Loving bravely is risking great personal cost to do good for someone, even when you know that others may ridicule you for doing so. That’s the kind of love I want to give this Valentine’s Day.
This Valentine’s Day, I’m gonna try something different. Something brave.
Brave, as in, “this-year-I-will-forgo-typical-expressions-of-love-and-instead-donate-to-her-favorite-cause” bravery.
No, that’s not what I’m planning. I’m just offering that as an example. Eschewing a gift for a donation is the kind of thing that you only do when you really know somebody well, because if you’re wrong, you will pay for it. (All the married men should be nodding their heads right now.)
That’s what I mean by brave. Something unexpected that shows how much you care, something that might seem reckless, but is, in fact, very meaningful.
I have some work to do in the bravery department. Holly and I have been married for five years now, and unfortunately, I set the bar pretty high when we got engaged.
A friend of mine was the worship director at a megachurch in the area, and his band was planning on covering Beyoncé’s “Crazy In Love,” for their worship service, since they were doing a series on relationships. So he asked me in advance to write another rap for it and bust it out during the service. So I upped the ante, and with their permission ahead of time, I wrote the rap verse as my will-you-marry-me speech, and during the middle of the song, I jumped off the stage and came down to where Holly was sitting, got down on one knee, and asked her to marry me.
It was so romantic.
Afterwards, I got mad cool points for going to such a length to surprise her. Afterwards, everyone kept echoing the same sentiment: Man, that was so brave.
Far be it from me to revise, as my grandmother used to say, even a jot or a tittle from the Bible. However, if I were to bring any editorial changes to an iconic biblical passage, I would choose 1 Corinthians 13, and right after “love is patient, love is kind,” I would add a third clause: “Love is brave.”
‘Cause seriously … ladies dig bravery. And for good reason.
Think of great leading men in popular films:
• Cary Elwes throwing himself down the hill in The Princess Bride.
• Bruce Willis fighting the terrorists in Die Hard.
• Will Smith trying to express his feelings in Hitch.
These are characters who found themselves in unfamiliar territory, and against all odds, they chose to do something good to help someone else, and found themselves being stretched (or in Smith’s case, swollen and contorted) beyond capacity in the process.
These are universal themes, for sure, but the common element here is bravery: the massive chutzpah required to stare down adversity and do the right thing anyway. It’s the stuff heroes are made from.
It’s important, though, that we not get confused about what bravery is, and more importantly, what it isn’t. Being brave, for example, is not the same thing as simply going against the flow.
Awhile back, I avoided seeing the last huge James Cameron blockbuster, mostly because I figured I already had a pretty good handle on how it ended (the boat sank), but also because I got tired of the hype. I just decided at some point that I’m going to be The Guy Who Never Saw Titanic, just to show up everyone else who thought it was so great.
The sad part is, I’m tempted to do the same with Avatar, even though I’ve read countless reviews and articles (including this one by UF’s Todd Burkes) that suggest that it’s a film experience worth having. It’s like I’d rather be the guy who didn’t see it, even if it means I miss out on seeing a great film.
Being contrarian is quite a marketable skill these days, because if you want to be a celebrity in today’s celebrity-saturated media marketplace, you have to do something to stand out from the rest of the pack. The quickest, easiest way to do that is to find a stance that is accepted as conventional wisdom, and then oppose it as vociferously as possible. This is why the Internet is full of people who oppose relatively normal things, like certain typefaces, or even lowercase i’s next to capital letters.
(If you didn’t get that last reference, it’s ’cause you didn’t follow the link to the word “tittle” earlier. Go ahead, it’s not naughty or anything.)
This desire to stand out, in my opinion, is why former-NBA-journeyman-turned-culture-critic Paul Shirley recently penned a crude diatribe suggesting that Haitian citizens are culpable for their deplorable living conditions. Even though there are points he made that I agree with, I don’t think it was a particularly brave thing to say. He was looking to get a reaction, and he got one. People will accuse Shirley of many things, but loving too much is not one of them.
