Two choices

Leo Jerald, a sophomore at Fremont Federation’s Media Academy, won a $500 scholarship for this essay in a statewide contest.

I am a young black male growing up in East Oakland. Where I come from, black males are given two choices in life, either school or selling narcotics. This may seem like an easy choice for you, but when your family is hungry and you are the man of the house, you can’t bring a school book home for dinner.

I know that California leaders should save me a spot in college because I can do more for my community besides support their drug habits. With this college opportunity, I would like to open a boys club for young males of all races and give them courage to do something positive with their life. Most of the time, it is planted in people’s minds that black males are crooks, drug dealers and users, but that is because most of us never had a real opportunity to do something good in life. Most kids like me want a spot in college but 90 percent of us already have a spot for us in the streets. Around here, college is a fairytale place that won’t become reality.

I would like to open a boys and girls club because when I attended a boys and girls club, there were people there to help me through my problems in life. Now I feel like now it is my turn to pass down the words of wisdom. Although I don’t know most of the kids, I don’t want them to go through what I had to go through. If my spot shall be denied, I can’t stop because it’s my job to help these kids. And it won’t be anything personal, I will still invite you to my wedding when I marry the streets.

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • harlemmoon

    My brother, stay focused and continue to aspire to higher things – then no one will have to “save” a college spot for you. You will have earned it.

  • aly

    beautifully expressed, and talk about courage. thank you, mr. jerald, for caring about your peers and your city enough to want to make a difference. i wish we had more people- young and old- who were willing to make the fairytale come true. media is lucky to have you as a member of their student body and i feel lucky to live in oakland with you. push on, young man.

  • James Jones, Parent


  • James Jones, Parent

    I know, Young Black Male, that that story about having only two choices is the story you have been sold or have, in this case, sold yourself. And I know, it’s a good story; and by good I mean successful. I mean, it works. It garners immediate sympathy and is usually beyond reproach. That is, unless you try and run it by an Old Black Male that grew up in East Oakland. An Old Black Male that knows it to be untrue. An Old Black Male that understands it to be merely a problem of perspective.

    Now, I don’t live in your neighborhood but I’m not aware of any neighborhood ordinances that prevent residents from getting jobs. If you, for whatever reason, need to provide for your household, then get a job.. or two. If you can’t find a job then keep looking. If you still can’t find a job, make a job.

    If you want a spot in College, then, each day, prepare yourself for a spot in college. No one has to save you anything. If you want it, prepare for it then go get it.

    You have no way of knowing what is “planted in most folks minds”.. that entire idea is the staple of the Self-Defeater’s Toolkit and is the number one reason why those that don’t do, don’t do. It’s just plain insecurity. Don’t waste your time worrying about what you can’t control.

    What you say is not nearly as effective as what you do. The best way to help your community is to live a responsible life. Don’t have children until you are in a committed, long-term relationship. Be a good father. Be a good husband. Be a good neighbor. Stop referring to yourself through general categories; doing so is akin to looking at yourself through others eyes. Instead of categorizing yourself, take specific actions, everyday, to move you from where you are to where you want to be.

  • Nextset

    Where do I start? Let’s see. You have no duty to take care of “the community”. You need to figure out who is important and who you reasonably are in position to be taking care of. Start with yourself. Much of what you have written here involved putting yourself in extremely high risk situations for what I think is a fantasy of fixing the situation you are growing up in. That is not how things get fixed.

    As far as college goes, no one owes you a seat or position in any school. You will be admitted if you fit into the needs and plans of the school. That means you had better get yourself ready.

    As far as your family goes, you need to realistically examine what’s going on there. You are not the “Man” of the house. You are a child. You have a child’s needs and that doesn’t include being forced or tricked into providing certain needs for other people in the family when they are supposed to seek that elsewhere and take care of you at the same time. I assume you live with your Mother. She needs to seek intimacy and companionship in the proper places and not expect you to provide her with the adult things she has an obligation to take care of properly. If the family is or becomes disfunctional – if they fail and neglect to do their own roles – stop trying to fix it. Seek the normal support and solace elsewhere wherever you can reasonably find it. Grandparents, neighbors, families of friends.

    And seriously consider getting yourself ready to enlist in the Armed Services and get out of Dodge. At least keep that option open. That means getting in touch with a recruiter years before you would actually leave and enrolling in whatever programs the Services have for students prior to enlistment to get them ready. Remember, the “deal” you enlist under is affected by your test scores in the testing done prior to enlistment. In the years prior to 18 find out all you can about the testing and the career options and decide what is the most appealing career you can reach for bot inside and outside the Services. I know foster kids who had a terrible family situation who made the jump to middle class using the military to get the training and college credits for their careers (enlisting on 18th birthday) – and traveled the world in the process.

