The Hardships of Being Gifted in Culturally Diverse Populations

By Tiombe-Bisa Kendrick

While glancing at the Black Entertainment Television’s (BET) Honors Awards Show recently, I was taken aback by a comment made by infamous and legendary film director, Spike Lee. He shared with the crowd directly in front of him, along with millions of viewers across the nation, that “parents are the biggest dream killers.”

I immediately halted what I was doing at the time and thought to myself, Spike Lee is so right! You see, in my practice as a school psychologist in one of the most diverse cities in the country, and as a member of the African-American community, I have watched gifted and talented children and young adults from diverse backgrounds postpone or give up entirely on their dreams and aspirations. I have seen so many people from diverse populations throughout my life end up squandering their potential. I often wonder about what seems to be far too many African-American young people giving up so easily on their dreams.

As it turns out, many times, these individuals face pressures from their families, peers, and community to pursue career paths that do not match their actual life goals, gifts, or talents. In many non-majority cultures, being classified as gifted and talented can create a life-long struggle with adversity that is unfamiliar to those outside of that particular culture. Emotionally, many of these individuals find themselves maneuvering between two completely different worlds that are extremely hard to bring into harmony. Often, they experience a constant inner battle that includes struggles with loyalty issues. Loyalty to families, peers, and community is often emphasized as very important in non-majority cultures. For example, gifted and talented youth from African-American backgrounds will often experience the painful and stressful experience of having to choose between being loyal to peers, family, and community, or pursuing their dreams. These individuals may experience relentless feelings of guilt directed at their families and communities. These feelings are created by their very difficult choice to take a different path in life from the one prescribed for them by those who are closest both socially and emotionally. In many instances, these individuals will come to realize that pursuing their dreams, gifts, and talents may isolate them from the very people who have supported them for their entire lives. In other instances, they will realize that their families and communities both expect great things from them and feel they are owed something significant for all their years of support. For example, someone who is expected to give back financially to community or family, but chooses not to, may be viewed in a very negative light and forced into isolation. Being isolated, either by force or necessity, can become very emotionally draining and very painful, especially for people from diverse backgrounds. As a result, many may end up engaging in destructive behaviors as a way to cope with the pain.

In addition to facing the additional pressures from their families, peers, and communities, diverse individuals must also contend with the many pressures of the society in which they live. Many times, these individuals may experience barriers, such as discrimination and a lack of resources needed to perfect their gifts and talents, thus placing them in a disadvantaged position in a very competitive society! Often these individuals are aware of the injustices present in society that are responsible for many of the barriers that block them from reaching their potential. 

Educators and mental health professionals working with this population must focus on providing them with support and their communities and families with education. Gifted and talented individuals must learn effective coping skills, which may act as a buffer when the pain lands at their doorstep. Their families and communities must learn to put aside their anxieties and replace them with support, sacrifice, and understanding. There are too many gifted and talented individuals from diverse backgrounds giving up on their dreams or lacking the resources to hone their gifts and talents, and it’s a real shame! I strongly believe we must increase awareness about this issue in our schools, colleges, and among mental health professionals in order to free individuals, communities, and families from creating a silent lifetime of pain.

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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.

Ms. Kendrick has a very strong passion for addressing the needs of gifted students from culturally and linguistically diverse populations and has been instrumental in significantly increasing the numbers of culturally diverse students participating in the Gifted Program at her schools. In addition, she has many helped parents find services outside the school district to help address the needs of their gifted children. In 2006, Ms. Kendrick was a member of Miami-Dade Public Schools Gifted Task Force Committee and was also awarded the Mary Frasier Scholarship sponsored by the National Association of Gifted Children (NAGC). In 2007, she was both appointed to the NAGC Diversity/Equity Committee and was 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 ackgrounds. Ms. Kendrick completed her undergraduate work at Miami Dade College and Florida State University and her graduate work at Barry University. Ms. Kendrick has presented at numerous professional conventions on the topic of gifted children.

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