Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

The Price of Education

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

The Price of Education

Article excerpt

I can't explain my eclectic reading habits, or my innate curiosity about all kinds of things. The combination of the two explains, perhaps, why I snatched Andrew Ward's book about the Fisk Jubilee Singers off a sale table at a small bookstore, and devoured it on a cross-country flight even as a pending project loomed ahead. I settled into Ward's book with procrastination on my mind and a smile on my face, and emerged with a renewed appreciation of all the things our ancestors paid for education.

The book, first published in 2000, is entitled Dark Midnight When I Rise: The Story of the Jubilee Singers Who Introduced the World to the Music of Black America (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002). It is a detailed history of the founding of Fisk University and the ways it was funded, including the national and international tours that the Jubilee Singers took to raise funds. These youngsters were true pioneers, suspending their own education so that they could help pay for the education of their peers. Traveling in the latter part of the 19th century, they faced discrimination, horrible conditions and worse, but they kept singing, kept fund raising, kept pushing and prevailing.

The image of the Jubilee Singers is emblazoned on my mind when I meet a friend's daughter, a young woman ready to go to college. She has a list of the things she needs: A microwave, computer, CD player, you name it. Her greatest concern is that her roommate will bring some of the same things and that their small dorm room will be too crowded to accommodate both their goodies. I am sitting with her and inwardly shaking my head, outwardly trying not to throw cold water on her justifiable self-absorption. I don't want to come off as one of those ancient troglodytes who harkens back to the good old days even as younger folks tell us that things have changed. But I contrast the struggle so many had simply to eat and to learn with this young sister's challenge of the microwave and I chuckle. We've come a long way, baby.

Not so far, though, when we consider the fallout from the Michigan affirmative action cases. In these cases, we have learned that race can be a factor in admissions, perhaps for another 25 years, but after that Black folks are on their own. In other words, the generations of discrimination are supposed to be overcome in a scant 60-year period in which White folks have been fighting equal access all the way. When access issues are sugarcoated, they'll bite, but even the Fisk Jubilee Singers, bringing gentle tidings of freedom and liberation, found slammed doors, broken promises and missed opportunities. …

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