Imagine… You’re a hardworking Black father in Pittsburgh. You graduated from an HBCU, Cheyney University, you value education. You are a hands-on parent. You are heavily involved in your children’s lives… All 11 of them… You decided to enroll your 14 year old son in a Catholic High School because you are looking for a better educational setting. You and his mother were raised, and continue to reside, in a solid working class, predominantly Black, section of of the city. As parents, you are seeking a school that will provide discipline and a rigorous college preparatory curriculum. After months of carefully considering traditional public school, magnet school, charter school and independent school options you decide to make some financial sacrifices and enroll your son in what you think is a good Catholic High School, Bishop Canevin.
You and his mother feel good about the decision. You have decided to place your child’s education in the hands of the Jesuits that run Canevin. This is a research-based decision on your part. After all, you learn that Jesuit educational institutions are universally lauded for their track record of preparing students intellectually, morally and spiritually for lives characterized by solidarity, service and professional success. You and his mother are beyond pleased that your child will be receiving a “Jesuit education.” After all, the goals and values expressed by the teachers, administrators and staff at Cavenin are very much aligned with your own.
Your son is inquisitive, bright and eager to learn. With the high school decision made, you and his mother even begin to contemplate Jesuit colleges. Four years of high school can go by rather quickly. A quick internet search and you discover Boston College, Georgetown, Saint Louis, San Francisco, Holy Cross, Fordham and Marquette are just a few of 28 highly regarded Jesuit colleges and universities across the United States.
You begin to think, “maybe… just maybe… we can have our boy spend 8 years with the Jesuits… He’ll be straight educationally.”
Then he actually enrolls and begins to take classes. While he is able to maintain his grades, you notice subtle changes in his demeanor. Something is a lil’ off… Initially, you and his mother assume the changes can be attributed to his adjustment to a new school setting and the challenges of high school academics. Then one day, your son informs you…
“Dad… They called me nigger.”
It’s Pittsburgh and it’s 2022, you and his mother did not expect nor did you plan for the possibility that your son would be subjected to such racial trauma as a high school freshman. You spend countless hours wondering if somehow it was your fault for enrolling him in this predominantly white Catholic School. Did we make a mistake choosing Bishop Canevin?
While traditional public schools in Pittsburgh lack the high standardized test scores and college acceptance rates of Bishop Canevin, your son would not be subjected to this type of racist behavior.
Shit adds another layer of stress… You and his mother now have a whole new host of concerns and worries. Your boy is just beginning his high school career and already you are worried about how racial incidents will impact his ability to have relationships, concentrate on school work, and feel safe.
You and his mother decide to immediately report the incident to school administrators.
As Black parents of school age children, you understand that racial discrimination can be harmful to a boy’s mental health. You are very much aware of the fact that perceptions of racial discrimination have been linked to lower life satisfaction levels, decreased self-esteem, increased depressive symptoms, as well as increased anger and anxiety among Black adolescents. You don’t want your son to begin exhibiting any depressive symptoms, conduct problems or decreased self-esteem.
This is a tough situation… You and his mother decide to stick it for the school year and attempt to work through it with the school officials.
Bishop Canevin administrators listen to your concerns and say all the right things. They say they want to ensure that your son has an affirming and safe school environment that celebrates him for who he is. They seem to recognize that they have an obligation to ensure that your son is not denied opportunities, treated differently, discriminated against, or harassed because of his race, color, or national origin.
On the surface, at least, it seems like they get it…
Nonetheless, after the school year is over, you and his mother begin to rethink the Catholic School placement. In addition to this and other racial incidents, the cost is proving to be problematic and perhaps even prohibitive. Once again, you weigh all the pros and cons of the traditional public, magnet, charter and private schools in the region. After carefully considering all of your options, you decide to remain committed to a faith-based educational setting.
You and his mother settle son to a small predominantly Black Christian school, Imani Christian Academy, serving students from low-income, under resourced school districts. Unlike Bishop Canevin, where more than 75% of the students were white, most of the students at Imani Christian are Black inner-city youth. Many come from single-parent homes or are being raised by a grandparent or guardian.
You and his mother have concluded that Imani Christian can provide a stable and nurturing environment for your young Black son.
Moreover, Imani Christian’s tuition is significantly less than the Canevin’s. That matters… At a the end of the most recent school year, you had a balance exceeding a couple thousand dollars. The financial struggle is real. Overall, you have determined that Imani Christian is the better educational buy for your family. Imani Christian delivers higher returns at a lower cost. So much so, that you can actually afford to begin paying down the debt at Bishop Canevin and pay tuition at Imani Christian.
Clearly, you and your son’s mother exercised your parental prerogative in a thoughtful and considerate manner. This is what we constantly encourage Black parents to do when it comes to their children’s education.
There are, however, some folk that think are better suited to make educational decisions for your son than you and his mother. The white educational and administrative elites at Bishop Canevin have decided that your son should remain there despite the racial animus and the financial burden your family is enduring.
They understand that you and his mother have chosen to transfer your son… They disagree with your decision. Not only do they disagree, they are going to take actions that will negatively impact your son’s educational experience after he is no longer attending Canevin. The Jesuits at Canevin decided your son would not play varsity basketball as a sophomore.
You and his mother are flabbergasted… You have no say over where Bishop Canevin administrators send their children to school. You do not get to decide if their daughter can play tennis or field hockey… Why do they get to make such a decision for your boy? Why do the Canevin Jesuits want to harm your boy?
Cavenin administrators sat directly across from you during meetings and mediation attempts surrounding the racial incidents. They acknowledged what happened. They see the ledger, they know you’re struggling with the tuition payments. They know all of this and, yet, they have determined that you and his mother should not send your son elsewhere. You should not seek an alternative placement for your son. They even go so far as to publicly declare that your decision to transfer is not based on all the aforementioned factors that kept you awake at night.
Canevin administrators basically, said fuck you and your wife…
They know your son was called a nigger here… They know school costs are problem for you… But, they have decided those factors did not influence your transfer decision. They determined that your concerns about racial incidents involving your son and their impact on his educational, social and emotional development are not important. At least not important enough to lead you to transfer. They have also determined the financial stress you endured is irrelevant.
Why would any Black family entrust the Administrators at Bishop Cavenin with their Black child’s educational development? They have demonstrated a willingness to usurp Black parental prerogative.
Although, the Bishop Jesuits were not at the kitchen table when you and his mother made educational decisions, they are effectively exercising a veto. Furthermore. their veto was enforced by administrators within the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League (WPIAL). The Bishop Cavenin Jesuits and WPIAL think they know, better than you, what’s best for your Black son.
Shit… he’s the only member of last year’s state championship team that has not received his ring. You have no choice but to conclude, they just don’t like your son… Maybe… just maybe they don’t like boys like him.
Black parents… Stop sending your talented Black students to Bishop Canevin. If you decide to leave, they will feel they have some say in your future…