“Giving Black Boys a Strong Start”
When Shawn Dove was in sixth grade, the students at his New York City school were asked to decide which academic track they wanted to follow for the next two years. He decided to choose “major gym,” just like the rest of his friends. But when he brought the form home to his single mother and said “Hey, Mom-can you sign this for me?,” his mother said, “No-you’re not going to major in gym! There’s no future in gym. You’re taking science and math.” Shawn spent the next two years mad at his mother every day as he could hear the noise and laughter coming from the gym while he went 30 yards down the hall for math and science classes. But then when Shawn finished eighth grade, he understood. He and the other young people who had majored in science and math had the chance to move on to good high schools like Bronx Science, but Shawn realized those who had taken mostly gym weren’t moving on to much of anything.
Many lessons came out of the symposium’s sessions, but above all, speaker after speaker reinforced how critical it is to intervene early. Dr. Iheoma Iruka, a researcher in the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, warned us, “we can’t wait for the gap to show up”-because by the time we measure achievement gaps in school, many Black boys are already behind. She explained that “the social and family disparities exist at birth and continue throughout. When you start at that low level you stay at that low level and the disparity continues.”