Behind the Book: Beyond Grit & Resilience

So what made you publish your dissertation as a book? Isn’t that taboo?

It may very well be taboo to self-publish your dissertation, I don’t know. What I do know is the academy doesn’t love us. Here’s what I mean. I was part of a doctoral cohort where, for the first time in the history of the university, Black people were the plurality. At times, the program as a whole felt tailored to white people all the way from White professors crying in class to the readings watering down the racist practices we’ve seen in education since before the ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act) was first signed in 1965. Hell, it felt like the Black folks were lab rats and at times the white folks had on lab coats studying us.

On top of that, I owe more than $100 grand for my education. So when family and friends are seeking out my dissertation and proQuest is charging them anywhere from $16 — $60 for MY WORK in which they haven’t added the slightest value to, well then it was time for me to practice some of that self-agency I talk about so much. So the work is still there for researchers but if you want a copy, then hear you go. Thanks to Amazon, I got you covered for the low. Typos and all because (1) dissertations tend to have typos and (2) this is exactly how ProQuest was selling it. The next book, Crack Baby Residue, will be typo-free, God willin’.

This isn’t telling Black folks to not go into academia either, no, quite the opposite. I’m here now, now you gotta deal with me. The more Black folks we get in the academy, the more the norm is challenged. The more we are seen as people. The more we get to research ourselves with some context versus a lot of people studying us that would be fearful to even walk through our neighborhoods. So it ain’t taboo if it leads to more of us owning our scholarship and taking, not asking, but taking spaces rightfully ours.

The academy doesn’t love us…

Who is this book for?

I wrote this book for Black moms to be honest. I had no interest in writing this body of work for the academy so it can live in lecture halls and die on college campuses. Nah, fuck that. I made this for Black women raising Black males that are terrified, confused, excited, hopeful, and bewildered all at the same time. The mothers in this book may be an even better case study than the three men I spent so much time with capturing their stories. These women were not given much to work with but they did the best they could to guide, push, and support these Black men that we follow from early childhood to today. This book is for them because it gives them language for what many folks are going through today.

I also wrote this for me. I grew up exposed to a bunch and yet I embarked on this educational journey. The only reason I did well in school is because I made a decision in high school that school would be my hustle. I looked at my parents, I looked at the crackheads and D-Boys around me, I looked at folks struggling and saw that college was missing so I started telling myself that the only way I could live the life I wanted was through education. I wanted to know more about my own psyche during that time by finding others that grew up similarly. Because even though i hit all of my academic goals, there’s definitely a major cost that comes with that which I coined the Black Achievement Trauma Tax.

This isn’t telling Black folks to not go into academia either, no, quite the opposite. I’m here now, now you gotta deal with me. The more Black folks we get in the academy, the more the norm is challenged. The more we are seen as people. The more we get to research ourselves with some context versus a lot of people studying us that would be fearful to even walk through our neighborhoods. So it ain’t taboo if it leads to more of us owning our scholarship and taking, not asking, but taking spaces rightfully ours.

Are you afraid of backlash from academia?

No.

What is the biggest takeaway you want people to have from the book?

That all kids, especially Black boys can learn even when the circumstances are fucked up. There should be some huge systemic changes that need to happen to address racism, poverty, and the like, AND you have to move in the best interest of your child as if none of that will happen in time. I want folks to take away that you have some agency over your child’s education and if anyone or anything is blocking your way, then you must bulldoze straight through the bullshit.

The final piece would be that everything comes at a price. It isn’t healthy to be as emotionally checked out as I had to be to get to where I am now. Look at the superheroes from the book — I enjoy calling these three Black men superheroes by the way. Look at all of the residue they are dealing with today. So understand that we must all be vigilant for Black kids that they are receiving both academic excellence and mental that their mental well-being is in tact. It’s a must.

What advice do you have for those Black moms in your hometown of Oakland or Chicago where you were born?

Never feel like you have to sacrifice your kid to any system of education. Learn your rights and use them. If the school disrespects or disregards you, leave. Try to build a community in whatever school you are at of other parents and staff. Build relationships that will lead to greatness for your kid(s). In addition to pushing your school, push the community based organizations in your neighborhood that get the same nonprofit tax break as your school to serve the community. Get the resources you need such as tutoring, sports, and mentorship. None of this would have been possible for me without the Meltzer Boys Club in West Oakland, or Humanity Baptist Church where I learned to speak publicly. Build an army of support around your kid. Regardless of how much or little success you’ve had in education, you are the expert on your child. You have to quarterback your kid’s education team.

Beyond Grit & Resilience is available now in paperback and Kindle.

Charles Cole, III is the founder and executive director of the education advocacy group Energy Convertors and co-founded State of Black Education — Oakland. He received his doctorate in education from San Francisco State University. You can hear him weekly on the 8 Black Hands podcast.

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Charles Cole, III

Charles Cole, III

Founder of Energy Convertors | www.energyconvertors.org | @ccoleiii | Blood of a Slave, Heart of a King | #BeAnEnergyConvertor | #DoWork