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My Son's Friends Think He's Rich

Photograph by Getty Images

I could not stop laughing as my son brought me up to speed on the latest happenings with his friends.

“You know my friends think I’m rich,” he says.

“What?” I ask. “Why?”

“Because I don’t get free lunch at school.”

I laughed and laughed as he continued, “So one time they asked me what my parents did, and I said my dad is a lawyer and my mom is a writer.”

“And what did they say?”

“They said, ‘Yeah, right.’ They didn’t believe me.”

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I had to chuckle, and then I sighed as I reflected on the type of life their father and I have provided for our two sons. By no stretch of the imagination are we at all rich; yet, coming from a background of poverty, I do understand why the children in my son’s inner-city school would believe that we are.

How many times have black children actually seen black fathers who are attorneys or black mothers who earn their living creatively and professionally? Two black parents with multiple degrees and professional careers in an urban area? It’s very rare; even I understand that.

But our son isn’t rich. Not in the way most people value. Our son doesn’t sport the latest in Ralph Lauren, although he wishes he could. He actually wonders all the time why other kids receive more gifts than he does, and he has to earn his money by doing chores.

The bar for both of my sons' lives were raised when his dad and I decided we wanted more for ourselves and changed our environment.

Our son is rich because of a decision his dad and I made way before he was born. We made the decision to rise above the poverty level, move out of an environment that didn’t nurture us and go away to college. No, college wasn’t the gift that made the difference; it was the environment that we transitioned to that changed all of our lives.

As much as I continuously say that college is not the answer to life’s problems, it is the environment that college breeds that will change your destiny if you choose it. If I had not gone to college, it is equally likely that my son would be receiving free lunch at school, because I could have gotten pregnant by a man with little ambition who would drag me down with him. If my son’s father had not gone to college he would not have met such a beautiful, brilliant young woman to bear his children or cultivated such amazing and successful friends.

“Daddy says whatever we want to be in life, let him know, and he’ll introduce us to one of his friends who has done it,” my son said to me.

This is so true. When we went away to the University of Florida, our pool of friends changed. We began to associate with other young, highly motivated people; even the most likely to slack were light years above some of the people we left behind in our old neighborhood when it comes to intelligence and drive.

Although during our youth it was rare to come into contact with black doctors, lawyers, nurses, lawmakers, award-winning artists, entrepreneurs and even writers like me; for my sons it’s an everyday thing. There is not an impressive occupation that one of our friends hasn’t flourished in.

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The bar for both of my sons' lives were raised when his dad and I decided we wanted more for ourselves and changed our environment. Our children are rich because they are now surrounded by capable, highly motivated adults who are willing to instruct and influence them toward any dream they have. We took the first step and developed dreams for our lives. Our willpower and skill took us—and our kids—the rest of the way.

Don’t forget to pack your lunch, baby.

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