Twenty years ago I was a starry eyed teenager with no clue about what I was going to do next with my life. Now, I’m a husband and father to 4 brilliant black girls, responsible for helping them navigate their own self growth journey. My secret to growth has always been intentional reflection on the experiences I’m having at each stage of life. It’s a gift I’m trying to pass on.
Yesterday I had a fascinating conversation with one of my nephews about his future. He’s a junior in high school, and he’s beginning to think about his next steps. He’s also an athlete, a budding entrepreneur, and a music producer, so he’s got a bunch of different talents. I have ten nieces snd nephews, and three going on four great nieces and nephews. This by far is my favorite topic of conversation with all of them.
I’ll start by asking, “so what have you been doing with your life?” That’ll morph into, what do you hope to do when you grow up.” It’s kind of an unfair question because I’ve come to realize that we’re all still trying to figure out what we want to be when we grow up. A better question to ask, is tell me, what are you learning about yourself? That’s the money question because instead of what do you want to do, we should instead be encouraging our kids to explore, who am I becoming?
When I asked this question of my nephew, he seemed to have a few answers, which is a good thing. It means he’s not only been given opportunities to explore his passions and discover a few of his gifts, but he’s also starting to make sense of it all.
Our conversation actually began with him explaining why he didn’t want to attend an HBCU or go to a junior college. That’s what initially made me lean in and ask more questions. I wanted to know, what’s your current perception of HBCUs? What do you know about the history of HBCUs and the role they’ve played in not just black history but also in the contributions that HBCU alumni have made to this country? I schooled him a bit on the history, noting a few luminaries that he would recognize including some of his own heroes. I even reminded him of his own family members who attended (or currently attend) an HBCU.
It turns out, he’s got a few solid reasons for his current rationale, even if he needed a bit more context. The impressive thing is, he’s light years ahead of where I was at that age when it comes to both exposure and reflection. Let’s hope he keeps it up. In the meantime, it’s a good reminder to me to ask better questions to my own daughters who are a bit younger. We’ve intentionally placed them in schooling environments that allow for self directed learning, so we’ve got to help them make sense of the experiences they’re having so that they’re growing through reflection.