    An Attorney I know – who happens to be black – is a child of a heroin addict mother who had children from a variety of men. The mother and his siblings have been in and out of prison all his life (since the 1950’s). There were the usual premature deaths. So we are talking a long time ago when people didn’t see black attorneys. They were farm workers sometimes. He worked in the fields as a child. And you think you have problems. He joined the Army at 18 after public school education got him eligible (something they typically fail at now). Later he settled in the Bay Area upon return from the service and went to UC Berkeley, and then a UC Law School. He is retiring now after a long career which included being the “first” black lawyer in many capacities. These stories are frequent. If you want to be able to change or fix things you need something behind you other than the ghetto. You can get that, but you have to leave and you have to say good-bye to everybody and everything you leave behind because at least while you are in the training/career building stage of your life you cannot take these people and their behavior and problems with you. Not if you want to make it.

    So you have a choice. Stay with the disfunctional people and wallow in their nonsense or get out of Dodge and see the world.

    And that is the way I see it. Good luck.

    And beware of people who encourage you to think or act like you have described here. A good school would have carefully explained to you what I have said long before now. People who teach you that you have fantasy duties and obligations are not your friends. That doesn’t mean they don’t love you, it just means they are harmful.

    (“Get out of Dodge” means leaving an untenable situation”)

  • Nextset

    I noticed this passage from a Financial Times article discussing the Obama bail out of GM:

    “…Half a century ago, the prosperity of America’s middle class was one of democratic capitalism’s greatest triumphs. By the time (President of GM) Wilson left GM (1953), almost half of all US families fell within the middle range of income. Most were headed not by professionals or executives but by skilled and semi-skilled factory workers. Jobs were steady and health benefits secure. Americans were becoming more equal economically.

    But starting three decades ago, these trends have been turned upside down. Middle-class jobs that do not need a college degree are disappearing. Job security is all but gone. And the nation is more unequal. GM in its heyday was the model of economic security and widening prosperity. Its decline has mirrored the disappearance of both. …

    What are we going to do with all the kids like Leo? How does OUSD plan to help these kids make it in the Brave New World?

  • aly

    katy: a few of the comments here have focused on the idea of “saving a spot” in college vs. working for a spot in college. can you tell us what the prompt for the essay was? from leo’s writing i feel like the prompt somehow addressed the idea of a place reserved for students in college.


  • Lisa

    To answer Aly’s question: The prompt of the contest was “why should California leaders save you and your peers a spot in college?” This is the third year of the contest. You can learn more about the prompt and the contest winners, including a winning poster by a Media Academy senior, by going to http://www.collegecampaign.org/contest.

    I am pretty sure that the idea behind the prompt is not that students should do nothing and that California leaders should just give them a spot. In light of the 10,000 spots eliminated for qualified CSU students this year, I believe it is a way for student to urge leaders to keep up the funding for higher education.

    Leo addressed the prompt.

  • aly

    thanks, lisa. that’s exactly what i figured the idea behind the contest was, especially given leo’s conclusion. it was a wonderful way to address the prompt and urge leaders to stop eliminating “spots” in school. sometimes the scrooges just have to find something to pick on and why not try to make it sound like the young man didn’t want to work for his spot?

  • Nextset

    The state is rapidly eliminating the professional school seats. UC Hastings is facing termination of the state budget annual subsidy of the school, $10.3 million which is a quarter of the school’s academic budget.

    From the Treasury’s point of view why should the working families of CA kick in $10.3 million so that the sons and daughters of doctors and lawyers get cheap professional school? And if the student body by and large aren’t the products of the professional class, they are nowadays prominently featuring immigrants. Remember, our home grown proles/lower middle class tend to be less competitive than immigrants which is why the elites want open borders.

    On the other hand, 1% of the state taxpayers pay 50% of the state income taxes. Maybe we should maintain UC professional schools for the children of the well to do.

    And you can’t get around all this selection stuff by trying to reserve seats for blacks and “deprived” people. Take a look at the Bar Pass rates. Between the Nigerians & Co taking the minority seats and the Bar flunk rates, you are not getting home grown minorities into practice at the same rate you force them through the acceptance process.

    It’s a real tough decision. What to do?? Should we end subsidies and let the market handle it?

    The state is headed to a shut down of social subsidies. That will leave the state’s enviroment more competitive – which puts the urban school kids in more and more hot water since they will need every competitive edge to make it in the Brave New World. An edge they will never get in these urban schools.

    We need to toughen up the kids in grades 1-8 not to mention 9-12.

  • Small Town Kid

    Leo – I like your essay. I wish you good luck and I hope you keep working hard at school. My family has a tradition of helping other family members, too – but you may have to move away to go to school/army/job and really help your family.

    Nextset – In my college era – mid 70’s – the upper-class/professional families sent their kids to private law/biz/med schools. The lower/middle class families went to the public schools. Funding them is the only way that some of these kids can move up the class ladder. I say we keep the subsidies for the public professional schools.

