Watching Philadelphia native Cam Anthony use his God-given talents on stage Tuesday night counts as a scene that all Americans, particularly Black children, should witness, dispelling the myth that all Black males have a preponderance toward being dropouts, baby-makers, dope dealers and criminals.
In the most unlikely of pairings, the 19-year-old Black youth, under the tutelage of his vocal coach, veteran country music singer Blake Shelton, Cam took the crown on “The Voice” for the popular TV show’s 20th season.
Cam grew up in North Philadelphia and turned to music as an escape from the violence and crime he faced in the city. He learned at an early age how to control his voice and honed his skills in the church choir. At 11, his life underwent an unprecedented paradigm shift after a video of him singing a Bruno Mars song went viral. From there, he went on to open for Patti LaBelle, sing on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and showcase his musical prowess at the White House for the annual Easter Egg Roll.
Prior to turning 13, Dr. Dre signed the youth, guiding him during his teen years while he continued to perform and record. During the finale of “The Voice” earlier this week, Cam took full control of the stage, flashing his contagious smile and a peace sign while effortlessly moving up and down the musical scale. His performances over the pandemic-interrupted season harkened back to the accomplishments of other Black male prodigies including Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson.
But his life could have taken a quite different path had he not been allowed to move outside of the normal box of conformity that remains the norm in public education.
Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu, taking aim at the challenge of Black male achievement, served as one of the first educators to describe the problem with his 1983 book “The Conspiracy to Destroy Black Males.” Forty years later, Kunjufu’s approach to teaching Black children, tragically, remains just as relevant today as it was then.
Kunjufu’s central argument asserts that school systems lack the personnel and cultural understanding needed to educate Black males. Their teachers don’t look like them and the curriculum doesn’t celebrate their differences. Because schools can’t engage and reach Black boys, they recommend them for special education until they drop out. Kunjufu says schools place Black boys they don’t know how to teach in special education.
With the recent focus on racial awareness, many educators and city leaders have finally started to discuss what Kunjufu and others claimed for decades: the school system prioritizes white students over others. While Kunjufu’s ideas may still cause some adults to pause, few can argue with his sense of urgency.
For Cam, being allowed to follow his dream and being given the support to develop his talents and interests have shown us the success that can be garnered when we do not insist upon the notion of one size fits all. Cam is one of the fortunate ones. But there are scores of other equally talented Black boys and girls who deserve the same opportunity. We must ensure that they have that chance.