I had to laugh recently when I came across a Facebook post by Nikki Davis Green, republished on QCity Metro. Ms. Davis Green wrote about “enticing” her son (read that, ‘bribing’) with a very special pair of “Jordan’s” so he would choose her alma mater over her husband’s for college.
That took me back – way, way back – to what was my mindset in considering what college to attend.
I was blessed to have a father and mother who were college graduates.
And I’m talking Xavier University, Class of 1951, in Dad’s case, and Southern University, Class of 1975, for Mom.
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My mom actually entered college at Xavier before my dad. But she had to drop out because of one of a range of family reasons that stops many kids even to this day. In my mom’s case, her mother became ill.
It was my mother’s perseverance that instilled in my brother and me the importance of a college degree as a path to a better life, no matter what age.
My father was a different story, and a no less inspiring one.
My father was the “griot” of our family, an oral historian. Among the vintage stories he told within our family was how he ended up attending Xavier.
My dad graduated salutatorian from Holy Ghost Catholic School in Opelousas, Louisiana, in 1947. The oldest of five siblings, he never considered the possibility of college. He assumed he would continue working his two after-school jobs until he found full-time work. He “needed to help the family.”
The principal of the school had other thoughts. Louisiana had three historically black colleges and universities, and she encouraged him to apply to at least one, if not all three.
My father told his principal, Sister Bonaface, that college was out of the question. So she took matters into her own hands. She contacted Xavier, made a plea for my dad, arranged for him to have multiple jobs on campus to help pay his tuition – and prayed.
When all was arranged, she asked to meet his parents. She explained that my dad could attend Xavier and would not owe them anything as long as he worked and studied hard.
As the story goes, my grandfather then asked my dad if he wanted to go. My dad began explaining that he needed to help at home. My grandfather cut him off in mid-sentence: “That’s not what I asked! Do you want to go?”
Needless to say, he went, and that led to a 40-year-career in education. He retired as a principal. Virtually all of his nieces and nephews – my cousins – followed his lead and graduated from college. My three children were the third generation to attend college.
Ms. Davis Green’s Facebook post reminded me of the “subtle pressure” I felt to choose one of my parents’ alma maters as I neared high school graduation in 1976.
But what I remember the most was a question, posed by one of my white classmates, that left me speechless: “If you don’t go to college, what would you do?” For me at that moment, the question was mind-bending.
I stared at that classmate for what seemed like an hour. The thought had never occurred to me. The natural progression after high school was college. I must have looked like “a deer in headlights!”
It took Louisiana public schools almost 20 years to integrate following the 1954 unanimous Supreme Court ruling, Brown vs Board of Education of Topeka. It took the Catholic schools even longer.
The ruling said “separate but equal schools” were unconstitutional. However, it left a gaping hole with the words that integration should proceed “with all due speed.”
As it turned out, “all due speed” in the Louisiana parish of St. Landry was the 1969-1970 school year for public schools and the 1971-1972 school year for the Catholic schools.
Tensions ran high in those first years of integration. I never trusted the kid who asked me about my plans after graduation. His question was clearly sarcastic. Sarcasm or not, I was going to college.
Which brings me back to Ms. Davis Green and her not-so-subtle hints/bribes to her son to attend her alma-mater.
There was nothing in that post about “if” he goes, but “where” he should go.
I reached out to Ms. Davis Green about her piece. I learned she is president of North Carolina Central University’s alumni association in Charlotte. She regularly posts messages to readers, encouraging them to consider an HBCU (historically black college or university).
Her son will be the fourth generation in her family to go to college. That is remarkable in any family, regardless of race or ethnicity.
Some in society have questioned the value of a college degree. Numerous studies I found suggest that the earning power of a college graduate greatly outpaces that of a high school graduate over one’s working life.
One study in 2021 found that the average starting annual salary of a college grad was $52,000 versus $35,000 for a high school graduate.
Same as Ms. Davis Green, I am passionate about getting kids to go to college. And more so, about encouraging parents to raise their kids to believe that college is not a choice but a natural progression in life.
I hope and pray that when your son or daughter is asked, “What would you do if you were not going to college?” that child’s deer-in-the-headlights look will say it all.
Greg Taylor is a graduate of Louisiana State University and Xavier University. He works as a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthesiologist in the Charlotte area. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.