A Brief Story of Mad Black Boys

And by mad black boys, I don’t mean angry fellas…So, here goes a short story.


Josh starts first grade and when he thinks about what he wants to be when he grows up he says that he wants to be a scientist. He is really excited about school and is looking forward to meeting new friends and doing well. In class, after a month or so, Ms. Hanley starts to get somewhat frustrated with Josh. Not because he lacks the intellect to maintain well standing in her basic first grade class, but he just may be a little bit “too rambunctious” for her liking. His eagerness for engaging in class is taking a toll as he needs to be reminded to put his hand up when he has an answer or would like to speak. He sometimes speaks with his friends in class and Ms. Hanley notices. Not that the other students do not speak out of turn, but see, Josh is a young black boy, and compared to Adam and Carl and Susan, Josh is noticed just a little bit more. The word is spread from one teacher to the next, nothing malicious, just a casual, “keep an eye on him…” Whatever that means.


So the next year, in second grade, Ms. Peters does keep an eye on him. “Ahem, Josh sweetie, where are you going?” she asks him as he innocently walks to the back of the class to get a drink from the fountain. He explains to her that getting a sip was indeed his plan and she simply reminds him that he must ask or he will be in trouble. Twenty minutes later, he looks over and notices Adam and Carl at the fountain getting a drink. He glances at Ms. Peters seemingly doing nothing at her desk. He wonders if they both asked her to get a drink. I mean, she does have the rule of one person at the fountain at a time…right? Who knows, Josh is only in grade two. One thing he does know is that he doesn’t feel exactly how he felt about school before he entered into it.


Grade three rolls around and Josh is still eager about school, for the most part. I mean, he hasn’t ever gotten an A in any class even though he reads as well as the other kids and does his adding and subtracting just fine. Maybe those “personality traits” of his slid a little bit into the psyche of his teachers when it was report card time. I mean, he thought he was smart but I guess school, the “true test,” is showing him that he is just okay, but not the greatest. So skip to fifth grade and Josh has this reputation of being the slightly “above average” but not “excellent” kid that has to be “monitored”. This target has been on his back since first grade and he cant understand why, especially since Adam and Carl do the exact same things. And yes, since he is always called out, he does act out a bit now. If you’re going to get blamed all the time for stuff, might as well earn it…

Eighth grade rolls around and Josh sees himself as an average student who occasionally gets in trouble because he “acts out”. He is used to it though, that is just how he is, he rationalizes. He finally has a teacher who believes in him, Mr. Smith. Mr. Smith has a great relationship with Josh and they have many one-on-one talks. Josh finally musters up enough courage to tell him that he, “always dreamed of being a scientist”. Mr. Smith listens sympathetically and offers Josh the most thoughtful response he can offer. He says something to the tune of, “Listen Josh, I am not saying you aren’t smart. You are a helluva smart guy. B’s are great. But to be a scientist, I just don’t think that is your lane. Buddy, you love basketball! You are 5’11’’ already and you have a gift. God-given skill, Josh. You keep playing and practicing and I promise you, you will thank me later.”


Josh graduates eighth grade and heads to high school feeling more lost than the day he entered first grade.


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Matthew R. Morris

Educator, Speaker, Writer

Matthew R. Morris is a writer, speaker, and elementary educator in Toronto. He has an M.A. in Social Justice Education from OISE at the University of Toronto and is the author of the forthcoming book, Black Boys Like Me. 

Matthew R. Morris

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