When the odds are stacked against your kids, what do you do?

When the odds are stacked against your kids, what do you do?
Tanika Davis (Jeffrey F. Bill / Baltimore Sun)

The other day I was talking to my boys about their futures. At 7-and-a-half, their interests are wild and varied. One day, they want to be president of the United States; the next, they want to make a living working at the treasure-filled dollar store.

So I wasn’t at all surprised when my firstborn twin, the smaller, more bookish of the two, announced that he was going to be a millionaire – playing football in the NFL.


I had to quickly swallow the first words that came to mind: “Ha. You and every other black boy in America.”

Instead, I informed him that the odds of getting to – never mind succeeding in – the NFL were slim to none, and generally only worked in the favor of people with preternatural talent, an incredible work ethic and, mostly, tremendous luck.

“It’s a good idea to have the NFL be your backup plan, and aim to make your mark doing something with your brain,” I told him. “Worry about getting a good education, son.”

But was that the right thing to tell him?After reading a provocative article in The New York Times recently, I’m not so sure.

The conclusions outlined in the article, “Extensive Data Shows Punishing Reach of Racism for Black Boys,” flattened me. Read for yourself:

“Black boys raised in America, even in the wealthiest families and living in some of the most well-to-do neighborhoods, still earn less in adulthood than white boys with similar backgrounds, according to a sweeping new study that traced the lives of millions of children.

“White boys who grow up rich are likely to remain that way. Black boys raised at the top, however, are more likely to become poor than to stay wealthy in their own adult households.

“Even when children grow up next to each other with parents who earn similar incomes, black boys fare worse than white boys in 99 percent of America. And the gaps only worsen in the kind of neighborhoods that promise low poverty and good schools.”

Wait, what? Did that say what I think it said? Black boys with well-to-do parents often end up poor? In good neighborhoods with good schools, the gap between black and white boys worsens?

How is that even possible? It makes no logical sense.

My husband and I have grappled with this report for days, each looking to the other for reassurances that there are answers to our burning questions.

What if all the “right things” we think we’re doing for our boys aren’t enough? What if all the sacrifices we’re making are in vain? Hard work, preparation, passion, knowledge – what if all those things truly mean nothing if your sex is male and your skin is brown?

What does this far-reaching study about income inequality mean for our boys and their cousins and mocha-colored classmates?

Let’s be honest here. Racism is not going anywhere anytime soon. And the vestiges of centuries of race-based discrimination won’t be undone until those who have traditionally held all the power – and still benefit from it – do the work to dismantle the systems that perpetuate it.


Friends, I have to confess that I have little faith that anything even close to this will happen in my children’s lifetime. Just look around at the backsliding state of our nation: Fear of Muslims. Hatred of immigrants. Tiki-torch-marches.

So what is the solution?

I’m sincerely asking this question, knowing (sadly) that I’m inviting the trolls and racists to weigh in with their vitriol. But I’m hoping there are some of you out there who might have ideas. Leave a comment on this story, or email me your thoughts at

Your ideas could well be the makings of another column.

We’re doing what we can over here in our little home. But the odds seem so stacked against us – bleaker even than the prospect of a slender, little black boy becoming a millionaire in the NFL.

Tanika Davis is a former Baltimore Sun reporter who works in communications at a local company. She and her husband have twin 7-year-old sons, a 6-year-old daughter, a perpetually messy house and rapidly appearing gray hairs. She also needs a nap. She can be reached at Her column appears monthly.