Derrick Brooms on Education- Ella Deignan

For my black history project, I attended Derrick Broom’s program in the Kroc Center for Peace and Justice where he spoke about the challenges black men face during their educational experiences, specifically in obtaining higher levels of education. Derrick Brooms is a professor of Sociology and Africana Studies at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Originally from the southside of Chicago, he received his Ph.D. from Loyola University in Chicago and went on to research and talk about black men and boys pathways to and through college, including their engagement on campus and identity development. Further, he examines black mens lived experiences and representations in the media as well as the collegiate experiences of black and latino men (UT Knoxville). He published Being Black, Being Male on Campus: Understanding and Confronting Black Male Collegiate Experiences in 2018 where Brooms uses in-depth interviews to investigate the collegiate experiences of black male students at historically white institutions. Brooms visited USD and gave a talk about how black men are making sense of their lives and educational experience, and what social impacts have led to the greater difficulty of black men obtaining their degree. The core themes the program revolved around were education, expectations put on black men, and the lack of support hindering academic success in black men. Broom serves as an example of this as he shares his experience of receiving no support to help him sustain his college career, as he faced adversity of not having the funds for textbooks and failing out of classes due to the school’s lack of support. Ultimately, the societal doubt and comments on his work ethic served as a reason to prove them wrong. So many black men share the same experience of others doubting their academic ability or shock at their successes, as black mens intelligence is overlooked compared to athletic or entertainment abilities. This becomes a burden on many young black men who feel immense amounts of pressure to obtain greater than what others believe they can be. However, many do not see and acknowledge the obstacles that black men face in obtaining an education. Brooks talks about black men socially constructed as “bad”, and how others interpret their behaviors negatively, no matter what they do. Thus, black men have to constantly be hyper-aware of not only how they are behaving both outside of the classroom and in, but also how others are perceiving them as. We all know how difficult it is to be a student, trying to say the right thing, but imagine having to feel like you need to “be” the right thing in order to get the same amount of recognition and respect. Brooms recognized the 34% of black men who graduate from college, as he mentioned that the 66% who don’t often overshadow the ones who do. The consistent reminder to black men of this is harmful to them as it does not give them hope or encouragement that they can raise that 33%. Further, their lack of success is often weaponized against them as if they perform poorly, others will contribute it to the individual’s lack of care, and not outside factors. 


According to a Brookings article, two-thirds of minority students attend schools that are predominantly minority which are funded well below those in neighboring suburban districts. Furthermore, schools serving greater numbers of students of color had significantly fewer resources than schools serving mostly white students (Darling-Hammond, Unequal opportunity: Race and education). Thus, black boys and men are not given the resources to excel like most white children their age. This serves as a large obstacle as they are not receiving the same level of education, however they are expected by society to obtain higher education yet criticized when they cannot. Our textbook shares that “between 1970 and 1980 alone, the number of black college students doubled, increasing from 522,000 to more than 1 million. These gains were accompanied by an increase in black earnings relative to those of whites”. However, a black middle-class family was more likely than a white family to depend on the income of both spouses (pg. 978, Freedom on My Mind). Although there has been great improvement in the number of black college students since the mid to late 1900’s, that does not account for the ones who make it through and obtain a degree. There are so many who go to college for one to two years and drop out because of a plethora of reasons. Just like Brooms’ experience, many do not have the resources for books, classes, and other expenses that a college degree requires. Brooms even shared that because of his underperformance his freshman year, he was barred from going to the library and not given resources from professors or advisors to help him get through it. Further, dependency on both spouses in black households for financial stability places pressure on black men to work instead of spending money going to school because of the need to support the family. This serves as another obstacle for black men as they might be seen as selfish, as obtaining a degree might not be a popular path for many men in their community because it simply is not a feasible option. 


Brooms very briefly talked about the danger of a single story, how by creating a narrative of someone and only using that single narrative to describe them, they will start to believe it and become it. This applies to the educational experience of young black men as if they only hear that obtaining higher education is not possible and that they “must think [they’re] special”, they will start to believe it. By targeting them and weaponizing education against them, they start to believe that higher education is too much to ask or that they are undeserving. The conversation and negative comments surrounding black mens educational experiences is much of the problem as the language we use really does matter. By commenting feelings of doubt or surprise about a black man’s educational experience, they take and internalize those comments and it does extreme harm to one’s sense of self worth. Brooms program really emphasized the need to limit such comments when engaging in conversation about black education. Lastly, the burden of proving others wrong in terms of obtaining a higher education is something that greatly affects black mens educational experiences. Brooms interviewed many young black men in college and one man named Malik stated, “ they don’t give us a chance to be us”. Black men are faced with the burden of proving others doubt about their academic abilities, and thus they are not given the chance to be themselves and choose their own path. They are confined into two spaces, either excelling academically, or going down the path that white society has stereotyped (athletic or entertainment careers). It is unfair to limit black men through these racist stereotypes and not view them as complex, intellectual human beings. Brooms raised a very important point that we must deconstruct these stereotypes of athleticism or entertainers and thus give black men the opportunity to express themselves and freely find fulfilling careers without bearing a burden. 


This program is significant to our understanding of African American History because it displays the systems of oppression in education that prevent black men in particular from obtaining higher levels of education, such as underfunded schools and lack of resources. Furthemore, the societal expectations and pressure placed on black men hinder their ability to differentiate themselves and explore all types of career paths. They feel the weight of proving people wrong, and thus do not have the freedom to explore all types of possibilities. For black men to be weaponized by statistics about education and graduation rates, and thus doubted, they are not given the freedom to choose their own path. They see the stereotype of black success in athletics or entertainment and believe that is their only way of obtaining success as a black male. Intellectual success is overlooked because it is something many black men did not believe was achievable because of the obstacles provided by hundreds of years of black oppression. Although Brooms raised many issues that need to be fixed to help black men achieve higher education, one thing that we can all do is have compassion and listen to black men share their experience in their educational journeys. No matter their background, they all have at some point in their lives most likely experienced setbacks or doubts, and they deserve respect and praise for the obstacles they overcame to get to where they are today.


Darling-Hammond, Linda. “Unequal Opportunity: Race and Education.” Brookings, 1 Mar. 1998, 

White Deborah G et al. Freedom on My Mind : A History of African Americans with Documents. Bedford/St. Martins 2013.

“Dr. Derrick R. Brooms.” The University of Tennessee Knoxville, Accessed 12 May 2023. 


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