How to Accept Help (if You’re Black)

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Berkeley Student Kashawn Campbell. photo by Bethany Mollenkof. courtesy Los Angeles Times
Berkeley Student Kashawn Campbell. photo by Bethany Mollenkof. courtesy Los Angeles Times

“How do you get students to accept help?” a teacher asked me.

She was one of a diverse group of dedicated, intelligent young educators who help high school students from smaller income neighborhoods attend college. During our recent conversation, it was mentioned that some of their most hard-working and focused students arrive at a university, confront challenges with course work and then—heartbreakingly—refuse to seek or take advantage of help that is available.

They are so determined to do it on their own, her colleague explained, “because they want to help their families.” These educators’ compassionate concerns and the heavy burden their students are carrying stayed with me. When a teacher asked me, “How did you manage to get the help you needed?” I realized that during my entire career as an African American, working-class, queer woman student (Pre-K through PhD) I never did.