Wednesday, November 3, 2010

John Hollis, author of “Life in the Paint: A Black Man Fighting for His Identity” will speak at GCC's Sealy Auditorium at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 4

John Hollis with his 5-year-old son, Davis. His "Life in the Paint" teaches people to be themselves. Don't try to be white. Don't try to be black. Just be you.
When he was growing up in Fredericksburg, John Hollis found a way to not only live, but thrive, in both the black and white worlds at the same time.

His skills in the classroom earned him scholarships to Woodberry Forest and U.Va. His skills on the basketball court earned him the respect of other young black males who considered getting good grades to be "white."

He's gone on to write for CNN and Time and to cover professional sports for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

And his brutally honest book, "Life in the Paint: A Black Man Fighting for His Identity" provides clues on how we can fix one of the major problems affecting our education system.

Q: Your dad left and your mom, Phyllis Hollis, a Stafford County teacher, raised you guys on her own, right? She drilled into all three of you the importance of education, didn't she? Have you had contact with your dad in later years--has he congratulated you on your success?

JOHN HOLLIS: Yep, my mother (A Howard University grad who has a master's degree in education from U.Va) raised the three of us on her own after divorcing my father when I was very, very young. We were still living in Germany--my father was in the U.S. Army--when their marriage ended and my mom returned to the U.S. with three sons to support. My youngest brother, Rick, was just a newborn baby at the time. I vaguely recall seeing my father once or twice while growing up, but not all since I was about 8 or 9, I guess. He sent two e-mails to me a few years ago in 2003, congratulating me on my success. I never responded back to either of his e-mails, although I did a few years ago speak via phone to the 20-something-year-old son he had by the German woman from his second marriage. I have never hated my father or anybody else for that matter. I truly have no feelings towards him whatsoever. He just wasn’t there when we needed him while growing up, so I don’t need him now. In fact, I look at it as a blessing of sorts that he wasn’t in my life because there’s a good chance I wouldn’t be the person I am today had there been such negative daily influences around me during my formative years. As for my mom, she was always preaching the value of education to us, ingraining in us at a young age that we would be good students, that we would be going to college and that our behavior in the classroom would be as exemplary as our academic performances. As I’ve grown into a man and become a parent myself, I realize how important that was in setting high goals for us and challenging us to meet those goals. All the more so for young black men. According to the statistics, my brothers and I should most likely be either dead or in jail. I’ll be forever indebted to my mother for demanding excellence from us. It’s a lesson from many other people could learn.
Q: Do you agree with the messages of Bill Cosby and President Obama that black families need to stress the importance of education more?

JOHN HOLLIS: I think President Obama and Bill Cosby were both right on the mark in chastising some African-American parents for failing to put the proper emphasis on education. They were both roundly criticized by apologists from within the black community for reasons still unclear to me, other than it’s always easier to simply blame the messenger rather than take a hard look at the message. Let's call it what it is and address the problem rather than bury our heads in the sand and pretend it doesn't exist. I certainly can’t speak for all African-American families, but I do think many of those I see daily here in the Atlanta area anyway concede education, for whatever reason, as somehow an exclusively white domain, that somehow the sports arena is the only avenue out of a poor socio-economic situation. Black kids who excel in school or speak proper English are often ribbed as “acting white” as if underachieving were somehow synonymous with African-Americans. Black kids who athletic, however, are the unquestioned kings of the kingdom, free to have whatever they wish. It’s absurd, and it has to stop. Don’t get me wrong – I love sports and it has always played a major role in my life. But there’s never been a doubt that I or my brothers could always do a lot more than that. We have never bought into this ridiculous and incredibly insulting concept that all African-American males can do is either play basketball or be a rapper. The failure of our nation’s education systems has long been well documented, but nowhere is it more glaring than among young black men, only about half of whom graduate from high school these days, dooming themselves to a challenging life that more often than not leads to poverty and criminal behavior. I’ve always been dumbfounded by this line of thought because of the flawed underlying premise that says there are certain things African-Americans can’t or won’t do. It’s because there are such low expectations of black men in America – from both whites and blacks alike – and rather than be insulted and hell bent on proving people wrong, too many folks just meekly go along with the status quo. Bad grades and poor efforts in school are tolerated by way too many African-American parents because the bar is set so low and that’s what is expected of them. It’s about time we in the African-American community started asking – no, demanding - better from all black students, especially black males. That means turning the TV off at night to do schoolwork, it means becoming involved with your children’s education and it means not letting their son play sports if he or she is not getting it done in the classroom.I have been amazed at how many African-American parents in the Atlanta area anyway see nothing wrong with letting their son play sports despite their academic shortcomings. Many of those same parents – especially in the case of the fathers- couldn’t ever be found in a parent/teacher conference, but you can bet they won’t miss their son’s football game or practice. It absolutely makes no sense to me, and it is detrimental to the entire black community as a whole. Sports is a privilege to be earned, not a right. We played all kinds of sports while growing up, but my mom always made it very clear to us it was a luxury we would lose if we didn’t get the job done in the classroom. Critics will say that these young black men often come from broken homes with no strong parent to guide them like my mom did. But such academic deficiencies are nowhere near as prevalent among African-American females, many of whom come from the same homes. The difference is that expectations are considerably higher of black females. I would like to see young black males held to the same high standard so they, too, can have a chance at a good life. Many will rise to meet the challenge if only they are pushed. We owe them that much. I was raised by a single mother who instilled in us a belief from a young age that we were smart and that we could do anything or be anything that we chose. I have firmly believed that my entire life and will always believe that. It wasn’t easy, but we overcame the major life obstacles in front of us b/c much was always expected of us. Others can do likewise, but it’s going to take a lot more effort from more African-American parents

