This past Saturday, I had the privilege of praying with one of my younger cousins, as she embarked on a new journey in her life: going away to college. I was so excited for her. I could sense the excitement in her voice, as well as the nerves that were fluttering within her. She is a fortunate and gifted young woman, who has desires to see the world. Xavier University will be more than a stepping stone toward her achievements in life—but her launching pad. I commend her on this deserved rite of passage. Every culture, family, community, and religion has rites of passage. Often we hear about rites of passage when a boy is transitioning into manhood. There are certain rituals that we adhere to; certain observances that we are conditioned to experiencing within our culture, families, communities, or religion.
I strongly believe going to college should be a rite of passage adopted by all families; especially African Americans. It should be an important transitional period in a young person’s life along their journey into adulthood. Every young, black person should experience, at least one time, the feeling of walking onto a college campus and getting a sense for what it would be like to matriculate among their peers, and taking that step into adulthood. Whether it is financial, lack of interest, incarceration, or because they were told they weren’t college material, it pains me to see any person miss an opportunity that could change their lives forever.
At seventeen, eighteen—all of those young adult years—one should be discovering who they are, what they like, what they want in life, and what they can actually achieve. Sadly, however, many of our young black adults have already been hit with difficulties in life that many twice their age have never experienced. We know the statistics among ourselves; even if we do not like to mention it. It is like the elephant in the room, snoring loudly! And we hope and pray that by some miracle it disappears. But it won’t. It will continue to be right there, in our midst, giving birth to more of its kind. If those who know and can do something about it, don’t step up to the plate, take the initiative to do something that will impact the lives of young people, then we will continue to see statistics continue to grow in the wrong direction.
Rites of passage into adulthood should not be surviving a hail of gunfire on your way home. A rite of passage should not consist of selling drugs. A rite of passage should not consist of being racially profiled. A rite of passage should not be being abandoned by parents, giving up your hopes and dreams and having to become the sole provider for your younger siblings. A rite of passage should not be continuing the family tradition of getting pregnant early, or dropping out of school, or going through the revolving doors of a prison.
Sociologists say that rites of passage consists of three phases: separation, transition, and re-incorporation. I am tired of the three phases consisting of our young black men and women being forcibly separated from their families, transitioning into a prison life, and being re-incorporated back into society, where it is only designed to increase the numbers for recidivism. Which, perpetuates the vicious cycle over and over again.
Perhaps I am being to idealistic considering the many harsh realities that our young, black children face each and every day. Maybe I am too optimistic when it comes to believing that we can make a change in the lives of young people. That, yes, we can change the course of lives, if we that are able to, do so, with vigor, determination and dedication.
No. I cannot and will not believe that. I have seen what determined individuals can do when they have a heart and mind to make a change in the lives of those around them. I know what being a mentor can do for a child who’s only picture was one of despair, bitterness, and poverty. I know the difference it can make when you introduce the possibility of a different life to a child who has been told they will never make it; they will never be more than their circumstances; that they would be just like their parents and suffer the same fate. I know the impact it has on the life a child who has suffered from a lack of love. Who, is so hungry for affection that they desperately latch on to any form of life they can get a hold of.
In our families, our communities; we can create rites of passage that consist of us inspiring, encouraging, and instilling in the hearts and minds of our children the experience of furthering their education. We can foster an environment that encourages not only our own family, but children in the community to reach higher than what they can see. To give them something to reach for, and hope for; daring them to dream. We have the opportunity to give hope to children that may never hear in their home an encouraging word. We have the ability to show them the possibilities that await them.
One of the greatest gifts I ever received was the chance to visit a college campus during junior high school, and meet people just like me, from my neighborhood and city, and be told that I could do the same thing. That, it was indeed possible. All I had to do was believe, work to achieve, and keep daring to dream.