not ready: transcript


ACTOR: Yo you gotta go to college, you might as well. Bro, what do you mean nobody will accept you? There are 4,000 colleges and universities in this country, somebody will give you a chance. Everybody’s school didn’t necessarily prepare them for college, but there’s resources out there to help you.

YVONNE: Every four years the Schott Foundation for Public Education does a study to see just what is going with young black males and education.

And the graduation rate just continues to widen between young white men and young black men. The national graduation rate for young black men was only 59 percent compared to 80 percent for white young men. In Philadelphia only 24 percent make it out of high school.

As a college professor at NYU I see the effects of this everyday. Black male students walking through the journalism department is not a common site. And overall, big universities struggle with diversity numbers, especially in recruiting black males. Partially because the pool is small.

And that is just wrong and sad. And needs to change.

Rashaan Brooks feels the same way.


RASHAAN: I think college is very important, especially for black men because quite honestly a lot of people in this country don’t want us to go to college. They don’t want us to graduate high school at that. And like they’re ready for us to like be low as far as like social standards and it’s the cycle of poverty is still hitting us today. So.

YVONNE: Rashaan, is an 18-year-old high school senior at Julia R. Masterman High School. This fall, he’s headed to the University of Pittsburgh. He wrote this week's’ monologue, “Not Ready” in response to young black men in his Olney neighborhood feeling like they have no options.

Let’s listen to “Not Ready” performed by Carlo Campbell.


ACTOR: Yo Papi, wassup, lemme get a cheesesteak. Yea a platter, you know I need the fries. Salt, pepper ketchup, fried onions, mayo, hot peppers and lettuce. Yea not too much mayo though, you know how I like it. How long will it be pop? Yoooo, what's good bro, you good? We cooked yall bad at the courts yesterday. Have you recovered yet? (Laugh). Yea ard, if you play like yesterday yall will never get a W.

Forgot all that though, tomorrow's the big day though, you ready? I know you’re gonna be smiling all crazy, when you walk across the stage. You might as well do a little dance before they give you your diploma, for the pictures. (He laughs).

The real question is though, what you doing next fall bro? What you mean you don’t know, oh are you still waiting to hear from a college or something? I know most of the seniors in my school decided in May. Naw, so what happened to Kutztown and IUP? That’s wild, I was positive they would accept you for real for real, what about CCP? Don't talk down on CCP, college is college. It's cheaper and at the end of the day getting the degree is important, forget what the name of the school says. We’re black so seeking higher education is always an accomplishment.

Yo you gotta go to college, you might as well. Bro, what do you mean nobody will accept you? There are 4,000 colleges and universities in this country, somebody will give you a chance. Everybody’s school didn’t necessarily prepare them for college, but there’s resources there out there to help you.

Hold up, real quick, tell me how many points D.Rose averaged in his MVP season. 25 points a game, that’s poppin right? Can you tell me what his free throw percentage was? 86% bro, that’s pretty good. Oh you would’ve been 100%? You right I believe you. Peep game though, there’s 13 of us in the group chat not including me. How many of y’all are going to College? Just 3 of 13 are going to college. Imagine if you shot 3 for 13 in our pickup games, you would say that you played ass right? Me too, of course you would, that’s terrible. Do you know what percent that is? 23%, wow I didn’t even know that off the top of my head.

That just showed me a lot about you bro, you just spit those numbers out like it was nothing, so tell me why you can’t become a statistician? You’re so intelligent and I’m not even tryna spice it yo, that’s real rap. We’ve been cool for like 5 years now, and you’ve been that way since I met you, you can tell me so many sports facts and percentages about your favorite players, you can survive in college. Only 33% of black men graduate college. So don't think that Brandon, Jeff, and Travis going to college is good enough. We are hurting the national average for no reason All I'm saying is give it a chance.  I’m the young boul of the group and I'm setting the example for yall. I'm supposed to be looking up to y'all, but instead I feel like y'all are relying on me to make it. I'd rather make it with y'all, together, as the gang that we are.

Naw, I don’t know exactly where I’m gonna go, but I’m only a junior, so I got some time.

What I do know is this cheesesteak platter boutta be dumb good. You already know how i’m rockin. Ay bro, can I get a dollar for a drink though? Good look yo, actually naw take it back, use that jawn for your education.

YVONNE: Why’d you write the monologue?

