We have six seniors that will be graduating this year that have been with us since elementary school. They have been with us through Simba school groups, basketball teams, camps, trips, retreats and church. We have walked with them through good times and bad, crises at home and in the neighborhood, celebrations in school and athletics, and moral and spiritual growth.
But I am afraid that they are woefully unprepared for the next stage of life, for a variety of reasons; not the least of which are low school standards and expectations, lack of home support, and little initiative on their part. These guys are not strong students. They cruised through their school years, concerned mostly with hanging out with their friends and having fun, not preparing for life. This may not be uncommon for high school students, but for our kids, who do not have the safety nets of financially stable families and strong social support, this dynamic leads to an unchecked fall to the bottom strata of society. Kids like these can easily slip through the cracks, despite my desperate admonitions or those of caring educators.
Last year, when most of them turned seventeen and were juniors in high school they began thinking about their future. They’d talk to me about college and ACT tests and the like… conversations I found disheartening because the reality was that they were not well prepared for any of these things. I had to burst their bubble and tell them that as of this moment they were not prepared to move forward in life. But I encouraged them that with work, each of them could make plans for themselves to be on the path to self sufficiency and adulthood. Now bear in mind, these boys have little if any male role models for this kind of success in life; neither at home nor among their peers. On the contrary, the situation they found themselves in was quite common among urban black youth. To come to the end of a long struggle in primary education, with absolutely nothing to show for it… and equipped to do little besides working at McDonald’s or some low skilled/low wage job. But we want them to succeed… so for the last six months we’ve talked about and visited programs like community college, technical schools and post high school programs like transition plus.
Our goal is to have them in a position next spring where they have a few different options to choose from for a path to success in their adult life. I don’t want them to graduate and then not have a plan for life after high school. No shacking up with a girl and letting her take care of you. No extended time in the unemployment ranks and becoming homeless. No hanging out on the streets with nothing to do but get into trouble and eventually ending up in jail. We want them to have prospects and hope. “Coincidentally,” I tell them, “this is what God wants for you.”
“For I know the plans I have for you… plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29.11)
So far they are responding with hope and relief. Left to their own devices, which young black men in our neighborhoods often are by their families and schools, they would have no inkling of preparing for a full life after high school. But now, they have a Plan!