Just a Black Boy from the D
I’m just a Black boy from Detroit.
I’ve done nothing anyone else from the hoods I grew up in couldn’t do. I believe that with every fiber of my being, despite what the odds and statistics and standardized tests and high tuition rates and high illiteracy rates and high incarceration rates and high “unarmed black man killed by police” rates and high “single mother, absent father” rates and high “it’s the government’s fault” rates and so on.
Today, I stand before you, humbled and reflective, appreciative and anxious, as a man on the brink of realizing his potential. Five years ago, after walking as an undergraduate from The University of Michigan, I had a job lined up to move out of state, I’d already secured my own housing, I was beginning to understand the importance of saving and how credit works, and I was ready to start the next chapter of my life. And I was terrified. When I got in my car, my silver 1999 Ford Crown Victoria with deep tint and no A/C to be more specific, to drive to the Mississippi Delta for Summer Institute training with Teach for America, I had no idea the journey I had in store for me. There was no way for me to know how little money teachers make without experiencing the workload. There was no way to predict how stressful this profession is, how every day is a learning experience or a new challenge, or that in 5 years I’d have worked in 4 schools. There was no way to explain why I gained 30lbs from stress or being too exhausted or getting home too late to cook. I certainly wasn’t aware that Faith would finish undergrad and move down south to be with me and become a nurse, and it actually happen the way God planned it. I watched a bit of it from my own parents, briefly, but I didn’t know how hard living on 1 income for 2 people would be, albeit in an increasingly gentrified and thus more expensive city.
There was a point when I actually thought I hated teaching. I’ve always been obsessed with my kids, no matter where I end up, but I abhorred the teaching profession and its lack of support in many areas and all the things we do on a daily basis that are not in the job description. Despite these feelings, which I’ve never expressed publicly before now, I stayed in it. I stand firmly in my belief of pouring into children so they believe in themselves and make this world a better place than we’ve inherited. My undying love for my students has kept me from going over the ledge on numerous occasions. I stressed and clawed my way to the end of my 2 years as a Teach for America Corps Member, even obtaining a Master’s degree in the process, and deep down felt like a selfish, immature, ill-informed idiot. Who did I think I was showing up in front of children, seeking to empower them while secretly falling into a mild depression? I was fully prepared to quit teaching and become a welder, a software engineer, a freelance writer, anything.
In the midst of all this internal struggle, all this wrong I thought I was doing, God found a way to put me in check. By a chance story that you wouldn’t believe if I told you, I was invited to interview for a doctoral program. DOCTORAL. On May 3, 2014, I was walking across the stage of Lipscomb University with my Masters in Education. On May 9, 2014, just 6 days later, I was back in the classroom again, this time in pursuit of 3 letters that will be forever attached to my name. I’d never heard of Trevecca Nazarene University. Didn’t matter. I didn’t need to. They chose me. For the first time in my career, I felt wanted, like I deserved to be somewhere, like all my hard work wouldn’t end up in vain. I was a disgruntled teacher, but I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as a student again, especially when I realized I was one of the youngest in the program (one classmate is 2 months younger than me)! Many of my classmates took me under their wing, almost instantly, took a liking to me, collaborated with me, respected me, gave me crap for being a Millennial haha, and always showed me love. I needed that. I think I was the only person that looked forward to going to class lol, but I used it as my escape, to learn what a leader is supposed to embody, the various forms and nuances of leadership, and what kind of leader I wanted to be.
2014 was a huge year for me. In addition to getting my Masters, starting my Doctorate, getting married, moving, Faith getting into nursing school, and me getting a new job, I got an opportunity that served as the foundation for my dissertation topic selection. That summer was the year Teach for America hosted its inaugural Regional Summer Institute, and I was hired on to coach/facilitate conversations about the diversity training incoming Corps Members were receiving. I was blessed to be given the most amazing group of incoming teachers, and together we participated in an experience called the Justice Journey. The designer of the Justice Journey, the amazingly talented and brilliant Jamie Jenkins, also designed Education for Justice, a program intended to provide incoming teachers with more intense, intentional, and inspiring diversity training prior to officially joining Teach for America. Working with Education for Justice, or E4J in short, I was challenged and pushed as much as I pushed and challenged others. Courageous conversations about history, race, culture, and consciousness helped me mature, slow down and observe the world around me, and really contemplate what my place was in the world.
My experiences as a doctoral student and with E4J helped me embrace my role as a teacher, and made me even hungrier to be the best for my kids. I began to take their struggles personally, and began to question/challenge/ponder their experiences in school. I began to wonder if there was a universal way for teachers to reach kids, and if there was a name for any of the things I did naturally and felt everyone should do. Turns out, there was. Culturally Responsive Teaching. A pedagogy that capitalizes on students’ cultural wealth, rather than viewing it as a hindrance. Empowerment. Empathy. Effort. Gloria Ladson-Billings. James Banks. Sonia Nieto. Geneva Gay. Book after book, article after article, I began obsessing over this topic. 3 years and a heap of research later, after long (sometimes sleepless) nights, struggles beyond belief, several bouts of misfortune, a tremendous amount of dedication, love and support from family, friends, and my beautiful wife, and countless hours of prayer, my dissertation is complete. My program is complete. My journey is complete. The dissertation title:
“Stay Woke: The Effects of Culturally Responsive Teaching on Black Male Students.”
If you’re reading this reflection, this is my Moment of Clarity. My dissertation is my Magnum Opus, the greatest and most important thing I’ve written to date. I’m proud of it. I’m proud of me. Despite all I’ve endured in my life, I’ve managed to make something of myself. I am no longer Terrance Scott Jr. I am Dr. Terrance Scott Jr! By no means do I intend to boast or brag about my accomplishments. I always write to inform, uplift, and encourage. Whatever you set out to do in your life, whatever your dreams are, whatever God has for you, get up and go get it! You were put on this Earth for a reason, and I’m not going to sit by and watch you complain, or sulk, or whine, or worry anymore! I’ve already done all that for you. In the time it took for you to read this blog, you could be drafting your mission/vision for your organization, networking with people in your field, and putting together the building blocks for your future. Let’s stop complaining about Trump and Congress, stop moping about Alton Sterling’s murderer not going to jail, stop scrolling down your 5 social media accounts talking to the same people, stop waiting for an opportunity to fall into your lap. Do the work! Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”
I’m living proof, literally a physical embodiment of what hard work pays off looks like. And I don’t even have anything yet but 3 degrees, some student loan debt, and a son on the way! The grind NEVER stops! I will keep pushing myself, and pushing you, because I haven’t done anything you can’t do.
I am not special.
I’m just a Black boy from Detroit………..with a doctorate.