Is Meritocracy a Myth?

The New York Times recently published an article, Stuyvesant High School Admitted 762 New Students. Only 7 Are Black.

We love the idea that hard work has its rewards. This lofty notion is as integral to America’s DNA as Girl Scout Cookies, apple pie, and baseball. And that is exactly why it’s so unsettling to confront the reality that, despite our best efforts, our society may not be the meritocracy that we always imagine it to be


The New York Times recently published an article, Stuyvesant High School Admitted 762 New Students. Only 7 Are Black. By some accounts, Stuyvesant High School’s student body is approximately 1% and 4% Black and Latino, respectively. Meanwhile, Black and Latino students account for 66% of public school enrollment citywide.


Why this matters


Admission to specialized high schools in New York City is based on a single test — not grades, extracurricular activities, or recommendations. The idea is to create an even playing field for every student who applies. 


As egalitarian as this sounds, there’s a rub. Many of the topics on the test aren’t actually taught in public schools. This means that only children who have access to test prep programs — which often carry hefty price tags — are prepared to perform well on these tests. 


But we should be careful not to paint a completely negative picture. The admission process for New York City’s specialized high schools has worked out very well for many of the city’s Asian students, who make up approximately 65% of Stuyvesant’s student population. Still, it’s worth asking why is there such an uneven distribution — and why Black and Latino students account for such a low percentage in comparison?


Factors such as the zip code where you live or having access to quality schools can have a profound effect on the trajectory of your life. So why is it that in a city as progressive as New York City — one that has a gross metropolitan product of over US$2 trillion — that so many of its deserving students are being left on the sidelines? 


There are some nonprofit organizations that are attempting to offer a solution — such as Navigate the Maze to Achievement, which is run by Allison Shillingford, who is both founder and executive director. Their model is to provide free test prep classes for kids primarily in Brooklyn so they have a fighting chance. (Click to learn about Navigate the Maze to Achievement)


Recently, we did an interview with two young ladies — Mariela Garcia-Ramirez and Jada Halsey — who came through the program and were accepted at Stuyvesant High School. This story of their success gained the attention of NBC, which conducted their own interview with the girls. (Click to watch interview)


To be clear, Mariela and Jada aren’t just exceptions to the rule. They represent what’s possible when we give determined children and their families the resources they need and opportunities they deserve.

Reflections on the Civil Rights Movements, Photos, and My Dad

When the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, the African American community fell into a collective state of mourning - but not necessarily disbelief.

To say these were violent or turbulent times would be irredeemably simplistic. I remember asking my father how he dealt with setbacks during his time in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). In his characteristically nonchalant manner, he shrugged his shoulders. Maybe a minute later he said, "We always expected the worst," and then just chuckled.


Still, they soldiered on.


I found this lo-res photo of him in a group walking along Auburn Ave. in Atlanta, GA on their way to Ebenezer Baptist Church. They were attending the funeral for Dr. King. He's with Stokely Carmichael (aka Kwame Ture), Dr. Cleveland Sellars, and Miriam Makeba (the South African singer), among others.


When researching the photographer, I came up short. But I did learn about Otto Bettmann - a man of German/Jewish descent who fled Nazi Germany and ultimately created the business model for photo archives. As I read about him, I was struck by this curious quote in his obituary:


''I do not welcome the enormous emphasis on the picture,'' he said in a 1978 interview. ''It is a flattening out of history. The picture can never describe what the word can. The word lassoes the thought. Pictures are very democratic, and they are remarkable in drawing a much larger audience than the word can. The picture makes the observer an immediate participant in the event, but the meaning in the event lies in the word.''