Racial tensions seem to be boiling over in this country right now. Maybe they are or maybe they aren’t and it is just the media’s latest way of terrorizing us as Americans. Us meaning all of us. White, Black, Brown, Yellow, and every other color under the Sun. We all realize that social media, hidden cameras, and smart phones have delivered the grief up to the minute for us to choke on. It clearly is time to turn it off and turn to your neighbors and your kids instead.
In football we get to meet so many different kids. We want the best athletes on the field at all times and I guess in some ways the game is color blind. If you can hit, block, run, pass, or catch and do it well then your going to be sent out there onto that 100 yard dreamland with those 10 other lucky guys to have at it. Football, like many sports, is an escape for the players, coaches, and fans. It always has been because when your getting the crap kicked out of you or your buddies are down color fades away real fast. There are problem areas too however and when a name from the past called up tonight it was an opening to discuss them.
LJ Sly Cain was a top recruit in 2010 and 2011. The rangy speedster with long arms and a 40 inch vertical had showcased the ability to rise and take over a series or a game if he needed to. There were some issues however that ranged from a change in schools, some off field incidents, to a major broken bone. Grant High School utilized him as a running back and moved him around the defense. He was 5’11” and 210 lbs in those days and fast. Schools like Portland State and EWU loved him and tried to work out a package with him but by the time graduation came any chance he had was gone. Grades and his injury sidelined him and while we followed up with each other his football dream faded away.
Another talented athlete lost to a failed system. Another black inner city student from Portland, Oregon washed out.
I don’t want to pick on the PIL (Portland Interscholastic League) here but it is a very appropriate place to have a big-boy discussion about what is happening to our kids. When LJ called me today and we talked it was clear that his story puts a real face on the entire spectrum of problems and the disparities in America between rich and poor and white and non-white.
Before I give you the raw and honest interview I had with LJ let’s look at the latest facts we can to illustrate the system he is a product of. The Oregon Department of Education files reports on graduation rates in the State and breaks that down by race. The 5 year sample for kids coming out of the Portland Public Schools showed that 85% of all Asian students graduated, 75% of all white students, and 60% of black students. Having said that it is likely the numbers are much worse as those numbers included new allowances for modified diplomas – graduation rates were as low as 47% in this report.
The Oregon School Report Card for 2013 shows that about 53% of black students graduated within 4 years and about 62% of all students did so regardless of race. The PIL lags behind most all districts we researched and yet it remains the largest school district in the State. Add in economically disadvantaged homes and the grad rates will be lower and the dropout rates much higher and that applies to all students. There are other issues pretty unique to the Portland schools- the rich schools get the goods and get all the best classes and electives and the poor schools do not. This is not the case in Beaverton and Hillsboro where all schools seem to offer the same electives and number of choices regardless of locations and economic status. That information and so much more can be found here.
This article hits the nail on the head even more brashly. Portland Public Schools spend 25% more per student then the Hillsboro schools do. Both districts have the same amount of low income students. Yet Hillsboro graduates over 75% of it’s students in 4 years and Portland just 62%; only 52% of black students. Read that here.
Truths Reveal Racial Inequality – No One Wants To Man Up
These numbers don’t shock me anymore but they do piss me off. Maybe your eyes are being opened? To be a student in Portland means your up against the odds already. Tigard, Lake Oswego, and Beaverton are putting out upwards of 80% of all kids with a diploma in hand within 4 years. Hillsboro and others in the 70-75% range.
Now add in race and socio-economics. I am a white man, an educated man, raised dirt poor and hungry- maybe I am dumb but I want to try and say that this is wrong. It may be indelicate of me but I will say this.
Portland is really failing it’s children in Epic proportions- look at this Willamette Week article on the matter- look at the Money being wasted- it does not appear to be getting to the kids. Versus Seattle or Long Beach, California we are TERRIBLE! It is hard to imagine how the kids that make it out of Portland do it. Now it is all becoming clear why so many great PIL athletes never surface after High School.
Our minority students are getting the short end of the stick but to me it seems to be getting worse and not better.
It is sad and all I see is excuses, lies, and finger pointing and no one but a few brave souls wanting to man up and help these kids. It is out of this garden of tainted academic soil that kids like LJ Sly-Cain have to try and grow. This is why his come back story is so wonderful and we want so badly for him to succeed. Because if he can do it, despite all of this, others can too. He is not alone- many make it out this same way. But his willingness to talk about it and talk about matters of race, a topic few adults want to, make this his time.
