how it develops!!

    • Austria Rodriguez-Vickers February 1, 2011 at 8:36 pm - Reply

      I do believe boys unlike most girls need to be tough to be very organize in order to be successful. How many times has your boy told you he could not find something or better yet couldn’t find something he just had in his hands a minute ago? Programing their everyday life may help them become more attentive since they know what their schedule is, were they are expected to be and when they are to do what they are expected to do. Take the guessing out of everyday tasks by writing them the previous night and putting the list on the refrigerator’s door. Small steps make for big changes. Great blog!

  4. pearl cleage February 1, 2011 at 2:14 pm - Reply

    this is wonderful. my daughter is a grown woman now, but i’m involved in the lives of my grandchildren and will certainly be checking in regularly to see what ideas/suggestions you have to offer. don’t stop…

  5. Nadja White February 2, 2011 at 9:22 am - Reply

    In my household, we are big belivers in striving for excellence. We set boundaries and adhere to a strict schedule with our son– that includes a balance of Academic, Spiritual, and Athletic preparedness. In other words, we give him tools to succeed.

    The truth is.. to be a good parent is tiring… but if we want our sons to be excellent– those of us who are Two Degree Working Moms– need to get up a little earlier… check that homework– show that you are interested.. and put in the time.

    This is the kid of dialogue we need as parents.. so thank you for creating this Blog..

    I don

  6. Sezelle Haddon February 5, 2011 at 11:52 am - Reply

    First of all, thanks for the venue to digitally share these thoughts with other mothers of color. We have been parenting communally through phone calls, chats over coffee, wine or on the MVY beach, but there is no topic nearer and dearer to our hearts, or on which we have more to say. And there aren’t many resources for us, other than ourselves.

    With that said, I saw Chua on Joy Behar, and she looked like an idiot:
    Like someone who wrote one thing in her book, but when backed to the wall couldn’t adequately defend them, and repeatedly said that she was kidding in many of the scenarios she described, or that it was what her parents did to her, but not exactly what she did. Amy Chua is no resource for us. The stigma that she and her daughters bear of being Asian American would only lead the majority to think that she was smart, hardworking, not what the world would think looking at our chocolate colored sons (or our daughters for that matter).
    In raising a high-achieving young man and woman, what has always been apparent to me is the vast difference in the way they best learn. My daughter a self-starter, a voracious reader, totally motivated to “get the A”, no prompting from me necessary. Also head strong and not necessarily great at taking direction in her choices. My son much more amenable to intervention, listens, tries out what you might suggest, but much less academically pushy with himself, hates to read.

    His learning style is radically different from hers. He’ll do the chem lab in 30 seconds, get it all right, but starts the book report the night before because he hates it. He is a visual learner, needs to do it to learn it, very hands on. (I believe this is the draw of the video game, and I would bet that it’s a processing difference in the brain) Actually if you could make the book report more like the chem lab, he’d love it. But no school he has ever gone to has fully addressed that. He has to be the one to adapt, not the teacher finding him. He is a stellar employee – and has the potential to be very successful in life. Given a work task, he can use all his skills to figure out how best to get it done, and there, he is eager to get the A. But in a classroom, he is less certain of himself.

    I totally get this. I actually am a little of both, and it has been advantageous to my line of work to be both hands on and one who can bury her head in a book. But how do you stoke both parts of one’s intellectual development? How do you pass onto your kids that it’s OK to acquire knowledge in your own way. How do you give them the skills to do so?

    What have you mothers done??

  7. Rozlyn Anderson Flood February 15, 2011 at 1:58 pm - Reply

    Both my sons attended public school through the 5th grade, but my older son transferred to a private school in the 6th and continued through to 12th. Although he was one of the few African Americans in his class, he graduated high school at the top of his class with numerous academic awards. He was popular and lauded by his classmates.

    On the other hand, my younger son, stayed in public school by choice, which school was close to 50-50 majority to minority students. Middle school was particularly difficult for him because he was taunted by other African American students who accused him of “acting white” when he spoke up in class and excelled. He was even physically abused in the school cafeteria because he dared complain to a teacher about the bullying.

    Needless to say, we were apalled and dismayed by the culture of bullying that persists even in our children’s generation. My grandparents, parents, my husband and I all experienced this treatment. I ask: when in our community will it be “cool” to be smart? When will being at the top of your class be considered “acting Black?” As parents, we must rise up and declare that our African American culture breeds academic and other success, and that “acting Black” means to become the very best person that God made you to be.

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