Loving bravely is not just taking an unpopular stance; it’s risking great personal cost to do good for someone, even when you know that others may, in fact, ridicule you for doing so. Obviously I’m not privy to all the details, but it seems to me that, by choosing to stand by her husband, Gayle Haggard chose to love bravely. It’s possible that Elin Nordegren Woods may be choosing similarly.
This is the truest essence of love, and as Christians we see it all over the Scriptures.
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
This idea of sacrificial love, of doing for others what they cannot do for themselves, is one of the foundational principles that underscore all the worldwide efforts at Christian evangelism. And evangelism, as we all know, takes on many form — some subtle, and some not so subtle. The best strategies are ones that require truth and vulnerability, but still are basic and doable.
I’m reminded of “The Best Stuff In the World Today Café,” a cool little ditty by Take 6 with a nifty analogy of evangelism imagined as a downtown restaurant:
Time for lunch, my stomach said
I left the office to get fed
I had dined at every place on Main
My appetite was ripe for change.
And there stood this old restaurant
I had never seen before
And a stranger in an apron
Came bursting through the door and said
‘Welcome to The Best Stuff In the World Today Cafe
We are all believers in a better way
We were served as customers not so long ago
Now we are all waiters, we thought you oughta know’
It’s a clever song, and given the abundance of vocal talent in Take 6, I could probably listen to them sing pages of HTML source code and still love it.
Still, I wonder … what would happen if we really tried this? What would happen if I really grabbed someone off the street on an average Sunday morning and told them, “I don’t care what you planned to do, you gotta try this Jesus thing?”
I don’t know what would happen.
And that’s why it’s such a scary proposition in real life. Maybe that person would undergo a dramatic, Paul-on-his-way-to-Damascus conversion to Christianity. Or, maybe that person would give me the stink eye and say, “Dude, get your hands off me.” That’s why it’s such an act of bravery to put yourself out there like that.
And whether we recognize it or not, this holiday that we celebrate every February 14th, the one that was seemingly invented by purveyors of greeting cards, flowers, stuffed animals, and expensive chocolates … you know, Valentine’s Day?
Its origin is rooted not in empty sentiment, but in bravery.
• The name “Valentine” is derived from the Latin valens which means “worthy,” and which bears etymological resemblance to our English words “valor” and “valiant.”
• The holiday itself has roots in the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar, where it was known for centuries as the feast day of Saint Valentine
• All the romantic sentiment related to love and courtship that has been traditionally associated with this feast originated with works of art like Jacobus de Voragine’s thirteenth century Legenda Aurea (The Golden Legend) and Chaucer’s fourteenth century poem “Parliament of Foules”
• The name St. Valentine is actually an umbrella name for a number of martyred figures throughout church history, many of whom were known for various acts of kindness and bravery
• These acts include marrying and otherwise providing aid to Christians persecuted under the reign of emporer Claudius, and restoring the sight and hearing to the daughter of the jailer who subsequently imprisoned him
You put all that together, and it becomes evident that all of the sentimentality on display every year is just our society’s misguided yearning for a purer, less self-centered version of love than what we see in the movies, on television, and in gossip magazines.
It’s misguided because, sadly, we as a society keep returning to those same movies, TV shows, and gossip mags to inform our ideas of what true love looks like.
That’s why it’s incumbent on us as Christians to show, as Paul said, a more excellent way.
So this Valentine’s Day, I say be brave.
I can’t tell you what that act of bravery should be, because it’ll be different for all of us. Maybe it’ll mean being honest and really sharing feelings and issues that you would rather keep buried. Maybe it’s going out of your way to show your spouse that you love them, and doing so in the way that they really appreciate, rather than the way you happen to be good at.
Maybe it’s just stopping, out of the blue, just to say, “I love you.”
But whatever you decide, step on out there and do it.
And if it involves rapping a marriage proposal in the middle of a Sunday-morning worship service, don’t tell them I sent you.
