[Note: This review was first published on “Everyday Intensity” in 2010.]
Joy Lawson Davis, Ed.D., begins Bright, Talented & Black: A Guide for Families of African American Gifted Learners (Great Potential Press) with the poem “Genius Child” by Langston Hughes. Her book is indeed, in Hughes’s phrase, “a song for the genius child,” comprehensive in scope and unfailingly friendly in tone. Unlike so many books about giftedness that read as dry textbooks or choppy advice manuals, Bright, Talented & Black finds the sweet spot where we come away better informed, newly motivated, and touched by the words of a gifted writer.
The book’s chapters tell the story of what it means to be young, Black, and gifted in the United States, and how families can help gifted children to understand their differences, navigate complex peer relationships, find their rightful place in community, and make best use of the school system. Parents who are new to the idea of giftedness will learn valuable knowledge and vocabulary to advocate for their children, and parents who are well-versed in gifted literature will gain fresh insight into the challenges specific to gifted Black children. Here are just a few examples:
- “Many African Americans live with the understanding that they, as individuals, represent their entire race to the majority culture. When a Black person fails at something, the perception often is that all Black people have failed in some way. When a Black person succeeds or even becomes eminent, all Black people are raised up in the wake of this success. This phenomenon is known as ‘the burden of the race’.” (p. 163)
- Because Black children may be in gifted programs that are predominantly White, parents can work to support friendships that transcend race.
- Underachievement may be overlooked in “Black male students, especially those from impoverished areas,” who may be outperforming their classmates but are still far from exploring their potential.
- The strong role of spirituality in many Black families can help children to use and develop their gifts—for example, through an intellectual approach to church literature or a particularly sensitive reaction to spiritual music. At the same time, gifted children often question traditional authority, which can be challenging for parents and grandparents.
The last point brings us back to Langston Hughes, whose autobiographical story “Salvation” recounts the painful realization as a boy “going on thirteen” of being untrue to himself and his community:
“That night, for the first time in my life but one for I was a big boy twelve years old – I cried. I cried, in bed alone, and couldn’t stop. I buried my head under the quilts, but my aunt heard me. She woke up and told my uncle I was crying because the Holy Ghost had come into my life, and because I had seen Jesus. But I was really crying because I couldn’t bear to tell her that I had lied, that I had deceived everybody in the church…”
Such are the sensitivity and intellectual overexcitability of the gifted child. Dr. Davis may have written Bright, Talented & Black for “parents, grandparents, extended family members, teachers, and friends of African American gifted children”—and her unique perspective on the topic of giftedness is a long overdue and valuable contribution to the field—but readers will find that Davis’s clear explanations and delightful prose deserve a place in the homes of all families with bright, talented children, all “genius children” who are often seen by themselves as well as others as anything but.
Guest Post by Joy L. Davis: On Writing Bright, Talented & Black