Last month, at the Black History Month celebration at New River Community College, Neesey Payne, Pulaski native and WDBJ7 Mornin’ co-anchor, reflected on how she got to where she is today: “I am one of the lucky ones. I grew up surrounded by people who cared about my education, who gave me opportunities. My success wasn’t an afterthought. It was a forethought – front and center.”
Anyone who knows the Payne family (and, as far as I can tell, everyone in Pulaski does), knows that Neesey’s parents played a huge role in supporting her and her brothers and prioritizing their education. In their countless contributions to the Pulaski County Public Schools, many of our children no doubt benefited from the Payne parents as well.
But while Neesey’s success no doubt began with her parents caring about her education, it didn’t end there. Neesey also lovingly remembered others in Pulaski who supported her along the way, mentioning Gregory Hawkes and Patty Landis by name. Neesey’s is a success story for the Payne family, but could it also, perhaps to a lesser degree, be a success story for Pulaski County?
I certainly hear a sense of pride when people talk about watching Neesey on the Mornin’ show. It’s the same pride I hear when people watch as Shayne Graham kick(ed?) a football. It’s like we personally take credit for some small part of their success stories.
But if we feel justified at feeling pride about Neesey Payne’s and Shayne Graham’s accomplishments, shouldn’t we also feel some responsibility when children in Pulaski fall through the cracks? I don’t think we can have one without the other.
And if we feel some sense of responsibility for Pulaski’s children who fall through the proverbial cracks, what should we do about it? Where are the cracks and how can we close them up so that our children don’t fall through?
Far too often, our answer to this question begins and ends with the parents. Of course Neesey’s parents are models for all of us in terms of how to raise successful, independent children. But our explanation for why some children grow up to do well and others don’t can’t simply blame or celebrate parents. We have to go further for at least two reasons. First, who wants to live in a community in which the greatest predictor of a child’s outcomes are his or her parents’ actions? And second, science. And math. The data just don’t support the simplistic answer that parents are solely to blame given that it is getting more and more difficult to move up on the economic ladder (and easier and easier to move down) in the United States.
Neesey offered one suggestion for how to close up some of these cracks when she remembered, “From kindergarten to college, I only had four black teachers. Recruiting and retaining teachers of color is important. They bring a whole new perspective to the class work.”
I think she’s right and that we should work towards this goal. But I also think we can do even more. Exploring these solutions – both locally created/implemented and a look at how national solutions might work on a local level – is one of the things that this publication will focus on as we move forward. But you don’t have to wait for us to suggest answers. Suggest your own in the comments below or email them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.