RASHAAN: I wrote this monologue because we had an assignment in drama class and the only thing I could think about was a conversation I had with a friend who lives near to me. And I wanted him to go to college. He was a year older than me. And it was like a bunch of them who were all just older than me. I happened to be one of the youngest in the group. And I just was trying really hard for him to go to college. And he never did. I just really wanted to try to experience it and that never really happened. So then like, that was the thing I felt the most passionate about at the moment.

YVONNE: Why did you want him to go to college?

RASHAAN: Why not? I mean I believe he was very intelligent and that he had a lot of potential and he just wasn’t like focusing it at the right points, so if he would’ve I think he would’ve done very well in college.

YVONNE: So obviously you think college is important.

RASHAAN: Definitely. I think college is very important, especially for black men because quite honestly a lot of people in this country don’t want us to go to college. They don’t want us to graduate high school at that. And like they’re ready for us to like be low as far as like social standards and it’s the cycle of poverty is still hitting us today. So if you don’t start going to college you won’t see a raise in money and things like that.

YVONNE: So do you see that a lot in your neighborhood? Kids not going young black men not going to college?

RASHAAN: Oh, definitely. I can’t, if had to think right now of black men around my neighborhood who went to college I can only think of maybe three, three or four and two of them were athletes. And there were a few who went for maybe a semester or a year, and they didn’t continue after that.


YVONNE: For his interview at Philadelphia Young Playwrights' office, Rashaan brough his three best friends: Gary, Rayshawn, and Maurice. They call themselves "The Tribe." They all met as students at the academically rigorous Masterman. Their friendship got them through the ups and downs, rigorous academics and isolation of being part of only a handful of black male teens in the school. They pushed each other to get past the odds stacked against them.

RASHAAN: These guys, I mean they’re cool I guess [laughter] We hang out sometimes, but it’s really like a brotherhood and even if we all our little side things we know that this is our main group and we know that these guys we can come to about anything and everything.

YVONNE: And so how did that start? The brotherhood? Tell me about that.

RASHAAN: I really don’t know, I think it was just after looking at the number of black students who didn’t return to the high school we just were the four who really clicked the most. Like there’s other black men, maybe three or four more in the grade, but this four right here, we were really doing a lot of the same things a lot of the same interests and these two were really close from the beginning.

YVONNE: About how many young black men are there at Masterman? How many do you know percentage wise?

[Tribe talking off mic]: I think like 9. Out of 108.

YVONNE: 108?

[Tribe talking off mic]: There’s 108 in our grade. You want the whole school?

YVONNE: Yeah like out of 108 in your grade how many are African American boys?

GARY: So there’s us four, there’s Jesse, Mehki, and Denver. Seven. That’s eight. Seven. I think… [chatter between them]. Seven.

YVONNE: Seven out of 108.

MITCHELL: Is that pretty representative of the other grades as well?

RASHAAN: Yeah. Some is less. Yeah a lot less in some grades.

GARY: Well Masterman, I love it at Masterman.


YVONNE: That’s Gary Williams of Northeast Philly. He is going to the University of Pittsburgh, too. He is interested in mechanical engineering.

GARY: But it’s great to have guys like this at this top-tier school. Guys you can confide in. And um and talk to, just for help in school work, outside of school. Because a lot of things that you can imagine with the academics being you know so rigorous at times you know sometimes you need people to talk to. Um and people to just bounce things off of.

I think it’s important for young black men to have other people, not even like role models because I wouldn’t say they’re my role models, but they’re just my friends that's going through the same things as me, going through the same struggles, and in the same type of environment as me.

Because nobody wants to do it by themselves. But you also don’t want to put yourself around people that aren’t on the same path as you and want to do something else because they could drag you with them and that’s not where you want to go, you don’t want to, you know you want to if you’re trying to go to college you don’t want to hang around a bunch of people that’s just trying to stand on the corner all day. Because that’s not you. So if you are around a bunch of like-minded fellows then then you go a lot far, you’ll go very far, sorry.

RAYSHAWN: Well my name is Rayshawn Johnson, I have a little whistle in my mouth, when I’m breathing because my chest is a little… whatever, whatever [laughter], but I was just saying that because if it comes across it’s not purposeful. But.. Yeah I met all these guys in middle school, it’s the same story with all three of us, um… you know we stuck together we met each other, certain circumstances forced us to be together, but by our own volition we chose to stick it out and really developed like a family and a brotherhood. Um.

YVONNE: And you’re going to Yale.

RAYSHAWN: Yes. Yes I am.

YVONNE: Congratulations!

