Thursday, August 14, 2008

You can't be what you don't know


Everyone's looking at Michael Phelps these days.

I admit, he amazes me as well. (good grief!...he doesn't even breathe hard after breaking world record times in swimming!) However, I have just become even more impressed with Cullen Jones. Jones helped the USA team win the 4x100 Freestyle relay.

That's not why he impresses me.

Cullen Jones impresses me because he recognizes that his gold medal was only an opportunity for him to open doors for others:
"I've gone to a driving range before and hit golf balls because I saw Tiger Woods doing it on TV," Jones said. "I want more minority kids to go to a swimming pool and try to swim because of me. I know I'm nowhere near Tiger Woods. But I want to make a difference. I want kids to say, 'Look a black swimmer. And he's got a gold medal!' And I want them to get in the water because of it," Cullen Jones mentioned in an article in kansascity.com

The article went on to explain, "Jones is mostly concerned not that minority children learn to swim fast, but that they learn to swim, period." USA Swimming did a study that found that 58 percent of black children could not swim, compared to 31 percent of whites. Cullen Jones recognizes he has a chance to change that.

I know Jones is right. He *does* have that opportunity.

Kids want...and NEED...to see people who look like themselves so that they can envision themselves there. They see rappers...they see basketball players. But, slowly the fields of interest are beginning to look more diverse for children of color.

This summer, as I shuttled kids to and from their summer program, I listened to a group of eight kids (ages 7-10) talk amongst themselves about the potential of Barack Obama becoming president. As I listened in, I was amazed by how much they knew and how important it was to them that a black man could potentially become president.

Kids become what they see and what they know...

...which is the reason I put so much effort into encouraging and helping kids get into college. I see the ripple effect in my community already taking place. I try to partner my upper-level college students with the new students to help them with their financial aid...give them advice...and walk them through the process.

Many of these kids grew up in urban communities where the high school graduation rate is about 50% and college graduation is about 6%. As they go off to college, people in the community know. Their friends (who didn't go to college) ask them questions and have begun contemplating and talking with them about getting into school. Younger kids are beginning to focus more on taking Advanced Placement classes, getting involved in extracurriculars, and studying the booklets the school hands out that helps them know what to do to get into college.

It's really hard to dream about something you've never seen or heard. I'm happy for Cullen Jones, thankful that he recognizes this as an opportunity, and proud of all of our college students who also have recognized their opportunities and obligation to bring so many others along behind them.
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