By Jammil Telfort, VI Form
Changing Society and the Lives of Black Men
That is the percentage of incarcerated American youth who are black.
That is the percentage of the United States population who are black.
According to the aforementioned trends, most black men are destined to lives of crime, preventing them from becoming upstanding citizens of the United States. As I transition into adulthood, I am haunted by these ominous statistics that tell me that by next fall, I should be in a prison cell and not in a college dorm. Despite having the odds stacked against me, I have challenged this idea through my very existence.
Ideally, all youth should be held responsible for developing into functioning members of society. The expectations for black male youth are far different. Having been raised in Harlem, I have witnessed youth around me show disinterest in propelling themselves to high levels of academia. One of my cousins, with whom I was raised, fell into the lifestyle that devalued education and admired a lifestyle of drugs and coasting through each passing day. At twenty-two years old, he serves as a constant disappointment to my family as he is without a high school diploma let alone a job. Throughout our childhood, I idolized him for being clever, quick-witted, and persistent, but it is difficult to look at him now without seeing him as a possible statistic.
I knew that if I wanted to avoid the same temptations my cousin would face, I would have to expose myself to the world outside of my community. Since I am from a low income family, the only feasible way to get that exposure is through my education. Seeking higher levels of academia is the best way for me to challenge society’s views of black men. Fortunately, I have taken advantage of several educational opportunities which have led me to St. Mark’s School, an elite New England boarding school. As expected, this setting differs from my home in almost every way. Walking into St. Mark’s School meant walking straight into opportunity and hardship. Integrating into this school meant becoming a minority for the first time in my life. I entered a class where many students had not befriended any black people and had assumptions on black men based solely off of the stereotypes and statistics I sought to overcome. At times, I felt as if I bore the burden of educating some of my classmates while raising the expectations they would have of any black person they would meet in the future. However, I did not have to burden alone. Within the school I found a community of black students who expect themselves to reach success through their education. Together we encourage each other to continue to challenge societal expectations.
This is particularly evident in my graduating class as three black males within my grade, including myself, were elected by the students and faculty to serve as student body representatives called Monitors. Being a Monitor means bridging the gap between the school’s faculty and students while ensuring that changes around the school are made with both perspectives in mind. Having three black males of the four males of our student government in this position is a testament to defying stereotypes as we have such a pivotal role in setting the tone of our school’s community.
At seventeen years old, I have put myself on a path to being that ensures that I will not be a part of the fifty-eight percent. Continuing my education is imperative in creating a trend that embraces rarity. I go through this journey with hopes that I can one day make it easier for young black males like me to attain the same opportunities I was given. As I continue to challenge society’s expectation of black men, I hope to change society and lives of black men across America.