A Dream Deferred
By Langston Hughes
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore – And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over – like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?I’m a lawyer. A few days ago, I was discussing the cost of education at my alma mater, Morehouse College, with a fellow lawyer and former classmate of mine, Judge Kristopher M. Colley, Sr. When my father, the late Charles W. Cherry, Sr. graduated from Morehouse in 1949, my Aunt Mable was paying about $500 per year for Dad’s tuition and housing. When I graduated from Morehouse in 1978, on-campus tuition and housing was about $3,600 annually. Now Judge Kris, Sr. is paying more than $30,000 a year for his son Kris, Jr., to matriculate at Morehouse. If my son Charles III, now 8, wants to go to Morehouse, am I looking at $50,000-plus a year? (Coincidentally, USA Today published an article entitled, “What is a B.A. in English worth anymore?” Click here to read it.) U.S. Census Bureau data indicates that the median household income in 2011 was about $50,500. “Extreme poverty”- defined as households living on less than $2 per day before government benefits – increased to 1.5 million households in 2011, including 2.8 million children. We all know that most Black families are poorer than the nation’s median, and that “extreme poverty” includes a disproportionate number of Black households. (How do we know? There’s a “Black tax” that African-Americans, even Judge Kris, Sr. and I, pay every day, from cradle to grave. More on that in a future post.) Judge Kris, Sr. and I are upper middle class with respect to income. But what happens when we have two kids in college at the same time, both of whom dream of going to private, liberal arts Historically Black Colleges/Universities (HBCUs), with the limited availability of financial aid and low-interest school loans, and the increasing difficulty of getting second mortgages to pay for a kid’s college education-if we decided that we needed to do so? If a judge and a lawyer are concerned about college finances, what happens to families on the “bad side” of the $50,500 median income? What happens to the millions of Black families who lost their homes – their major financial asset -, during the 2007-2009 housing crash in America? Given the lower return on liberal arts college majors as well as post-grad and professional educations such as law school, what happens to an educational dream deferred in the 21st century? Maybe it dies a quick death due to the educational cost-benefit analysis Mitt Romney famously advocated during the 2012 U.S. presidential election. If so, the next Steve Jobs – who took calligraphy classes that would later differentiate Apple’s print fonts, a major selling point in the company’s early years of computer hardware production – may be taking air conditioning or auto mechanics classes at a local community college, rather than liberal arts classes at a relatively expensive HBCU or private institution. Is that where America really wants to go? I say no. But what does it all mean? Students have to take control of their educational careers more than ever to keep their options open. With good high school and/or college grades, you can qualify for dozens of academic scholarships from organizations large and small. THAT’S FREE MONEY you can’t get based solely on need, and many of those scholarships, especially targeting Black students, go begging. That’s why Black students MUST play the grade game. And getting good grades is based on skills, not genetics or skin color. Educational cost-benefit analysis IS necessary. But it shouldn’t be the sole determinant of the academic career that a student selects. Understand though, that there’s little margin for financial error, especially with educational loans these days. If you sign up for thousands of dollars of school loans, pick a major that you can’t eventually monetize, or if you just don’t finish, that debt will follow you forever. Nowadays, the true certainties are death, taxes – and under most circumstances, repayment of school loans. (But see an article here that talks about how student loans can be wiped out via bankruptcy.)