Danielle Navonne: a Writer, experiencing and sharing the journey of life one Word at a time.

“I was a success the minute I left Chicago’s South Side without a crack habit, a bullet in my head or a baby on my hip.”

I was immediately bothered when I heard this statement on a TV show that is now in syndication on TV One, but used to air on Showtime some years back. The statement was made by Teri, one of the characters on the Soul Food series. In this scene, Teri, an African American woman, was defending her decision to leave her position at a law firm, stating that her success isn’t defined by her job, it’s defined by the fact that she got out of the ‘hood without being murdered, pregnant or drugged-up. For some reason, I had a huge problem with that.

Let me be clear, I agree that our success is not defined by our position at work, but as an African American who grew up on Chicago’s South Side, I took the suggestion of this quote a bit personal. I get it, growing up in the ‘hood is hard. But does that mean that those of us who did should expect less of ourselves because of it?

I don’t want to be naïve, I know that the educational and exposure opportunities for children like me are different, and I know those are huge factors in success levels. But I believe that if we have low expectations for ourselves, we’ll never work to reach higher. We’re going to just stop right at the low bar we’ve set.

How do we personally and realistically acknowledge the inequities in communities like Chicago’s South Side, without lessening expectations because of it?

I grew up singing a song in church called,Think Big.” (No, that’s not me singing on the clip. 😉 )The repeating line says: “I might as well think big if I’m gonna think at all.” I guess that’s all I’m saying.

I read a study about a coach’s expectancy with athletes. Athletes whose coaches have low expectations of them, just focus on technical stuff – just enough to get by in the game. But those whose coaches have high expectations of them, focus on their communication and overall development – the stuff that leaders are made of.

I came across another article that discussed a recent increase in students with disabilities attending college. Apparently the growth is due in part to changes in federal laws that have increased the expectations of these students in elementary and secondary school.

Here are a few quotes about expectations that resonate with me:

“We tend to live up to our expectations.” (Earl Nightingale)

“Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you are correct.” (Henry Ford)

“Your self-expectations are usually self-fulfilling prophecies.” (Unknown)

If you shoot for the moon, even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” (Unknown)

I love the Soul Food series. I actually used to schedule my classes around it in undergrad (true story, lol).  So, this is not my attempt to bash Soul Food. It’s my attempt to have a real conversation about expectation levels, and a Soul Food quote just happened to be what sparked my thinking about this.

“I was a success the minute I left Chicago’s south side without a crack habit, a bullet in my head or a baby on my hip.”

So, am I overreacting? (I do that sometimes, lol.) Or does this comment insinuate low expectations for urban youth?

Do you think there is a level of truth in what’s she’s saying?

And moving beyond the context of this quote, how do we set expectations (goals) for ourselves while still considering the realities of our resources?


Comments on: "Not-So-Great Expectations" (9)

  1. If you’re interested in seeing the clip on Soul Food that sparked all of this, you can find it there. Be advised though, there’s a bit of profanity in it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qqFcHL32u7A&feature=related

  2. I can see where Teri is coming from with the statement she made. It is so common almost expected to have had these kind of circumstances growing up in the “hood”.

  3. I guess one of the interesting things about humanity is how we all can see or hear the same thing, yet come up with completely different conclusions. To read a statement like that actually leads me to believe that the character Teri was attempting to communicate that, because she made it out an environment filled with such low expectations, she could succeed anywhere. Attaining a certain title or position in no way summarizes one’s success when they’ve been through hell and back just to get to that point. Even though I didn’t grow up in what most would call a rough area, I greatly admire anyone who can beat the odds and look society square in the face to say, “By the grace of GOD, I made it out; and because I did, so can anyone else who wants to.”

  4. I don’t think you’re overreacting. I remember when I was in college one of my friends would always find a way to differentiate herself from “those inner city youth,” not realizing that I was a member of the group she was putting down. (Just FYI, maybe on the Southside they don’t consider the area I grew up in as the “inner city” but to those who don’t live here, anything south of Downtown is the ‘hood, lol.)… I strongly believe that a child will typically meet the bar you set for them, verbally or by lifestyle, so a strong family structure, religious accountability, mentoring, good teachers, caring principals, and so on all shape how we come out of the ‘hood.

  5. Success is relative, and I do believe there are two different definitions for urban youth from certain neighborhoods versus America in general. In reference to the hood, you may be considered a sucess for such things, but if you want to succeed in life, meaning outside of that environment, you have to set your sights above or at least in line with the rest of the world.

    It’s like being Magna Cum at a Community College vs. Harvard or Yale.

  6. DanielleNavonne said:

    Bre, thats an interesting perspective (the community college vs. harvard thing). I guess that’s my struggle. Cuz I totally get that (and to your point too, JAZZ). I guess there’s just something about that varying scale that is hard for me to accept. Like it shouldn’t be that way, ya know. But I know in a lot of cases that’s the reality and that’s the way of the world we’re in. :-/

    I agree, RealnHonest, I definitely think we perform based on the bar set for us. Guess thats why this quote bothered me so much, even though i totally understood why she said it.

    Wordworship…, thanks so much for sharing. I often think about that about scripture – how we can all read it and get something different out of it. I like the way you worded your take “because she made it out an environment filled with such low expectations, she could succeed anywhere.” Maybe something about the way you phrased it gives it a more positive spin in my head. I like your way better than the way she said it! Lol 🙂

  7. Shanell Butkowski said:

    Keep working ,remarkable job!

  8. Toby Cluster said:

    Found this on MSN and I’m happy I did. Well written article.

  9. Thanks for reading, Shanell and Toby!

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