We don’t mean to lie, but when someone asks us how we’re doing, it is much easier to say that we are “fine” or “blessed” than to tell the whole truth. The reality is that we are not always fine. There are times when we are going through hell. We face personal hell—conflict in close relationships, failing health, toxic work environments, financial struggle, church hurt, and other distress. If that wasn’t enough, in the age of moral decline, we are also going through hell in the social and political landscape of our lives with political maneuvering, state-sanctioned violence against Black people at the hands of police, pervasive patriarchy and gender inequality, and racial disparities in education, employment, healthcare, and housing. Even if you are not distressed personally, with increased access to information, we are constantly bombarded with bad news, which can wear on our hearts and minds. Whatever hell you are going through, we offer these eight suggestions to pull yourself up:
Breathe: In times of stress and hardship, notice your breathing. Often when we are feeling anxious or overwhelmed, our breathing tends to be shallow. Research has shown that deep breathing lowers stress, heart rate, and blood pressure. A simple breathing technique to try is to sit upright, shoulders relaxed, arms resting by your sides, with your eyes closed. Inhale through your nose for five counts, then exhale through your mouth for five counts, repeating this process 3-10 times. If you find yourself in a persistent state of hell, make time daily for deep breathing to help release tension and stress. Deep breathing won’t make the issues go away, but it will calm you and clear your mind to face the issues.
Pray: In moments of trial, prayer is beneficial for many reasons. First, it invites us to pause and connect with God—to be reminded that we are deeply loved and are not alone. Second, prayer gives us an opportunity to release our burdens to the One who is able to bear the weight of all that we carry. Lastly, prayer reminds us that the hell we experience on earth is no comparison to the joy we will experience in the eternal presence of God, filling us with hope and power to forge ahead despite what we are facing.
Phone a Friend:In addition to divine connection, human connection is vital to our well-being. In particularly burdensome times, talking with a friend—whether via text, telephone, or in person—has a way of lifting your spirits. Be sure to connect with friends who will listen deeply and empathize with you; I am reminded of the story of Job in the Bible when he was going through hell and his friends showed up. They cried with him and sat with him in his pain. Their presence comforted him greatly and did not become a nuisance until later in the story when they began to insert their thoughts and opinions about what he was going through instead of simply being with him.
Play:In our culture and society, play is viewed as children’s business or trivial, but I would argue that play and movement are necessary for well-being, especially when in the midst of hardship. Think about it: In elementary school, even the most stressful days and bickering amongst friends was cured by a game of kickball, double-dutch, or running around on the jungle gym. Recreation has a way of creating us again and invigorating us for life. My preferred play is running. Join a pick-up game of basketball, head to the bowling alley with friends, or dance with reckless abandon with your children. Whatever you do, allow yourself to engage in an activity that brings you joy and gets you moving!
Count Your Blessings:There is something about a posture of gratitude that helps to encourage us. When going through hell and everything seems to be going wrong, recounting the aspects of life that are going well and the people and things we are grateful for is an instant mood lifter. There is a saying, “I have more to be thankful for than to complain about” and when we think about and name our blessings, the pressure of our problems is allayed.
Repeat a Mantra: Mantras are typically not associated with Christianity; however the word mantra simply means to think. It is a thought, word or phrase repeated to inspire, motivate, ground, or calm an individual. A mantra can be a quotation from Scripture that encourages you to persevere through tough times or a phrase that cultivates and strengthens your faith and resolve in times of suffering. I have a friend who when faced with obstacles that appear insurmountable repeats the mantra, “God is bigger!” It’s has helped her get through many distressing situations.
Extend Yourself Grace:Sometimes we can be especially hard on ourselves, even when we are going through difficult times. The reality is that the expectations we have of ourselves we would never have of others if they found themselves in situations that mirror our own. When I am going through hell, trying to keep things together, I find it helpful to treat myself the way I would treat a friend. This means reminding myself that I’m doing the best I can or permitting myself to rest. It also means speaking kindly to myself when I fall short.
Recognize that this is temporary:In the moment, it often feels like the hellish experiences that we are having will last forever, but the operative word in the phrase going through hell is “” When facing various trials and tribulations, it is important to remember that where we are is not where we’ll always be; There will come a day when this hell will be a distant memory, and a testament to your grace, strength, resilience, and resolve.
