June 10, 2011
Note: Here is a piece that I wrote for www.oaklandlocal.com that was published today. Just to let you all know I do write about positive things from time to time, though I try not to. LOL.
As I walked down Oak Street on my way to attend the College Bound Brotherhood Graduation Celebration earlier this week, I met a young man named Charles Breed who was heading to the same destination.
He wore his hat to the back and walked in the slow, cool, strut that seems to be unique to African-American males. Charles, along with 65 graduating seniors from Bay Area high schools, was being honored at the annual event held at the Oakland Museum. When I asked him what the evening meant to him, however, he was at a loss for words.
That’s when his aunt who accompanied him could not help but to jump in:
“I registered him for this event because it’s a milestone. He is the first,” she slowed her speech down for emphasis “man in the entire family to graduate from high school.”
Now Charles who 30 seconds ago was the epitome of cool could scarcely conceal his grin as he blushed and looked away.
The Wednesday evening graduation, which was hosted by the Mitchell Kapor Foundation, was created to celebrate the young black men in the Bay Area who graduated from high school and plan on attending college in the fall despite the abysmal statistics. Statistics such as only 11 percent of the black males who graduate from high school in the San Francisco Bay Area have the courses and grades required to attend a California university.
The young men who participated in the ceremony were given a $100 stipend along with a first class celebration. Karen Bevels catered the banquet portion of the event and soul food was definitely on the menu. There were chicken strips, greens and macaroni and cheese. The vibe was extremely positive as predominately young black people milled around the room in business attire and dress clothes. The scene stood in stark contrast to the murderous war torn Oakland, which is consistently depicted in the media.
Akili Terry, a sophomore at Marin Catholic High School who helped out at the event, captured this misrepresentation perfectly when he said, “Everybody in the hood don’t smoke, drink or get hyphy but we do have that spirit.”
That spirit was on full display while an African drum procession led the large gathering of graduates, friends and family into the auditorium for the ceremony. It was there that Jahsiri Asabi-Shakir a graduating senior from Bentley High School gave a riveting performance of a poem that he penned himself called “Skin tone.” It’s no wonder that Jahsiri will be attending the prestigious Morehouse College in the fall.
The keynote speaker was Lloyd Pierce, an assistant coach for the Golden State Warriors. And he was on point with his address: He simply challenged all of the graduates to look toward the future and told them “to be better than you are right now.”
His brief, yet powerful, speech seemed to resonate with the students as they took the stage and announced where they planned on attending college and their intended major. Each of them strolled across the stage exuding the confidence of a man who made it even though all the odds were against him. They all possessed an undeniable swagger – a swagger that seems to be unique to African-American males.