It’s 2018, a new year and a new opportunity for success. However, whereas in the past a sense of hope typically accompanies the New Year, a feeling that this coming year will be better than the previous one, it seems like 2018 is distinctly lacking those feelings of optimism. The political institution is in shambles, our relationship with law enforcement seems to be at an all-time low, and neither of these seems to be fixing themselves anytime soon. Now, let ’s go back to 2008 and the election of former President Barack Obama. Then, it seemed as if we were full of hope, so full that we were practically bursting at the seams! President Obama had done the impossible, he’d been the first black man to be elected to office and, in doing so, not only broke down over a centuries worth of systematic racism and institutions but he inspired an entire generation of black children that they could be something more than just an athlete, a rapper, or an entertainer. To put it simply, he changed the world as we knew it.
I don’t know about you, but I know for a fact that I was inspired after witnessing such a monumental moment in history. At the time I was in high school, I hadn’t decided much about what I’d wanted to do with my life but I knew one thing: I loved basketball. My time was spent focused on basketball, nothing was more important to me than getting better and earning myself a scholarship to college based on my skill. A noble pursuit right? But, no I think in truth, it was the wrong frame of mind. I was conditioned to think that basketball was my way out. Not a way out, my only way out. I was taught that by being a talented athlete I could make something out of my life, get a free education, and possibly some fame down the line. Now, this is no fault of my mother. She was hard working, extremely supportive, and always pushed me to give it my all when it came to school. The fault, instead, lies in society. As a child, the only real successful black role models I saw out in the world were, well, athletes, rappers, and entertainers. I grew up an avid fan of the Laker ’s and Kobe Bryant. I listened to just about every song or album that Beyonce released, and don’t even get me started on Will Smith and the Fresh Prince. See, individually, none of the aforementioned people are bad people or even bad role models for that matter. But, what they represent is a largely unattainable goal for children who don’t have or see anyone else to look up to. The thought of being a teacher, a doctor, or a politician – all infinitely more attainable goals – was completely foreign. That’s because, like a said earlier, we had no one to look to. Almost every teacher I had from elementary school through college was white. Almost every doctor I’ve seen has been white. And, up until recently, every politician I had seen had been white. How can a young black child relate, or aspire to be something which they cannot even see themselves doing?
President Obama once said, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” Not all of us can be President. And not all of us can be a Barack Obama, or a Martin Luther King Jr. And that’s okay. However, each and every one of us is capable of making a change, we can take that from the former President’s words. Today, I am an elementary school teacher and I’ve noticed a distinct lack of black educators, black role models which can reinforce to children that it’s okay to be educated, it’s okay to like school. Letting young black children know that there are other ways to be successful that don’t involve a ball or a microphone. Inspiring children every day to pick up a book, challenging them to work just a little bit harder on solving that math equation, pushing them to learn more about history. Then, all of a sudden, we have a generation of authors, mathematicians, and politicians. So, I’m challenging all of you to be the change you wish to see in the world and collectively we can inspire a generation too.
Darryl Oliver III is a sixth-grade assistant teacher in the Los Angeles area. He graduated from Oregon State University with a BA in English and is currently working towards receiving his MA in History. He grew up locally in Pasadena, CA and promptly returned after completing his undergraduate. When he’s not teaching he enjoys reading, writing, and playing basketball.