1. Black Excellence and Achievement
Mama’s antidote to being born a black boy on parole in Central Mississippi is not for us to seek freedom; it’s to insist on excellence at all times.
– Kiese Laymon, How to Slowly Kill Yourself
and Others in America: A Remembrance
[Some people burdened by racism] achieve themselves to death trying to dodge the build up of erasure.
– Claudia Rankine, Citizen: An American Lyric
One of three Buddhist Peace Fellowship banners outside the White House, above, following the closing of the U.S. Buddhist Leadership Conference, May 14, 2015.
When my father was a boy in the early 1950s, he was selected for a scholarship, plucking him out of the black projects of New Haven, Connecticut, and shipping him off to an elite prep school, where he became a proverbial fly in the buttermilk of white students, white teachers, and white ideas.
As he tried to settle in, my father was startled to learn that students’ academic rankings were posted publicly, following periodic exams, with the highest achiever’s name at the top of the list.
Determined to see his name rise, my father began to break school rules. Nighttimes, after lights-out, he would smuggle his coursework into his bunk, along with a flashlight. Clandestine study under the covers.
And sure enough, his name ascended. All the way to the top.