by Tiombe Bisa Kendrick-Dunn
Three days ago, one of my mentees informed me of her decision to consider pursuing a career in aerospace engineering or aviation. She said, “Ms. Kendrick, I am still not sure what I want to do, but all I know is that I want to travel.”
This particular student is very strong in the areas of math and science, and ever since she was in the seventh grade, I have been encouraging her to research careers that play to her academic strengths. Although she currently holds a part-time job at a local fast food restaurant, she emphatically desires to attend a residential summer program that focuses on science and/or engineering in order to get some hands-on experience and to make herself more competitive when applying for college next fall.
Unfortunately, many of the summer academic programs she would like to attend have a hefty price tag, which her parents are unable to afford at this time. It is during times like these that I must instill in many of my mentees resilience and perseverance against all odds. This is the time that I must inform them that giving up on their dreams due to financial hardships is not an option. This is the time that I must begin my own research to determine if there are similar programs that are affordable yet do not lack the quality and prestige that the expensive programs claim to offer. This is the time that I must model a spirit of strength, determination, and unconditional support.
Unfortunately, there are many more gifted Black students who share similar experiences with the young lady I described above. Many times it is very difficult for me to watch such children lack the finances that would open up a whole new world of opportunities for them. As a result of the latter, many gifted Black children (especially those from low income households) often internalize that they are not worthy of chasing the dreams and lives they desire. In addition, these children are often denied knowledge of the many alternative opportunities available to them that may ensure they have at least a chance to live the lives they have envisioned.
During my career as a school psychologist, I have spent countless hours mentoring and counseling gifted Black students about the struggles they experience in realizing their dreams. I often get bombarded with questions: “How will I pay for college without going into debt?” “Can you please find me a summer program so I can get some practical experience?” “Why do I get denied every summer for this program when I have good grades?” I strongly believe that in order for Black gifted/talented children to succeed, they must be mentally and emotionally prepared for the adversities society will surely lay at their doorsteps throughout life. Mentorship and counseling aimed at strengthening their minds and ensuring that they develop effective coping skills to handle life’s trials and tribulations are absolutely critical to the lives and everyday survival of gifted/talented Black children. I have learned through experience that these children require a depth of ongoing support and guidance that gifted/talented children from other groups may not need or may not need for as long. Working with this population of children has shown me a great deal. I fully understand that it would be detrimental emotionally and mentally to gifted/talented Black children if they do not receive long-term involvement with an individual who can simply help them navigate the murky waters of living in a society that almost surely will undermine their gifts and talents and discriminate against them either overtly or covertly at some point in their lives. I emphatically believe that preparing this population of gifted/talented children for the challenges they will face at the hands of society can make the difference between their ability to reach their potential and failing to reach their potential.
Many people may underestimate what life is like for a gifted/talented Black child, but I am not one of them. I know that I will always have the life of such a child in my hands. I will be responsible for “looking out” for these young people, which is a duty I see as my responsibility on a spiritual, cultural, moral, and ethical level. I only hope that I will see the day that the lives of these individuals will matter to everyone despite the color of their skin, the neighborhoods they reside in, or the income level of their parents!
Tiombe-Bisa Kendrick is a nationally certified school psychologist and is licensed to practice school psychology in the state of Florida. She has been employed with the Miami-Dade County Public School District as a school psychologist since 2005. In 2007, she was both appointed to the NAGC Diversity/Equity Committee and awarded a grant by the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) Children Fund, Inc. to establish a resource center specifically designed for gifted students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.