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John L. Horton lives in Norfolk and is a frequent contributor to the newspaper.
John L. Horton lives in Norfolk and is a frequent contributor to the newspaper.
John L. Horton lives in Norfolk and is a frequent contributor to the newspaper.

Local Voices

Empowering African American Students and Families For Success In COVID-Era

By John L. Horton

As the popular Bob Dylan song (“Blowing In The Wind”) goes: “The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind…” And, many of us (students, parents and families) might not like what this “new” wind is blowing our way. On January 15th, Glenn Allen Youngkin was sworn in as Virginia’s 74th governor. Immediately, Youngkin signed executive orders scraping mandates on masks in schools, and COVID vaccinations for state workers. Meantime, all across the Commonwealth and elsewhere, these moves have been seen as highly controversial and potentially debilitating for many in the community at large.

Moreover, Youngkin is threatening to punish the Commonwealth’s public schools that want to continue masking. In that regard, Youngkin has threatened to use every resource in his authority to force compliance, including financial penalty.

Accordingly, many are questioning why Youngkin is taking these actions over whether students, teachers, staff and workers at public schools should wear masks to help prevent further spread of the virus? Basically, I feel that Youngkin is sending the rest of us a “message” about his “true intentions.” And, as been said, “When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.”

Recently, the Virginia Department of Education reported that due to the impediments of COVID and other socioeconomic conditions, minority and low-income students have been significantly affected by losing out on “education enhancement opportunities” such as applying for the “Free Application for Free Student Aid (FAFSA). Acceptance for FAFSA helps students to pay for college by receiving federal and state funds, institutional grants and other loans, which in most cases do not have to be repaid.

Moreover, it has been reported that minority and low-income students across Virginia (Norfolk, Portsmouth, Hampton, Petersburg, Richmond, etc.) were less likely to complete their FAFSA. Many of these students fail to prioritize attending college after the pandemic caused financial despair and debilitated the format of education.

It should also be noted that many minority and low-income students have serious difficulties in completing the FAFSA form because it contains more than 100 questions, household income tax returns, adjusted gross income, bank accounts, and other financial stipends/assets/obligations, and the like.

Therefore, it has been recommended that a stronger emphasis be placed on funding for school counselors and/or other knowledgeable professionals to assist and facilitate this particular group of students. It is well known that many colleges give approval to those who apply early/first, and colleges get a heads-up on the student’s financial situation.

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Moreover, many public schools (locally, regionally and nationally) are facing “cultural wars”: critical race theory, book banning, gender equality, mask wearing, and the like… And, now we also have the “Omicron” virus variant to deal with….

Even before COVID-19, African American parents were experiencing difficulties, hindrances and obstacles affecting their children/students in Norfolk and elsewhere throughout the region and nation. Over the past several decades (50 years and more), I have gained vast first-hand knowledge and substantive experience with “public education” as a parent, teacher, counselor, mentor, social worker, truancy coordinator, and juvenile probation officer.

To prepare our children for the challenges (and opportunities) of the 21st century, African-American parents must become broadly involved and deeply entrenched in their children’s education process. Only then can they raise self-confident and self-reliant young people who are ready and able to take over their own responsibilities. We owe our children this much, for everything else – enlightenment, employability, empowerment, excellence, etc. – is built upon this very foundation, the cornerstone of education. As it has been so eloquently and sagely stated: “The purpose of education is to create in a person the ability to look at the world for himself, to make his own decisions.”

The foremost obstacle for us to overcome in this struggle to empower our children is to enhance their self-discipline and focus their priorities. First, we must get them to believe that sound choices and hard work will bring them personal, familial and professional success. Our children must be made to understand that they “share in their eventual/societal outcome.” They need to become imbued with the undeniable reality of life: “If it is to be, it is up to me!”

When this parental encouragement and support doesn’t exist, often our children are not successful – they do not believe that they can do and are smart. Too often, their parents, peers, teachers and significant others in their lives feel the same way. Therefore, our children become conditioned for failure and drop out of life. After all, remember, “We are what we think we are.”

Simply put, it all comes down to believing in yourself. If you believe in yourself and what you can do – if you think you can, then you will work hard to achieve your goals – and you will refuse to give up, to quit.

***

As parents, we must get our children to understand that it is not as difficult as some may think to get a good education. In addition to strong parental support and involvement, there are basically “three secrets” to your child’s acquiring a good education: (1) attend school on a daily/regular basis; (2) behave and conduct yourself properly on a daily basis; (3) do the class work and homework to the best of your ability – and when necessary, don’t hesitate to ask for help. When you think about it, it is that simple. In short, we should encourage our children to take pride in themselves and their work.

As parents we need to take PRIDE (Personal Responsibility In Daily Efforts) and maintain high family values and expectations for our children. For surely, our PRIDE and our values will define our lives. Basically, it all comes down to self control and self determination.

It is time for African-American parents to accept collective responsibility for making things happen…and for bringing about positive change for the betterment of our children. The teachers, government and others cannot make it happen for us, unless we want to make it happen for ourselves. Others can help; others can supplement; others can do. But no one can communicate with, listen to, support and supervise our children as we parents can. This parental responsibility calls for love, support and supervision of the highest order.

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Essentially, we must remain committed and positive about what needs to be done by/for us. To accomplish this, we must always understand the difference between “pessimism vs. optimism”: A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty. In summary, it is what it is.

John L. Horton is a retired Marine and resides in Norfolk.

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