Yes, these are all great questions to ask anyone while dating. However, there are some key questions Christians often forget to ask. While not everyone desires marriage (Matthew 19:11-12; 1 Corinthians 7:7), marriage is often the ultimate goal for dating Christians (Genesis 2:24). Thus, our questions must be guided by our faith, wisdom and our intentions. So, in an effort to help you along your dating journey, we’ve included five important questions that we as Christians should be asking, but often overlook:
1) Is Jesus Christ your personal Lord and Savior?
This is a question that should be asked early on in the dating process. Believe it or not, many of us date non-believers or presume our potential mate’s salvation status more than we’d like to admit, instead of just asking. Putting this question out there helps us keep Christ at the center of our new friendships and relationships, forces us and our dates to truly examine our faith, and it shows our potential mates that faith is a priority in our life. Besides, asking this question immediately weeds out those with whom we would be unequally yoked (2 Corinthians 6:14).
2) Are we casually dating or are we “courting”?
Casual dating can be a fun way to meet new people, but it is riddled with ambiguity and emotional frustration. This can be a waste of time for those who truly desire marriage. Thus, courting is a Christian’s best bet. Courting allows you to focus solely on getting to know your date, pray for one another and to prayerfully seek God’s will for your relationship before marriage. After about three months of “hanging out,” it’s reasonable and fair to inquire about your potential mate’s long-term intentions. Are you two free to see other people, or are you two seeking God and a long-term relationship—together?
3) What are your physical boundaries?
We (should) know that sex and all related acts before marriage is a no go (Hebrews 13:14). Though it’s natural to desire to be affectionate toward your romantic interest, wisdom precludes any arousing physical contact – this can include kisses and hugs. Understanding your date’s physical boundaries (beyond sex) keeps you both accountable, honors personal convictions and, above all, honors God. Clarify each other’s boundaries up front and respect them.
4) What is your philosophy on debt and tithing?
Debt and tithing are only part of a larger discussion on money management, and this discussion should occur well before you and your bank accounts become one. Christians actually maintain varying degrees of convictions regarding tithing and debt. In fact, there are more views on tithing than we can count. While there are also Christians who view any form of debt – including mortgages – as a sin, while others believe some debt is warranted as long as it is repaid. However, having varying convictions about finances doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker (Romans 14), but these variances will require lots of conversation, and will greatly impact financial decisions and lifestyle choices in a marriage.
5) Who Comes First? Wife, Parent or Kids?
They say that how a man treats his mother is how he’ll treat his wife. This is a great adage to consider while dating. But God said – and Jesus Christ reiterated – that a marrying man must “leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:5). Yet, some husbands not only put heir mothers ahead of their wives, they expect their wives to understand this arrangement. Meanwhile, some wives are guilty of putting their children before their husband, and they expect their husbands to just roll with it. These mindsets are clearly out of sync with scripture, as they can deal deathblows to the “one flesh” mandate. While dating, we often think of our needs or judge how our dates might fit into our world. But we must also assess our willingness to make them number one and our ability to be one with them – above all others.
Christian dating can be fun, but it shouldn’t be done haphazardly. Asking the right questions saves time, guards hearts and preserves godly intentions.
Back in the day, I used to watch this show called, Scrubs. Do you remember it? You know, Donald Faison and some other people? To be honest, I just watched the show for Donald Faison because he was from Clueless, and I loved the movie Clueless when I was younger. There was one thing I loved most about the show — the theme song. I love theme songs in general. Perhaps that makes me weird, but, whatever. Anyway, the theme song for Scrubs went like this:
I can’t do this all on my own. No, I’m no, I’m no superman.
I’m no superman.
I loved the song so much that I looked it up and put the full version on my iPod Nano. Remember those? I’m taking you back down memory lane, aren’t I? The song is by a band called Laslo Bane. I think I played that song at least 25 times a day when I was in high school. It really resonated with me because I was that girl who always felt like she needed to be superwoman. I thought that I needed to do it all, be it all, and do everything perfectly.
I know I’m not the only one who has ever felt this way.