RAYSHAWN: Thank you.

YVONNE: What are you going to major in?

RAYSHAWN: Political science and finance.

I can attribute a lot of my success to having this family of guys. Um. You know constantly pushing you to do better, constantly pushing you to be the best. And that’s I think that’s really important.


YVONNE: The teens are leaders of the African American Culture Committee at Masterman. Rashaan said their focus is to get more black students in Masterman and support the ones that are there.

RASHAAN: That’s been our push and that’s been our where our stance is and that’s where our fight is to get more black students to come to Masterman. Earlier this year we had the 8th graders who were all of them were accepted into Masterman and we just got the black 8th graders and brought them into ACC and we were just talking to them like we really need you guys to stay at Masterman. And what we were hearing was one, people didn’t want to go here they didn’t think Masterman was fun, okay. But then you were also hearing well if we come here next year most of the black students are gonna be gone you know you guys are leaving so we don’t want to come here and be in that environment. We can go to Central we can go to ENS or CAPA or schools like that and see and have that more relatable feel, and that’s where the issue is and that’s what’s been happening for years and years and years. People are thinking you know the teachers they don’t really want me here, they’re giving me bad vibes and also when I come here even if there are a strong black community they’re  probably seniors and they’re probably leaving. So like we have to start fresh, and we won’t see many role models that we can look up to and stuff.

YVONNE: How do you keep yourself motivated? With just the friendship or? What, how do you face that day in and day out?

RAYSHAWN: I would say our motivation was besting the system. You know being cognizant, our parents knew it was a system, we knew it was an institutional system, and we saw how the institutional system played out day to day. Teachers making small remarks or getting looks from administration in the hallway. Getting looks from other students. And I don’t want to talk bad about our school because our school really helped us be successful. I wouldn’t have learned Spanish if it wasn’t for Masterman, I wouldn’t have you know taken you know the classes that I took if it wasn’t for Masterman, or met amazing people because of Masterman but people in the city place Masterman on a pedestal not knowing that all of these institutional issues exist, you know? Masterman is the best for a reason, for reasons, and those reasons aren’t always the best of reasons, right? Some people have to be left out in order for it to remain the top, some people have to be left out. And I think us knowing that and our parents being cognizant of that and all of us realizing that yo, they might not necessarily want us here, you know we’re not really they think that we don’t really deserve to be here or that we’re taking somebody else's spot, that motivated us to just to shatter all of the expectations and to supersede them. So.


YVONNE: Maurice Scott of Mount Airy is also headed to the University of Pittsburgh. He said they have to work hard to buck a system that cripples them.

MAURICE: The way the system’s setup you’re not really supposed to succeed as a black man. You know and, sort of, if you want to reach any sort of level of success you have to always have you always have to be working the hardest and you have to be doing the absolute best and you know, sadly it’s that’s what cripples a lot of young black men, especially in cities is that you know they weren’t always granted with you know having that mindset instilled in them, is: I have to be the best, you know I have to work to be the best if I want to succeed and then you know they just fall through the cracks of the system. And honestly, I’m pretty sure all of the guys here, we all had, you know that same mentality you know we have to we have to, it is, it is a priority that we have to push through and we have to be the best and you know just all of us succeeding kind of motivated all of us to do better, because we all wanted to see each other get to the next level.

YVONNE: What advice would you have for young black men who kind of aren’t in your situation, who didn’t go to a good high school, who might be more similar to what the monologue is about? Do you have any advice for those young black men who are maybe want to go to college but don’t know how to start?

MAURICE: Um… I just think… for those individuals, um, it’s definitely a test on your willpower, you know your determination, if you’re in a situation where you necessarily don’t have as equal opportunities as more privileged children do you know to go on to the next level obviously it’s more difficult for people that are in a situation like that. But I believe that it’s definitely possible if you have the right amount of determination and the work ethic to get it done, because obviously it’s been proven with Rashaan, you know, he just kept grinding and kept doing his thing, and you know he left Masterman no choice but to accept him into the high school, so honestly I believe that if you just, you know, you really have to have a really strong mindset with it, you know you can’t really, because you’re in a situation you know where you don’t have a ton of resources around you you can’t really rely on sort of other things that other people have the privilege to rely on it’s just staying strong-willed in the face of adversity.

