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Mothers and Daughters

African American news from Pasadena - Renatta Cooper on mothers and daughersAs a school board member, my springs are full of events for graduating seniors. Many civic and fraternal organizations host scholarship awards luncheons and I found myself at such an event not long ago. I recognized one of the recipients, a bright young woman who was in a mentor program and blossoming under the attention she was receiving. She was different on this day; the sparkle I had noticed in earlier meetings was absent.

When it was time to accept her award, she was the only student who did not have anyone with her, no parent to thank or give a "shout out" to. She mentioned that her college plans had changed from a school in the east to P.C.C. I later gave her a hug and congratulated her. I also asked her to smile and be proud of her achievement. She thanked me and flashed a faint smile. I made a mental note to follow up with her organization and find out what was wrong, maybe there was something I could do to help. As luck would have it, I ran into one of her mentors several days later, "She's pregnant came the reply" I had begun to suspect as much.

The girl is disappointed and confused. The mentor is frustrated. The grandmother to be is delighted. She had not wanted her daughter to go away to college. Her daughter does not understand why her mother is happy that her dreams have been dashed, she is pregnant and "Abortion and adoption are not allowed in this family."

"We have to find a way to include the mothers in the program", vented the mentor." It is too difficult to put so much energy into a student to not have the parent's full support". I had an immediate flashback to an earlier conversation this spring about a student who was graduating with a 4.0 average and had a scholarship offer to a college out of state. Her mother did not want her to take the scholarship believing "I might need her around to help me" something she mentioned at a family gathering. A relative set her straight, on allowing her daughter to claim the reward for her achievements. The scholarship will be accepted and the young woman will move on to the next phase of her life. Two incidents do not necessarily make for a trend, but I am beginning to wonder.

Our students, your children are being programmed to go to college as never before in the history of this country. Those who show the most academic promise will receive opportunities to attend prestigious colleges and universities. Doors are open for them that were closed for previous generations, no matter how good a student they may have been. Some parents may have ambivalent feelings about this. I can remember going through a version of this with my father.

I graduated from high school in 1973. I was a good student, not the best in my class but in the top group. My father had graduated at the top of his class, and been offered a scholarship to a prestigious university, but his parents did not understand how to access it, so he turned it down. He later went to college on the GI Bill. All of this took place prior to the passage of the Civil Rights Act. I was always aware of the anger and bitterness in my father, the closer I got to my graduation day. That so many more opportunities were open to me and my generation was impossible for him was difficult to for him to bear. I know that with a BA my father worked as a farm worker, a cook and in a cannery while waiting to be called in for a civil service job. In those days you were not called up according to your score; white men were called first, and you had to stay close to where you had taken the exam because they were not going to look for you. You miss your notice, and you miss out. During this time, my father told me the only job he quit was the one at the cannery, because he was the only one with all of his fingers.

The closer it got to making college choices for me, the more difficult he became. I began to realize that he was not going to send me to school even though our family income would have made doing so possible. I would not qualify for financial aid initially because of that income, so I would have to do this on my own. I got a job working in a "greasy spoon "restaurant and began saving my money. I knew I could afford to pay my way through a state college and that is what I did. My Mom helped. My Aunt helped, and we did it. He was jealous of my possibilities and there was nothing I could do to change that.

We cannot continue to pass the legacy of inequity on to our children. We are supposed to want more for them that we have had ourselves. We should not resent their opportunities even if we did not have the same ones. Legitimate dreams are to be encouraged, not dashed.

To end on an upbeat note, my Soror Betty Betts-Turner told me of an incident in her family that had a very different outcome. A young woman ended her first year of college pregnant and despondent, believing her dreams were over. Her mother told her," Nothing doing! You will have the baby this summer and go back to school in the fall. It will be harder, but we will figure out a way to make it work." She did, and graduated this spring with her BA degree and will enter a master's program this fall.

Parents please, support your children!


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