I think part of the reason we tend to have this mentality is because our society tells us that we have to be perfect. Our society tells us that the key to success is to be “busy” and to run ourselves into the ground and to live off of coffee and little sleep. Our society makes us feel like we should be able to do everything perfectly and without help.
This is especially true in the Black community and even more true for us Black moms. This is especially, especially true for Black, Christian mamas. We strive to be the perfect Proverbs 31 woman, so we hold ourselves up to the highest standards and then pride ourselves into achieving those standards with absolutely no help. We are the keepers of the household, we are the makers of the meals, we are the cleaners of the spills, and we do it all without showing an ounce of our exhaustion. If we ask for help, we are viewed as weak and, of course, that is a no-no.
I became a mom 3 months ago, and now that I’m a mom, I have had many moments being trapped inside the “supermom mentality.” I was convinced I didn’t need help when my daughter was first born. I felt like I needed to do it all and I needed to be perfect while doing so.
It took me crying out to God in a state of exhaustion to realize that we put this mentality on ourselves. Who is telling us that we have to be supermom? Besides society and pressure from social media, there is no written document that states that we have to conform to this “supermom mentality.”
I’m here to tell you today that you don’t have to do it all. You don’t have to be supermom. That’s what the Holy Spirit is for! Our God is the One who wants to do it all and be it all for us.
“Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9 NLT)
Do you see that? We GET to be weak. Holy Spirit wants us to! No more of this strong front, dear friend. Lean into Christ. Be weak. And let His grace be sufficient for you.
You may be thinking, I hear what you’re saying, but how? I just can’t let myself be weak, or I don’t know where to start!
Girl, I hear you. Let’s talk about it.
Ask the Lord for help
It sounds simple, but of course it isn’t. Hear me out. It can be hard to ask someone else for help. Personally, I don’t want to impose or inconvenience someone, so I just try to do everything by myself. When I had my daughter, I didn’t ask anyone for help except my husband. But, The Lord knew that I needed so much help as a sleep deprived, postpartum mama. He sent me help that I could not refuse. I would receive text messages from faithful friends telling me that they were on the way over to drop off some food. I didn’t have to ask them for the very thing I needed. Holy Spirit guided them to help me when I needed it the most. All I had to do was receive it with open arms and be thankful. When you ask God for help, He will meet you where you are and send you help just as you need it.
Lean on your spouse and loved ones
Mamas, your spouse and loved ones are there for you. They WANT to help and your partner NEEDS bonding time with his child, too. And, of course, your family and friends enjoy spending time with the little ones as well. I know it can be hard to not be the overbearing, overprotective mama bear. Trust me. I’m guilty of this, myself. I have a tendency to hover over my husband instead of just letting him have his time with our little one. Hello? I should be napping as soon as he gets home and takes her! Why do I feel the need to keep hovering? Better yet, why do I feel the need to ask myself, “What needs to be done now?” instead of taking the opportunity to rest. Now, I’m not discouraging productivity, but there is nothing wrong with saying, “no” to those dishes and taking time to recharge when you can.
Also, just talk to your spouse about how you’re feeling. Don’t keep it in. He doesn’t expect you to be supermom, I promise.
Say yes to what matters
Everything is not created equal. As women, and especially as moms, we often say yes to everything. We try to do everything and do it all well. Then, when we get burned out and realize that our efforts created mediocre results. We need to learn to only tackle things that truly matter on a daily basis. For me, that sometimes means putting aside working on the budget to help my stepson with homework. Or, that might mean saying yes to quality time with my spouse and saving that phone call for tomorrow. When we choose just a few things to focus on and do well instead of loading our plates with all of the things, we won’t feel so stretched thin and the “supermom mentality” will fade.
Mamas, we need to realize that our spouse and kids are who’s important. Not what society expects of us, not what we see other moms posting on social media, not what our friends are doing with their kids, etc. Our kids don’t care if our hair is messy or if the house is clean. Our spouse doesn’t care if our kids are perfectly dressed or if we were able to finish that load of laundry today. Our spouses love us and our kids just need us. They beautifully accept us as we are. In their eyes, we are their supermoms. And I know that I don’t have to finish all of the chores for my husband to see me as a “superwife.”
