Last week it was reported that Avery Coffey, age 17, had received offers to five ivy League schools. And just this week, 17-year-old Kwasi Enin bested that effort by getting accepted at all eight of them.
These were moments of celebration for two black teens who had worked tirelessly to achieve the elusive goal of Ivy acceptance, and the mainstream media recognized that this accomplishment was rare, especially for African Americans. When The Root posted both stories, they were the highest-trafficked and most shared stories of the day.
And then Internet users took to the social networking sites, armed with bitterness and virtual picket signs to hate on the teens' success. One wrote:
Seriously? My application was almost identical except that I was first in my class out of a top ranked tech academy focusing on a biotechnology program. I listed "white" for my ethnicity because they didn't have an option for Armenian. F**k affirmative action.
The posts were repetitive and equally offensive and hurtful.
Didn't help that Washington Post education reporter Valerie Strauss came out with a blog post about Ivy League adoration, cut with her own haterade.
"Have you heard yet about 17-year-old Kwasi Enin of Shirley, N.Y., who applied to all of the eight schools in the Ivy League and got into every single one?” she wrote. "If not, you are, by now, the only one. Congratulations to Kwasi Enin. Now can we stop talking about him?"
But Strauss' snarkiness didn't stop there: "We might as well also congratulate Avery Coffey, 17, a senior at D.C.'s Benjamin Banneker Academic High School, who was admitted to all five of the Ivy League schools—Harvard, Princeton, Yale, the University of Pennsylvania and Brown—to which he applied, according to MyFoxDC.com. Well done. But that's enough."
While Strauss' overall point was about easing up on the Ivy Leagues as the Holy Grail of college acceptance, it was lost in her choice of examples. Black faces don't make up the Ivy League. Especially not young black male faces. And Strauss should have known better.
While she may have had a point about Ivy adoration, it got lost right around the time she started to pepper her argument with senseless stats and more rhetoric about college acceptance being inappropriate public discourse, akin to salaries and sex. And then, to top it off, she took jabs at the two teens' acceptance as being more quota- than merit-based.
What Strauss and Reddit users fail to acknowledge in their micro-view of education is the hurdles that surrounded these young men's achievement. According to a 2010 report, black young men in Washington, D.C., and New York have some of the lowest high school graduation rates in the country, at 38 percent and 37 percent respectively.
Although I have never been to Shirley, N.Y., and cannot speculate on the immediate troubles that Kwasi may have faced going to school, I was raised blocks away from Benjamin Banneker Academic High School and have had many trips on the 70 bus down Georgia Avenue, where my book bag made me a target for taunts and insults.
A book bag in other communities is an accessory for books, but where I grew up, it was both a weapon and a bull's-eye. A full book bag carried a nice weight when swung in circles to get bullies to back up off you. A full book bag is usually the reason you were being messed with in the first place. Education and black males have a long, convoluted history that includes absentee parenting, homicide rates, the prison-industrial complex, coolness and acting white.
That's the reason in 2004 that a young senator from Illinois took to the stage at the Democratic National Convention and said, "Children can't achieve unless we raise their expectations and turn off the television sets and eradicate the slander that says a black youth with a book is acting white." And it's one of the main reasons in 2014 that a gray-haired version of that young man started My Brother's Keeper, an initiative to address some of the unique obstacles that young men of color face.
"But 50 years after Dr. King talked about his dream for America's children, the stubborn fact is that the life chances of the average black or brown child in this country lags behind by almost every measure and is worse for boys and young men," President Obama said when announcing the initiative. "If you're African American, there's about one-in-two chance you grow up without a father in your house … We know that boys who grow up without a father are more likely to be poor … As a black student, you are far less likely than a white student to read proficiently by the time you are in fourth grade. By the time you reach high school, you're far more likely to have been suspended or expelled. There's a higher chance you end up in the criminal-justice system, and a far higher chance that you are the victim of a violent crime."
It is these points that the education reporter at the Post failed to address, and honestly what is very rarely taken into account when the topic is young black men. The field isn't level, and the criticism has to include that point, or you just sound like a bitter troll leeching off the accomplishments of others for page views. What Strauss did was more than just words—it was a biting and curmudgeonly attempt to quell the excitement surrounding arguably the greatest accomplishment in these young men's lives.
Kwasi and Avery looked good on the pages of the papers that supported them. They looked polished and professional in interviews talking about college. They looked like a new definition of black coolness that all young men need to embrace.
Stephen A. Crockett Jr. is an associate editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.