RAYSHAWN: My advice would be: no one should be harder on yourself than you. No one should push you more to success than you. So I I sort of took that on as my mantra, or my motto, like when other people were doing this, I was just doing that. You know, I was studying more, you know, learning the material more, doing what I had to do to be better. Not for anybody else but for me. Because I knew my goal was to be the, not necessarily to be the best, but to be the most successful I could be. 


YVONNE: Gary and the other boys credit their parents.  

GARY: My dad since I was young he always had me watching different things about my history telling me about my history and sometimes I don’t feel like listening to it and I don’t, you know I understand, I understand that it’s important but sometimes at least I didn’t feel like listening to it, but I’m very thankful to him for showing me this, because that um just showing me the history of African Americans, the history that many uh African Americans had to go through before me has helped me realize really that I really do have to work harder just to be equal. On my dad’s side he was the first person in his family to go to college, so it’s not like it’s a long line. But like that type of that type of home environment is pushing me just go to forward. Like they want me to be better they want me to do better than they did, and so they’re not gonna let me just slouch and do anything. They’re pushing me and so that that pushes me, that gives me a drive, that gives me my goals, and I just know I want to go out and achieve it, and I know that these guys, each and every one of us, us four have a mom and a dad who think kind of in that same have that same type of mindset. They want their kids to do better, they know the history, they know we have to work harder just to be equal so they’re going to push us, they’re not gonna let us slouch around and do everything that everybody else does because they’re gonna push us to another level just because they know that that’s good for us. And I can’t say that everybody, I mean it’s sad, but everybody and especially young black not even just males, but females too—and it goes farther than just race too but I’m just speaking about that right now—that a lot of people don’t have that support system at home and that’s what can hold you back because if you can’t get that motivation and that drive on your own and your parents aren’t there to help you well then where you getting it from?


YVONNE: Maurice had additional motivation.

MAURICE: I there was just really one event in  my life that you know sort of sparked you know my motivation is I was in middle school, um my dad doesn’t live with me but he’s still very much involved in my life, he just lives out of state, and so, from a young, it’s been he and my mother separated pretty much as long as I can remember, so like we all kind of never really lived together. And so, you know just day to day I sort of was left looking for a day to day role model, you know a father figure, or just you know another male for me to look up to, and that was really my older cousin who was about five or six years older than me. Um. And when I was in the sixth grade he was um he was shot and killed at the age of 18. Um. Just he was you know he was involved in gangs, and you know this is a certain time and you know I was struggling a bit with my grades and you know that was just a really huge spark. I was you know, that was just firsthand experience of you know what the consequences are, because he was extremely extremely intelligent person but you know he just didn’t really have the mindset to just push forward and you know he just got, he was hanging out in the streets all night and he just got involved in gangs and you know he was killed and you know I just sort of used that as a motivation you know I have to you know I’ve seen firsthand what happens if you don’t have that focus. And so I just use that as motivation for myself.


YVONNE: But the guys have more than college looming ahead….it’s prom season and rasaan used the PYP’s monologue festival to get a date.

YVONNE: You did a promposal?

RASHAAN: Yes I did it the last night of the monologue festival. And I was just thinking of creative ways because a lot of the guys, we’re seniors, we really don’t want to do anything especially not prompose because we’re about to spend a lot of money for prom, after prom, we didn’t really want to do it. And I was just going to do something basic, have a poster “oh will you go to prom with me” but this was a good opportunity. And my date wanted to come to this festival anyway, so I’m like well while we’re here I think this would be a good way to ask someone to prom like this could be something that she would really like and I don’t really have to do anything. Like she’s going to the monologue festival, she’s seeing my piece, and then afterwards one of the things that I said after, I don’t know if a lot of people caught it but I said “a monologue is a stage for one person and they have the spotlight, but one of those places that I don’t want to  have the spotlight by myself is at prom and I would like to have somebody else to share that spotlight with me" and then I chose that young lady to share the spotlight with me.

YVONNE: Well what if she said no? [laughter]

RASHAAN: That would’ve been an issue because we sat through that monologue festival and I’m just glad she didn’t say no. I would’ve been pretty sad that day.


YVONNE: And that’s our show.

Big thanks to Rashaan Brook for his very honest monologue, about a topic we should constantly be talking about. The education of black men is an American issue, not just a black issue.

Hope prom was amazing Rashaan!

And thanks your Tribe: Maurice Scott, Gary Williams and Rayshawn Johnson of Germantown.

You guys make Philly and me so proud! Thanks for hanging out with us.

"Not Ready" was performed by Carlo Campbell.

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See ya next time.