  • Nextset

    Small Town Kid: Based on your comment I believe you consider the state professional schools engines of social mobility (“…only way some of these kids can move up the class ladder…”).

    I occurs to me that this isn’t really going to work. The lower/middle class kids are pushed out of the running by the children of doctors and lawyers and such, who due to their attendance in $25k/year private schools are far more competitive for the few professional seats available each year. The professional school subsidies largely go to the high income cognitive elite and cognitive elite immigrants, certainly not the working class whites and not the typical blacks or browns either.

    So while your premise is government largesse for the poor folks, as usual the benefit goes elsewhere. Perhaps a better system is to write off student loans for people who work in public service. But even that risks the benefit going to (wealthy family) Jewish graduates working at public defender’s offices, and immigrant/children of immigrants working at County Hospitals. When the state is balkanizing these distinctions are important.

    It is not easy to try to circumvent the Brave New World and direct government welfare to the people you want to get it at the time the legislation is written. In an era when we are laying off cops, I can make the case that all these subsidies need to go and the free market can have it’s way.

  • Small Town Kid

    Nextset – The key is to see 1) who gets admitted to UC system/Stanford/equivalent schools and 2) who has the grades to get out of these schools to the professional schools. Is it just the multi-generational cognitive elite or do bright kids who are from working class/first kid to go to college/disadvantaged backgrounds/ have a chance?

    I think it’s very important to get those bright kids in college and on to professional schools (if that’s where their talents lie). We need all the bright kids involved in society, not just the ones from the upper middle class.

    Outside the Bay Area and LA, most towns have the public school system and Christian (read Protestant) schools – no other private schools exist. There has to be room for bright achievers from those places to get to UC/CSU and on to professional schools.

  • Nextset

    My issue is that the brights who are sent through OUSD and similar school systems, those without a Lowell High School arrangement, are damaged just enough by chaotic non-competitive schools to fall below the competition of even lesser brights from Piedmont and similar schools. The damage can be subtle. Bad thinking about being owed something because you are black/brown/mixed/politically correct/female, anti-capitalist thinking, can’t hustle, poorer verbal skills/unused to standard english, indiscipline, anti-authoritarian (no service academy for you), the list goes on.

    Come up thinking like this and try to make it in certain competitive universities. Even if they let you in you are going to have adjustment shocks that can flunk you. I’ve seen this in law school. I’ve seen this at UC Berkeley. When I was there only one in 8 blacks stayed and graduated within 6 years regardless of the major attempted. I don’t know what the numbers are now. In Law School about 20% or less of the blacks in my class ever passed the bar. This was when Affirmative Action was in it’s heyday. (In fact the minority students were the principal factor in knocking the school’s bar pass rate below overwhelming down to so-so.) AA has been cut back significanty since then but it is still practiced with the same result. Although racial quotas are illegal the school gets around the prohibition easily. Rather than racial quotas which existed when I attended, the school has seats set aside for the “disadvantaged” who always seem to be dusky. Poor whites with high scores are let in enough to mask the crashing test scores of the “disadvantaged” group.

    With the demographics we see now blacks in CA are going to be irrelevant politically and economically sometime after 2014 (Mexicans are expected to control the legislature and governor’s office after that). The social immobility engendered by the public secondary schools threatens more groups than the blacks. Bright students who are not from a line of brights are going to have a hard time breaking through society if the continue to get secondary education so inferior to that offered in this State in the 60’s.

    We are not serving our students, brights or dulls, by running the public secondary schools like a Berkeley love in. Students are not prepared for competitive careers and the Brave New World is pretty competitive.

    It is possible that after 2014 the new masters of CA may start jettisoning the old policies and impose a new order. They tend to not follow the same party line as the lefty-democrats do when they no longer have to share power.

    Back to the issue of subsidies. In the current situation any subsidy of the professional schools will be taken by the generational elites or the high scoring immigrants. For example the AA seats are now flowing to the Ethiopians and the Nigerians who can’t believe how easy this country is. Also the Hybird students, say black/jewish (Lisa Bonet-Lenny Kravitz, anyone?) will easily take the seats. Financial need rules don’t stop them – everybody’s divorcing nowdays and they ARE broke enough.

    So we are back to Brave New World where social mobility is stopped, and social status is determined at birth (although it must be maintained).

    We have got to repair the public school system to maintain any kind of upward social mobility. OUSD must keep at least one school run like Piedmont High.

    Or maybe that’s now the Charter’s job?

  • http://ibabuzz.com RuBbzZ

    hey leo,
    never mind nextset. he/she gt issues of themself that they need to solve. that person been putting people down the hole time he/she has been on. i say you go for what you believe in. people always judge the book by its cover but never get to understand the real issue.
    leo- my quote is that you only stand in the way of yourself. you can do something if you put your mind to it…