By PATRICK A. HOWELL
“There is a new class of black super-achievers graduating for the first time.”
Mark Penn, “Micro-Trends: The Small Forces Behind Tomorrow’s Big Changes”
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“It’s time to redefine Black Power… Black excellence, opulence, decadence Tuxes next to the president, I’m present”
Jay Z / Kanye West, “Murder to Excellence”
I guess before there was Malcolm Gladwell, there was Mark Penn. After Malcolm Gladwell, Jay Z and Kanye West? Yes, we be.
Analyzing polling data, Penn identified 75 “micro-trends,” and No. 33 is, “a new class of black super-achievers graduating for the first time.” By inference, the generation after this group of so-called “super-achievers” would be the “new mutants,” a generation twice removed from the Civil Rights battles of the 20th Century but direct descendants of its legacy, nutrient rich in sacrifice and a crystal clear vision.
In many middle class African American families, particularly those with Southern, African or Caribbean roots, the family business is an old one from generations ago: education. I’m neither a social nor political scientist or a Dr. Howell, but I am a conscious observer, enlivened soul, armchair pop culturist, father and black man in America at the 21st. I note the following stamps of authenticity and expectations of this powerful new breed of exceptional beings:
- An unending education as an expression of unlimited and/or supernatural power
- Outsider status or unwillingness to conform with mundane normatives
- Radioactive ambition
- “Avenger” or “X-man” leadership pedigree
- A self-reliance juxtaposed with a super systemic access and a clear moral authority
The radiant harbingers of this bourgeoning micro-trend would be any number of pop culture icons: Sasha and Malia Obama; Will and Jada Smith’s teen idol stars Jaden and Willow Smith; Beyonce and Jay Z’s Blue Ivy; Dwayne Wade’s prodigies Zion, Zaire and Xavier or Lebron James’ heirs, Byrce and Junior. Or, pop culture scion, North, bred of Kanye and Kardashian.
More locally, every bit as sensationally, I am always inspired by the number of Facebook friends with children who are accomplishing truly outstanding feats. And this, in and of itself is nothing new: black exceptionalism, to borrow a metaphor from griot Maya Angelou, is like locating black gold bubbling up from a liquored ocean. What is unusual is the frequency of these occurrences as well as the intensity of the expression of excellence, as if our children have somehow been genetically altered with gamma radiation, radioactive agents or some odd genetic mutant transformation. Even with the painful national vigils in the wakes of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Martin, perhaps the new norm for our children is the exceptional? They have arrived at a special moment in American history with an unusual historic opportunity and the premium clarity of focus with purpose.
Sometimes when I am scrolling my Facebook home pages and looking in a faint wonderment at all of the multi-ethnic African American children growing up in foreign lands, swimming, golfing, fencing, painting, engineering, learning chemistry and neurology and becoming astrology aficionados bred from their own organic ambitions, when I see that the 2nd and 4th generation scions of Ivy League and historically black college abound, when I take a gander of the incredible visionaries, clear eyed and unscarred by our past, I think of professor Charles Xavier on Cerebro Mutant citing’s around the earth, telepathically honing in on the location of every known mutant on the planet. The sightings are frequent and make the heart leap:
Traveling today w my daughter to Bulgaria. Will cheer her on as she reps the US in the fencing world championships…
— Charles M. Blow (@CharlesMBlow) March 30, 2014
And then there are these:
For those of you not familiar with the “New Mutants,” Wilkepedia identifies them as “a group of teenaged mutantsuperheroes-in-training.” In Marvel comic books, a mutant is, “an organism who possesses a genetic trait called an X-gene that allows the mutant to naturally develop superhuman powers and abilities.” In 1982, X-Men writer Chris Claremont elaborated: “[Mutants] are hated, feared and despised collectively by humanity for no other reason than that they are mutants. So what we have here, intended or not, is a book that is about racism, bigotry and prejudice.”
In Atlanta, Georgia, Lourelle Slater is the mother to four such new mutants. Her husband, Dr. Brian Lawrence, is a professor of chemistry at Morehouse University. She says of raising their four children:
“Before the children, I used to say, ‘Thank God it’s Friday.’ Now I say ‘Thank God its Monday.’ We give everything to the kids, emotionally, financially. Or if it’s just being the best you can, so that the kids can just be. Every single moment is a teachable moment.”
“One rule we have about academics is 96% and above. Sarah (one of their eldest twins) dropped her grades in a couple of subjects—a ‘B’ in German and social studies—so we revoked her Google+ privileges and changed the password to #96andabove. We are their life coaches.”
Their children are part of a continuing Lawrence family tradition where their father and their uncles are advanced degree science graduates of Harvard, UC Berkeley and UC San Francisco; their grandfather a medical doctor.
Hollywood Stuntman Preshas Jenkins is the son of a Texas preacher. Preshas is the first power green ranger on the hit children’s show and a voting member of the Oscar academy. He was a stuntman for Transformers III, Pirates of the Caribbean and Green Hornet. He echoes Mrs. Slater Lawrence’s sentiment in raising his son:
“Jael moves mountains. You look at this kid and scientifically and mathematically he excels. Engineering-wise he is very eclectic. He will sit in class bored because he has an Einstein syndrome.”
“He’ll take these tests and he will blow the test out of the water. I’ll give another example – Lego chima has 300 and odd pieces and after 10 minutes my patience runs dry and I have to excuse myself. After 30 or 45 minutes Jael’s done.”
I’m okay with my son Christian Wagari being a new mutant, saving the world… or flying the cosmos in a single bound and even going into burning buildings to save the woman of his dreams. I just need to talk to him about the superhero spandex. He knows who he is and my preference is sartorial splendor of the GQ Brookstone variety. The world, however, will have to wait for his super hero identity to be revealed on his own timetable.
These New Mutants are so mercurial. Marvelous. So wonder-filled. Power-filled. Lyrical, spiritual. Accomplished. Special.
Patrick A. Howell is an award-winning banker, business leader, entrepreneur and writer who lives with his wife and son in Carlsbad. A former contributing editor to the Quarterly Black Review, Howell’s book, “Yes, We Be” will be published by QBR Book Imprint this year. Check him on Facebook or Tweet him at @PatrickAnthony