Published in the Fall 2019 print issue:
When I was told that I was being transferred to Wilde Lake High School I was told, “It’s a ghetto school.” I was told, “Wilde Lake is a ratchet school.” I actually can’t remember many positive things said about Wilde Lake High School as a whole from many people beyond the Wilde Lake Community in Columbia, Maryland. However, something that I noticed that was glaring was that a good number of the Wilde Lake staff members that I met had many positive things to say about Wilde Lake. Many of them told me that Wilde Lake held a special place in their heart. A number of staff members even shared with me that their children also attended Wilde Lake as well. I also discovered that many staff members have at some point and time in their lives been students at Wilde Lake and have held Wildecat pride dear to their hearts for quite some time.
In my second year as a Secondary Achievement Liaison of Howard County’s Black Student Achievement Program for Wilde Lake High School, much of what I learned through my engagement and interaction with black students has contradicted a seemingly negative narrative or story of how Wilde Lake was originally described to me. As an employee for the Howard County Public School System for close to nine years and as someone who grew up in Howard County attending its schools, I have been able to notice a continual pattern. What is that pattern one may ask? The pattern that I am referring to is a narrative that can be embedded in someone’s outlook on life. A narrative can be very powerful. It can shape a person’s reality and way that they view the world. A narrative can inspire, motivate, empower, and give a person a sense of belonging. A narrative can explain something or teach a lesson. On the contrary, a narrative can damage self-esteem. A narrative can teach how to dislike yourself. A narrative can mentally enslave, disempower, discourage and condition one to think with a limited distorted perception of reality. A narrative can also be passed down from generation to generation. Simply put, a narrative is a story. One should always ask, “Who is telling the story? From whose perspective is the story being told from?”
As an African American husband, father, son, educator, mentor, role model and mindset coach I have come to understand the impact of an unfortunately negative narrative that many African Americans have been subjected to. This narrative comes in the form of racist undertones, negative stereotypes, implicit biases, explicit injustices, faulty assumptions, unverified beliefs, preconceived notions, misperceptions, and inaccurate conclusions.
Historically numerous Black people have been told that they have to be twice as good and work twice as hard to validate their value. The narrative portrays blacks as criminals, thugs, savages, beasts, coons, lazy, shiftless and incapable of learning. The narrative or story that is often told historically paints the picture of black people being passive victims with no agency, power or will to influence and control of their own destiny. In fact, I remember having numerous conversations with my students and the first thing that comes to many of their minds when the term “Black History” is mentioned is slavery. There are those who even assume that BSAP only addresses the low performing black students even though it addresses the broad spectrum of African American learners.
I have noticed that many students at Wilde Lake have internalized this negative narrative. I believe much of why I was told negative things about Wilde Lake High School at first was because it is a predominantly African American populated school. It still is with the black student population hovering right over 43% in 2019. Some African American students don’t believe they are capable of learning or are deserving to be in rigorous and challenging classes, especially if there are few students who look like them. Some black students bring into the classroom with them an inferiority complex and may be oversensitive showing distrust for teachers even when they mean well. Many students see the narrative reinforced with African Americans often times being excluded from the history books which can zap motivation and interest in the curriculum. Many black students have expressed a deep thirst for more black teachers within the classroom.
Since I have been at Wilde Lake High School, I have been so inspired by the wonderful diverse population of students at Wilde Lake High School. Since my role in the building is such where I address the educational needs of the African American students specifically, I have met students who are very resilient and highly talented in their own unique way. Many black students are from other countries and many even speak multiple languages. Many black students are doing many successful things at Wilde Lake. Many have come to greatly dislike the negative label and stigma that comes with being an African American student. Changing the narrative requires a paradigm shift and a mindset change. It requires one to challenge their biases. However, it can be an opportunity to interact with each other more so we can learn from one another. The Black Student Achievement Program’s theme for the 2018-2019 school year has been “Making Connections For Success.” It is through building relationships and truly connecting with each other that the old narratives can be dismantled and new empowering narratives can be established. It’s time to change the narrative!