Jesus loves us the same way. He meets us right where we are and gives us grace. We have nothing to prove. Nothing.
Now, go take a deep breath and hug your kiddos. They love you.
Do you have additional tips for today’s busy moms? Share them below.
Do any of these phrases sound familiar to you? Perhaps they bring back a memory of an argument you and your significant other recently had?
The argument begins with something small, escalates into a blame game, and before you know it, you don’t remember what you were originally arguing about. I will be the first to say that I have been down this road many times. And, as a seasoned traveler of this road, I am here to tell you that no one feels good after these arguments.
Everyone sometimes feels hurt, confused, and worthless, like they are not good enough for their partner, like they deserve better, or whatever other unhappy feeling you want to “insert here.” Nobody wins.
As humans, we are selfish by nature. We are born selfish. In fact, selflessness is a trait that we have to learn over time. Naturally, we think “me, me, me.”
“What do I need? What do I want?”
This way of thinking transfers over into our relationships if we aren’t careful. We begin to think about whether or not our spouse has met our needs, instead of thinking about how we can meet their needs. And, if we think our needs haven’t been met, we feel it is our duty to tell our spouse about how they aren’t meeting our needs and that they should “do better.”
This may result in myriad reactions: your spouse becomes defensive, your spouse spits back what needs of theirs you aren’t meeting as well, your spouse feels worthless, your spouse shuts down, or your spouse apologizes and actually “does better.”
Unfortunately, the latter is less likely to happen. What is likely to happen is an argument that escalates quickly – leading to both parties feeling hurt, angry, or even resentful.
The heart of the godly thinks carefully before speaking; the mouth of the wicked overflows with evil words ( Proverbs 15:28).
I imagine that if you and I were sitting down to a cup of coffee and I were sharing this with you, you would respond with, “But, you don’t understand my wife/husband! They don’t do (insert complaint here)! I need to tell them how they aren’t treating me the way I deserve to be treated!”
I would respond by asking the following: “Is telling your partner about themselves helping anything? No? Well, have you prayed about it, instead?”
Pray about it? Yes, pray about it. God calls us to be bringers of peace to our relationships and to avoid conflict. Remember that the power of life and death are in the tongue (Proverbs 18:21).
Every time we are complaining about our partners, we are speaking death to our relationships. We have the power to bring life to our relationships with our tongues instead. We can do this through prayer and by speaking direct words of affirmation over our significant others.
Next time you are tempted to tell your spouse what they “need to do” for you, try affirming them in that very area you feel as though they are lacking.
For example, instead of saying, “You never take it upon yourself to do the laundry. Why can’t you do more to help out around here?” Say, “Thank you so much for all that you do to keep our house in order. I appreciate you!”
Those powerful words just spoke the actions into your spouse that you wish to see more often. Then, in your private prayer time, ask The Lord to show your partner how important it is to you that he or she pitch in around the house.
God cares about the small details. And, He will honor you for coming to Him instead of igniting a quarrel in the relationship.
After praying, serve. Serve your spouse. Remember, that is what God calls us to do in our marriage. Marriage is just two people who are servants in love.
If you are wondering how you are supposed to serve your spouse, it is written right here in Colossians 3:18-19:
Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting with the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.
When you serve your spouse, you fill them up with the love of the Holy Spirit. When we are filled with the love of the Holy Spirit, we are filled with the fruits of the Spirit, and when we are filled with the fruits of the Spirit, our relationships will result in less conflict.
Friends, marriage and relationships are hard work. It takes hard work to decide to be selfless every day. It takes hard work to serve your spouse when it is very possible that your own needs haven’t been met.
It takes work to pray for your spouse when you’re in the heat of an argument. It takes work to choose NOT to say something the next time you feel frustrated or conflicted. But, that work is so worth it. Take it from someone who’s been there.
I used to choose the selfish route. Now, I choose the selfless route. And, as a result, I am more in love with my husband today than I was when I married him.
Given how often public schools fail black children, the allure of a “college prep” school – even if it is in a nontraditional school environment – becomes easy to understand. A school like that is seen not only as an alternative to the regular public schools but as the doorway to the most elite educational institutions of higher education in the nation – and all that earning a degree from one of those institutions entails.
