Today’s world has many more options than it did when I was coming of age. The road to success is much like an expressway. Each exit has different choices, so a young person simply has to choose what they will become.
However my concern about today’s youth is how they navigate their way to becoming successful. A companion concern is their willingness to put in the time and the work that it takes to achieve their goals.
I have found in my travels for example that far too many African American boys are overly obsessed with wanting to be a superstar professional athlete. Recently, I drove by an athletic shoe store and saw this long line of people outside the store. I later found out that the new Jordan shoe was going on sale. The retail price for the shoe was more than a “pretty penny.” I wasn’t really surprised at the price or the majority of the people that were standing in line.
I am a product of the Chuck Taylor Converse era where a pair of tennis shoes was priced at about $8.00 or so. I know that some of you are saying that times have changed and that I should just go to bed. Yes, the times have changed and things do cost more. The problem that many of us have is that you don’t see those same long lines at the library, a museum or waiting to get in class.
I believe the same can be said for young teens wanting to have their own car. Many years ago now, I contracted something called “car fever.” My father finally took me to an automobile dealership and let me test drive a car. As the scene unfolded, my dad was in the backseat, the car salesman was in the front seat and I was behind the wheel. As I test drove the car, I was hoping that some of my friends would see me. Of course the car salesman was telling me everything that I wanted to hear such as good on gas and low monthly payments. My dad was not saying a word.
At the end of the drive, my dad thanked the salesman for his time and said to me, “You will be able to buy a car when you have money and establish credit.” I bought my first car six months after I started teaching high school. Today high school parking lots are filled with cars driven by teens. Why is this? There are multiple reasons for this so you choose an answer. Whether you agree or not, you see teenagers having some of the same things that adults have.
Despite this premature rush to success, we must help our youth and guide them in the right direction. There must be some habits that our youth have that will serve as a foundation for them. One of the first habits is to have goals. As I observe our United States many of our young people are goal-less and clue-less. As a result, they grow up not ever understanding their potential. They will always answer the question, what do you want to be with the answer, I don’t know. It is OK to have that answer at an early point but you can’t keep giving that answer at a later point in your development.
Patience is another attribute that our youth must have. Quite simply put, youth cannot have what adults have. It is misguided for them to think that they can have what we as adults have.
A thirst for knowledge also will be important on their road to success. Two- and four-year colleges should be a part of their post high school plans. Two-year colleges in particular have made some significant jumps recently in being more affordable for students. They have also developed an array of academic programs that will attract and graduate students. Statistics show that an increasing number of people both traditional and nontraditional students are attending because of flexible course hours and certificate programs.
Another habit for our youth to acquire is to learn how to manage money. Understanding the cost of things will help them in the long run. For example, credit cards can get them into early debt. Being in debt will affect their ability to buy a house or a car. They will find it difficult to make even the simplest of purchases if they do not spend wisely.
While there are a number of habits that these soon to be adults must have, one of the most important is to treat all people with dignity and respect. I believe this habit should be acquired at an early age. The golden rule is both an old school and a new school tool. If you treat people the way that you wish to be treated some good things will usually happen for you. It can be debated as to when our youth give back to their communities. They will become better people if they think of others along the way. We were all helped along our roads to success and we must do the same.
While things have changed, we must reinforce these time-honored habits. When we do the next generation will be positioned for success.
Dr. James B. Ewers Jr. is a higher education consultant/youth advocate and a member of The Academy Speaks.
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Could training in implicit bias be helpful at your institution?