Put Your Own Mask On First

This morning I attended a wonderful ceremony for students graduating from a summer program intended to develop their interest in health care careers. Students from a variety of universities came together to take courses in math, statistics, physics, and chemistry. However, the end of the ceremony left me most saddened after the student speaker delivered his remarks.

The student who closed the ceremony was well liked, affable, and thoughtful. He had finished in the top five of the class. At the very end of his speech he recognized one of his classmates who had aided him with his studies, and often stayed up late at night helping him understand the material. She did not finish in the top five.

I have seen this phenomenon over and over again. Community involvement has been so ingrained into black women’s lives that we often sacrifice ourselves in order to be sure we all get ahead. Yet, as the flight attendants tell you before takeoff on an airplane, you must put your mask on first before you can assist someone else. You must take care of your own health and well-being before being there for others.

Self-care has become a buzzword in many spaces, but self-care does not always have to mean luxurious bubble baths. Self-care can also mean prepping for your own exams alone until you feel sufficiently prepared to do well.

I’m sure the young lady will do well as she pursues her medical dreams, but I hope she also recognizes that she has to take the time out to help herself first. Keeping that in mind will ensure she is truly lifting as she climbs and not being stepped past.

What about the Xennial?

I reject the term Xennial. I was born at the end of Generation X, and I walked myself home from school, fixed my own snacks, remember the beginning,and end of, dial up, and am paying my own education debt. The Baby Boomers received the life altering support of the Servicemember’s Readjustment Act, affectionately known as the GI Bill. Generation X received increasing tuition and student loans after our Boomer parents decided we they did not want to pay taxes anymore. To add further insult the attempt of late Gen Xers to protest rapid tuition hikes went unheard until the millennials, with their vast numbers, started attending school. Generation X – forgotten again.

After defunding higher education for decades states are beginning to reconsider the damage they have done to their college students and their own economies. As retailers are finding out, graduates with high debt loads do not (cannot?) live the way their Baby Boomer parents did. They are not purchasing homes or cars or the must have granite upgrades to make their gourmet kitchens socially acceptable for the perpetual group of neighbors that people on House Hunters seem to entertain. Instead Generation Xers and early Millennials are gutting it out and trying to hold jobs and get out of debt.

As states course correct and begin offering free college it seems that Generation X is again a latch key kid. Many of us have no problem paying our fair share of taxes to support education, roads, bridges, etc. However, the question of how states are going to pay for free college is hanging out there. What will those of caught in the college tuition escalation of the 90s and 2000s do if we are paying additional taxes to subsidize someone’s education, while also paying off our own debt? How can states look to the future, while also making up for the mistakes of the past?

Income based repayment and public service loan forgiveness were to be the saviors of those of us caught in the matrix. However, the current federal administration is considering modifying both programs in such a way that they are no longer effective.

Those of us caught between two generations need less names to define ourselves and more suggestions regarding how we can survive a volatile job market, actually pay back what we owe, rear the families we now have, and care for our boomer parents who are aging.

Generation X is the one who has been perpetually skipped over, and some of that is to our good. ¬†We are resilient folks who rode on handle bars, and drank from outside water hoses. Our mommas listen to us chastise them about our semi-neglected childhoods and basically ask “did you die”? We didn’t. But we did pay the price waiting for higher education, and policy in general, to figure out that putting the cost of running universities squarely on the backs of students would lead to long term problematic outcomes. We are pleased that policymakers are starting to get it right, but Generation Xers are left asking, as we always have, what about us?