today in black history

May 29, 2024

Tom Bradley defeats incumbent Mayor Sam Yorty and becomes the first Black mayor of Los Angeles on this date in 1973.

What’s in your child’s backpack?

POSTED: August 31, 2015, 9:00 am

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School has begun, or is set to open, in public school districts across the country. As happens every school year, children will trek off to school with their backpacks loaded with a bevy of school supplies; three-ring binders, pencils, pens, calculators and some, with computer tablets. These are the ‘tools of the trade’ that suggests a child is prepared to enter the classroom, ready to learn. Still, there are other ‘supplies’ that are essential to a successful school year and Black parents and parents of Black children in particular need to make sure these items accompany their child every day.

So, as you send your child out the door, may I suggest you ‘pack’ these essentials in their backpack along with their other supplies?

The Joy of Learning

We have made education such drudgery that our children don’t have the joy of learning, the excitement of knowledge acquisition. Our antiquated approach to schooling is stifling, from requiring children to sit in boxy, unimaginative classrooms to the robotic structure of the school day; we have robbed children of the joy of intellectual curiosity. Make sure your child wakes up every day, excited by the possibility of coming home having learned something new.


Pack this in large quantities in your child’s backpack. It is what I credit my parents with giving me at an early age. Our children need to walk confidently through the school door, heads up and self-assured. We need to plant in our children a confidence which gives them the power to succeed in the classroom and the strength to confront any doubt they encounter, whether in the form of a hostile teacher, jealous peer or tough subject material.


We live in a ‘right now’ culture and our children have been led to believe that success is achieved overnight. Make sure you pack some perspective in your child’s backpack. Our children need to know that real success is a long-term project that requires patience and an investment of time. We need to teach our children that their present circumstances do not dictate their future. Help your child put their daily struggles into context; give them ‘vision’ so they can truly see that the work they put in today will pay dividends in the not-too-distant future.

An Appreciation of Failure

Pack some courage in that backpack so your child understands that failure is not terminal; it’s part of the road they must travel. One of the most important lessons I learned in life is that you don’t fall into success, you fail into success. Teach your child that those moments of failure, whether it is poor performance on an assignment or test, or on the athletic field, are temporary and opportunities to learn more than they ever could by instant success. We have to teach our children to not be afraid to fail. Once we do, they will become more animated in the classroom, more engaged and more confident when they take a test or quiz.

High Expectations

I’m not suggesting burdening your child with the expectation of earning straight A-grades in their classes. Grades only tell part of the story. Make sure that your child knows that you have high expectations for their overall performance; grades, conduct, involvement in activities and personal growth. Too many parents undersell their children. How can we expect them to thrive when we don’t express our expectations and confidence in them? High expectations, though, is a two-way street. Don’t expect your child to excel if you don’t invest the time in them; whether it is attending parent-teacher conferences, activities in which they are involved or being an advocate for their success.

Cultural Awareness

There is nothing more powerful than understanding and embracing your culture. Pack some Black pride in your child’s backpack. Our children need to know our story, appreciate our struggle and bask in the glow of our incredible legacy of human triumph. Pack those roots deep in your child’s backpack so when they hear voices that discount the worth of their people, they are so dug in that they cannot be unnerved or made to doubt the greatness of people of African descent.


If you embed self-respect in our children, they will be able to withstand the devices that seek to destroy them. The negative imagery of Black women is viral, cancerous and contagious; whether in the form of music videos, reality television or social media, our girls are under assault. Our boys fare no better as the demonization and criminalization of Black males in America is well documented. Teach your child self-love and they won’t fall prey to the many traps set in their path. When our children exercise self-love, heads are lifted, backs are straightened and steps are ordered. Pack self-respect in your child’s backpack EVERY day.


Yes, faith and whatever faith it is that you practice. I often hear that the schools have gone to hell because they took prayer out of school. Wrong. When prayer was in school we had legal segregation and open hostility to the very presence of Black children. The Court rightly ruled against prayer mandated and organized by public schools. No one can stop your child from praying in school, whether it is at their locker, before they take a test or engage in an activity. Make sure your child is carrying their faith every day. True faith is not operated by a single act, but by a lifestyle that reflects a respect for one’s insignificance and relevance in a world designed by a force greater than we can understand. Some call that grace.

Don’t send your child to school without these essentials because these are the intangibles, the difference makers that will pave the way for their success. And after you pack their backpack, let them know you are prepared to do whatever it takes and make whatever sacrifice is necessary for them to have a fulfilling school year.

Walter Fields is Executive Editor of

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