Rachel is a 19 year-old high school student who will be starting her senior year this fall. Since her birthday is February 1st, that means she will still be in high school at the age of 20. She tweeted last year that she failed the "fCAT".
Jump to 1:00 mark
In addition, her testimony this week bordered on the unintelligible, often prompting the court reporter to ask Rachel to repeat herself several times. Both the defense attorney and the prosecutor struggled to understand many of the words she used and the manner in which she used them. At one point it got so bad that Tracy Martin, the father of Trayvon Martin, actually buried his head in his hands.
|Tracy Martin, father of Trayvon Martin, reacting to Rachel Jeantel's testimony|
When I was 19 years old, I was a sophomore in college majoring in Architectural Engineering. I had been elected as President of my school's National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) chapter, was involved in student senate, the Black Student Union, and had applied (and, at the age of 20, would soon be accepted into) two organizations which allowed me to give back to high school students who came from backgrounds like mine: Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. and the Upward Bound Program. Through Kappa I participated in our Guide Right program which focused on mentoring young Black boys. Through the Upward Bound Program I taught math and science to high school students of all races who came from poor families and helped them make the transition from high school to college.
Although all of these factors were necessary, I submit to you that this last factor of peer pressure had the most direct influence over my actions as a teenager.
And that brings us back full circle to today's youth. There seems to be a shared sentiment among the youth of today, and in particular among the Black youth, that it is cool to be uneducated. Black students have long been victim to the notion that sounding educated (ie. speaking proper English) is to "sound White." But today's youth go even beyond that notion. With the constant inundation of successful reality TV personalities, hip hop stars and athletes, many of them don't even acknowledge that an education plays any role in their lives whatsoever. They don't find out until it's too late that those people are actually the exceptions to life, and not the rule.
And for the record, many of our schools and so-called educators are more than happy to pass these kids through the system and out into the world without the basic skills needed to be successful (I'd need an entirely separate blog post to fully explore this issue).
I can appreciate that Rachel Jeantel suffered through a difficult experience this week during her time on the stand but perhaps there's a silver lining to this dark cloud. Maybe, just maybe, this life altering experience, which has captured the attention of the entire nation, may prompt her and others who can relate to her to do some soul searching about the true value of education. Seeing Jeantel struggle with basic English may not go so far as to convince today's youth that being smart is actually "cool", but it most certainly let them see for themselves that being uneducated is not cool.