Stories of “Exceptional” Black Kids and Scholarships

Occasionally I’ll hear stories in the news about Black high school students who have been accepted to multiple schools, with millions of dollars in scholarships.

Coming from where I come from I think it’s a beautiful thing. Yet, I can value the excitement, admiration, and pride I feel for the students when I learn of those stories, while at the same time holding concerns about how the telling of their stories are sometimes used to support the bootstrap mentality in a way that minimizes any acknowledgement of the barriers created by structural racism.

Sometimes the stories of these students can be used to communicate a message to Black people that says things like:

“They did it so what are you complaining about?” 


“Stop making excuses.”

According to that narrative, the other Black folks who don’t get those scholarships or acceptance letters obviously didn’t work hard enough or want it hard enough.

I mean, shout out to the students who are admitted to multiple colleges and receive millions in scholarship money collectively from those institutions. I’m able to celebrate them, and also interrupt when their narratives are used in ways that tokenize them, that explain them as “exceptions to the rule” of white supremacist belief in the inherent inferiority of Black people, and when they are used as props for supporting the false notion of meritocracy.


From Aspiring Humanitarian, Relando Thompkins-Jones, MSW, LLMSW

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Relando Thompkins-Jones

I'm a Social Justice Educator and Aspiring Humanitarian who is interested in conflict resolution, improving intergroup relations, and building more equitable and inclusive communities. "Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian" is my blog, where I write about issues of diversity, inclusion, equity, and social justice. By exploring social identities through written word, film & video, and other forms of media, I hope to continue to expand and enrich conversations about social issues that face our society, and to find ways to take social action while encouraging others to do so as well in their own ways.

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