Q: You say that your ability on the basketball court allowed you to straddle the line and relate to both sides. What do you think would have happened if you didn't have those skills?

JOHN HOLLIS: I’m not sure what might have happened if I didn’t have a little game back in the day. That innate confidence to know I could thrive in whatever my environment I might have found myself has been very pivotal for me. I might have turned out differently without the basketball skills, but who knows for sure?

Q: You write about other black kids you played basketball with being as smart as you but either being killed or going to jail for selling drugs because they bought into the idea that doing well in school was a white thing.

JOHN HOLLIS: I’m not sure that the friend of whom I spoke in the book as being as bright as me ever bought into the idea of studying made you “white.” I always believed this friend “Jimmy” was more a victim of life’s circumstances than anything else. He turned to selling drugs when the single mom raising him and a younger sister became ill. But there are plenty of young black males who don’t have the confidence to dare go against the grain. Often young and looking to fit in, too many black males do buy into that flawed premise, often with terrible consequences. I was always blessed to have lots of self-confidence, and I was determined to never let other people or different environments define me. Only I could define me. Yes, I was different than a lot of guys I played pickup basketball with, but I think I earned their respect because I always had the confidence to just be me and not try to be something else.

Q: Sports were a real blessing to you---they not only helped you relate to others who might have shunned you, they got you your start in journalism. But isn't it true that for many, they lead a lot of kids—especially poor kids-- to believe they can succeed without studying?

JOHN HOLLIS: “I’ve always believed sports can serve as a great life lesson. You learn to win with class and dignity, as much as you learn to lose gracefully as well. And when you lose, you go back, practice and get better so you can do it right the next time. You learn teamwork in sports and how to work together towards a common goal with others who might be different from you. Kids who want to be successful athletes will have to be talented, yes, but they’ll also have to be willing to put in the long practice time and planning necessary to be good. The same principles apply to school as well. African-American parents just need to expect more of their sons in this realm as well and hold them accountable when they don’t meet expectations. Just like their coaches would.”


Jazzie Casas said...

The financial aspect in being a single mother is enormous and the demand and pressure of that unexplainable urge to give everything that you can just for your kid to have a good future.

Returning to college can be a well recognized and controversial topic, the president of the United States would like single moms to go back to college. The belief is that when single mothers return to school they’ll get the training they have to have to come back to the employed pool. More mums that enter in the workforce raises spending and from this investing of dollars the economic system will increase.

Germanna publications said...

That's very true, Jazzie. Philanthropist Doris Buffett, who runs the Women's Independent Scholarship program for thousands of single moms,including one at Germanna, will speak at GCC's Daniel Center in Culpeper next Thursday night, Nov. 11 at 7 p.m. and sign copies of her biography, 'Giving It All Away.' And we will work to bring in other speakers on the subject of the struggle single mothers face.

Rizwan ali said...

nice and amazing video i like it Women's Independent Scholarship program for thousands of single moms,including one at Germanna, will speak at GCC's 'Giving It All Away.' And we will work to bring in other speakers on the subject of the struggle single mothers exchange
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