Andrew Skerritt: Who takes Michael Brown’s vacant seat in college?

Seeing a number of young black men in my English composition class this week, I was reminded that when Michael Brown died so did his dream of attending Vatterott College. His seat in the Class of 2018 will forever remain vacant.

Since the recent high school graduate was shot by a Ferguson, Mo. police officer, Michael Brown has become a symbol for racism and what’s wrong with law enforcement. Too many casual encounters end up with young black men as casualties.  But after the protests, unfortunate looting, and, hopefully, an indictment of the police officer involved, what’s left?

What’s the best way to remember Michael Brown? There is no shortage of suggestions. Last week students at several colleges, including my alma mater, Howard University, called for a National Student Walk Out in Solidarity with Ferguson.

However, it occurred to me that the best way to honor to Michael Brown, to ensure that his death will not be in vain, is to do the opposite: to call for a national walk-in, for young black men to step forward to claim his seat, sit in the front row and fulfill those dreams that died on that Ferguson street a month ago.

That was my original plan. But as I researched this column, the facts told me that although my instincts were noble, my initial idea was somewhat naïve. It ain’t that simple.

While many community colleges have thrown open their doors to holders of high school diplomas and GED certificates, too many of those who look and sound like Michael Brown just aren’t prepared to take his place in college.

The statistics — and I hate to trot them out — are gloomy.

African American boys are:

 — Twice as likely as white boys to be held back in elementary school.

— Twice as likely to drop out of high school as their white classmates

— Three times as likely to be suspended from school.

— Less likely to attend adequately resourced, high performing schools.

— Less likely to graduate from high school in four years.

 — Half as likely to graduate from college.

— Almost three times as likely to be classified as mentally challenged by school counselors and psychologists.

Without irony, academics and scholars call this accumulation of educational pathology the “black male achievement gap.” This is a classic example of blaming the victims. Some, thankfully, are more kind. They call it the “opportunity gap.” I call it evidence of public schools failing our most vulnerable.

This is as much a violation of civil rights as what we believe happened to Michael Brown on that street in Ferguson.

It’s too late to save Michael Brown. But in his memory, how about getting serious and doubling our efforts to rescue the others?

Andrew J. Skerritt is author of Ashamed to Die: Silence, Denial and the AIDS Epidemic in the South. He lives in Tallahassee. Follow him on Twitter @andrewjskerritt. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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