Dear Abby: We’re Not All Affirmative Action Babies

For years the right to a quality education for African-Americans has been hindered by institutional racism, physical violence, segregation, redistricting, placement in under-performing schools, low teacher expectations, racially biased tests, disproportionate placement in special education and the school-to-prison pipeline. The black students you see on college campuses overcame all of that and more. The deck has always been stacked against us, yet, still we rise.

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Dear Abby,

My name is Ronnie Sidney, II, MSW and I am from Tappahannock, Virginia. Contrary to popular belief, my path to college wasn’t paved in gold. In 3rd grade I was referred to special education. My parents were told that I was too hyper and needed to be placed on medication. I remember being placed in the slow reading group and sent to another class with a handful of students for extra help. In fifth grade I was given a bunch of random tests like one of those monkeys inside of a laboratory. I was diagnosed as learning disabled and spent five years in special education. They gave me a career assessment that predicted what type of job I would be good at. None of the options included jobs that required a college degree.The school tried to place me in a “self-contained” classroom where I would be given easy work until I graduated.  I wasn’t having it. I made my parents take me out of special education because it wasn’t giving me a path to college. When I got out of special education, I was prevented from enrolling in foreign language classes and other college preparatory classes. I was placed on a lower academic track where more emphasis was placed on classroom discipline than academic instruction. I had one high school teacher tell my entire class that none of us were going to college.

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I graduated from Essex High School in 2001, but with a 1.8 GPA. With limited options regarding four-year colleges, I decided to enroll in Reynolds Community College in Richmond, Virginia. I had an college English teacher refuse to grade my paper back because she thought I plagiarized it. Being black and smart was a crime. My whole life they tried to dim my light, but they only made it shine brighter. At Reynolds Community College I made the Dean’s List- my biggest academic achievement EVER. I transferred to Old Dominion University the next year and earned my bachelors degree there. I worked for several years in the mental health and academic counseling field before enrolling in VCU School of Social Work. I was nervous because I didn’t truly know if I could do it. I was an unemployed first-time father who use to be in Special Ed. By the grace of God I landed a job with the Virginia Department of Corrections as a counselor. I juggled a full time job, master’s program and parenthood for three years. In 2014 I earned my MSW and graduated with a 3.5 GPA. Nothing was given, everything was earned through hard work. After graduation I published Nelson Beats The Odds to inspire young people who’ve been diagnosed with learning disabilities. I distinctly remember how hard it was carrying around the stigma of being a Black male diagnosed with a learning disability.

The one thing I enjoyed most about my college experience was the diversity. I was born and raised in a very small town, ignorant to the diverse world around me. Race conscious admission programs weren’t just good students who look like me, the entire campus benefits from a diverse student body. If you believe Black students unfairly benefit from Affirmative Action, clearly, they do not know OURstory. For years the right to a quality education for African-Americans has been hindered by institutional racism, physical violence, segregation, redistricting, placement in under-performing schools, low teacher expectations, racially biased tests, disproportionate placement in special education and the school-to-prison pipeline. The black students you see on college campuses overcame all of that and more. The deck has always been stacked against us, yet, still we rise. Turn off your privileged blinders and stop dismissing our achievements as handouts. I commend the SCOTUS for upholding the affirmative action  program at University of Texas, however, I cannot ignore the fact that affirmative action programs only slightly level the playing field for underrepresented groups in higher education. It’s so much deeper than that and I hope my story gives some perspective to the Abigail Fisher’s of the world #BeckyWithTheBadGrades #StayMadAbby #ClapBack 

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About Ronnie Sidney, II, MSW: Ronnie is a recent graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Master of Social Work program and is as an Outpatient Therapist with the Middle Peninsula – Northern Neck Community Services Board. He is a father, therapist, entrepreneur, app developer, philanthropist, author and professional speaker. Ronnie Nelson Sidney, II, MSW was raised in Tappahannock, Virginia, and attended Essex County Public Schools (ECPS). While attending ECPS, he spent several years in Special Education after being diagnosed with a learning disability. The stigmatization of special education created a lack of interest in school. Ronnie’s early academic challenges ignited a passion within him to pursue social justice and to work with the youth. He has spent over eight years in the mental health and academic counseling fields. In 2015, Ronnie founded Creative Medicine: Healing Through Words, LLC. His company published Amazon best-seller Nelson Beats The Odds in 2015 and Tameka’s New Dress in 2016. After releasing Nelson Beats The Odds, Ronnie was inspired to develop the Nelson Beats The Odds Comic Creator app for iOS mobile devices. Ronnie created the app so that children and adults can share inspirational photos and stories about how they beat the odds on social media. For more information visit the author’s website at http://www.creative-medicine.com.

 

Author: Ronnie Sidney II, MSW

Ronnie Sidney, II, MSW, is a father, therapist, author, app developer, professional speaker, philanthropist and entrepreneur. He received a Master of Social Work from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2014. Ronnie was raised in Tappahannock, Virginia, and attended Essex County Public Schools (ECPS). While attending ECPS, he spent several years in Special Education after being diagnosed with a learning disability. The stigmatization of special education created a lack of interest in school. With limited options regarding four-year colleges, he decided to enroll in J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College in Richmond, Virginia. The following year, he transferred to Old Dominion University, where he received a Bachelor of Science degree in Human Services in 2006. Sidney has since published two books, "Nelson Beats the Odds" and "Tameka's New Dress". He also developed the Nelson Beats the Odds Comic Creator.

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