Gateway to elite schools
And so it was with T.M. Landry College Prep – an independent private school located in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana. The school doesn’t list race or ethnicity in its student profile. However, promotional materials and news reports suggest the majority of the student body is black.
The school began to garner widespread attention in 2017 after students and school officials posted a series of videos of Landry students being accepted into some of the nation’s top colleges and universities – including Ivy League schools. The image of elated black students clad in college sweatshirts as they learned they had been accepted into the likes of Harvard and Yale made for striking theater.
T.M. Landry had seemingly cemented its status as a model school for black students who hail from families that were struggling to make ends meet.
Beset by allegations
Unfortunately, it now appears that this dream school was actually a nightmare.
As reported by The New York Times, the husband-and-wife co-founders of the school – Michael and Tracey Landry – allegedly falsified student transcripts and exaggerated or lied about students’ life stories in order to make them more attractive to college admission committees looking to diversify their student bodies.
People are rightly incensed about what the students at T.M. Landry reportedly had to endure.
Beyond the allegations of abuse, there were also academic practices that raise serious questions about T.M. Landry’s approach to educational success. For instance, the high school students spent an excessive amount of time on ACT practice tests – “day after day,” according to The New York Times.
“If it wasn’t on the ACT, I didn’t know it,” Bryson Sassau, a T.M. Landry student who took the ACT three times, told The New York Times as he lamented how ill prepared he was for college.
Rethinking education’s purpose
But even if Sassou and his fellow students at Landry had been prepared for college, would that necessarily make T.M. Landry a good school for black students?
As one of many scholars who studies the interplay of race, culture and education, I believe the true measure of a school’s worth is not the extent to which its students get accepted into elite institutions. But rather, I’d measure a school by the degree to which it inspires students to engage in collective efforts to improve the human condition.
In fairness, T.M. Landry College Prep’s creed includes a line that states: “Commitment to the betterment of self and society as a whole.” The degree to which the school infused that into its daily coursework is questionable.
Educational researcher Gloria Ladson-Billings has questioned the overemphasis on test scores. She has stressed the need reframe the way society thinks about education – to go from focusing on the so-called “achievement gap” to an “education debt” that reflects how much more should be invested in the education of children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. I have stressed the need to focus not on achievement gaps but rather on “opportunity gaps” that show inequities in systems, structures and practices, among other factors, that can prevent children from reaching their potential.
Given the unique history that evolves from America’s “peculiar institution” – slavery – and the many ways in which it has impacted black identity, education must also equip black students with knowledge and skills they need to analyze, critique, question and write about the ways in which they’ve been miseducated.
Even at its best – that is, even if the school wasn’t facing allegations of abuse or that it doctored student transcripts and came up with fake sob stories to get them into college – if the school’s focus was primarily concerned with test prep, T.M. Landry was not a truly transformative school that black students need and deserve.
True transformative schools don’t just work to help black students better fit into the existing educational and social system. They don’t want to just contribute another “beat the odds” story about how so called “merit” and “hard work” can help them overcome centuries and decades of class and race inequity and oppression.
Education, on the other hand, is an emancipatory process of lifelong learning that enables students to study and read the broader society and work to disrupt injustice.
Schools like T.M. Landry that just want to “school” black students well enough to get into the Ivy Leagues so that they can earn a degree, acquire material things and the trappings of success – all the while fitting into the existing power structure – are problematic. Such schools may appeal to black families because of their negative experiences in traditional public schools, but they don’t really enable students to challenge the status quo.
Indeed, as Audre Lorde has argued, the “master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” And as James Baldwin has stressed in his famous “Talk to Teachers,” during these times of anti-blackness, racism, xenophobia and discrimination writ large, it is time to “go for broke” in order to teach black children to break out of the existing social order. In order to do that, educators must radically shift what education is – and who decides what counts as academic and social success.
As of the publication of this article, the school’s co-founders, Michael and Tracey Landry, had stepped down from the school’s board but will continue to teach at the school.