LJ Sly-Cain Makes His Move 3 years Later
Given that framework you can appreciate how hard it is to make it. Regardless of race graduating from a Portland High School is hard. Being an athlete is harder given the rigors of sports and the time it takes away from school. Statistically being a black or minority athlete and graduating is even harder yet. While it tool LJ 5 years to get done he did. He then needed time to find a home and make plans for college and football. After 3 years of being derailed from his dream he is back and ready to leave soon for Siskyou’s Junior College in Weed, California. This is a place guys like Myke Tavarres (Lakeridge-Arkansas) and Marcell Frazier (David Douglas-Mizzou) and countless others have attended. They earned a solid 2 year degree before moving on and that is what Sly-Cain plans to do.
Here is our interview with the young man and we thank him and congratulate him for continuing on his quest.
Listen and Learn From The Comeback Kid – LJ Sly Cain
Junior year I had struggles in the class room. Madison High academically wasn’t the best for for me. I had problems on and off the field which led to me being ineligible; deaths in my family. I didn’t have my head on straight thinking I wanted to do something different with my life. So after the 1st quarter of my Junior year my Mom and I decided maybe it would be best for me to transfer and get a fresh start that’s when I transferred to Grant.Things were good there I got (better) grades and an improved attitude toward school. I played basketball for them and finished out the year passed all my classes. Senior year came around I wasn’t sure if I wanted to play football anymore but all my friends talked me into because we had a good chance at winning state. I had a few off the field issues in my time at Grant. I played a majority of the season, missed a few regular season games but late in the playoffs I had broken my fibula which caused me to miss a lot of school due to surgeries and no way to get there. I ended up not graduating on time. So I had to do a 5th year of high school. Now I have sat out 3 years missing the game of Football.So I got in contact with Coach (Charlie) Roche and we talked and he was telling me that he needs a running back and asked if I were still looking to play ball. I was kinda iffy about it at first because of the injury to my ankle but I realized injuries happen all the time it’s apart of the game. I can’t let injuries hold me back because I belong out there.
Yes… 100 percent healthy! The ankle feels great and I’m able to cut, run. put pressure on it. It seems like it was never broken
I am definitely still athletic and can move. I’d say I’m faster, stronger, smarter and more hard working than I was back in high school. So overall yes I would say I’m a better athlete than back then
Yes I’ve improved in so many different ways in my life since High school. I’m more vocal and willing to speak up when things aren’t right. I am not always looking for the easy way out. My supportive decision making is better. I feel that now I could really be considered a leader and that people should look up me now that I’ve gotten my life together and gotten back on track, as opposed to being that same 15-17 yr old boy following what others were doing and making choices that way.Now that I’m grown I don’t mind doing my own thing and standing out from the crowd!
I think it’s very hard being a young black male in America because technically the system is supposed to be made for us as blacks to be successful. Being a young black male growing up in North and NE Portland was being racially profiled against because of my skin color. That is definitely wrong and I think racism shouldn’t even exist in today’s society; we should all be treated equally, were all human.Growing and playing in the P.I.L as a kid was tough. I felt like when we’d travel different places they would just see us as city kids who aren’t coachable- and listen that’s not always the case. You’d really see how people felt about us. We get called the N word, talked down to very badly, told we didn’t belong here and to go back where we came from. I feel the color of your skin shouldn’t give you power or authority over anyone every one should be equal.
It’s the same old thing to me. I’d like to see things change. Often times I don’t even feel comfortable leaving my house certain times of the day because I feel like I might get targeted or mistaken for someone else and with all the shootings and police brutality I’m not willing to take a chance. I’d rather be safe than sorry. I think not just police but a lot of people are really quick to shoot now days making the world a really unsafe environment for the youth. And setting bad examples they see what older people are doing and want to copy it.
Definitely I want people to look at me as leader. Not as a follower or for the mistakes I made back then. And about Siskiyous well I was suppose to head down a few years back.. But like I mentioned before I had personal issues that stopped me from doing so. I always thought Coach Roche was a good dude and I like what he’s done with the program and made a change over there I really like that he emphasizes how important grades really are and how he gets players to the next level and works to get you where you need be. When I went down for my visit and met Coach Roche it felt like the right choice for me academically with all the help and support they offer and as far as football goes I really like the Siskiyous program! It’s not to far away from home and my friends and family can come watch. I am really excited about being back on the field and seeing what the team will do this up coming season – we can really do big things. And I really like that Coach doesn’t play favoritism, the best and most hard working players will play.
I plan to be getting ready to finish up my Sophomore year and Season up at Siskyous , earning my associate and signing LOI to play at a 4 year school, continuing to pursue my career and getting started on my bachelors.
For me I always had people telling me “you know I’m here if you really need help or anything let me know”. Teachers, friends, staff in general. At first I didn’t really utilize it or take advantage. So I felt like no one was there when I really wanted to get back on the right track. So to me a big part is really showing the kids that they can really come to me or whoever it may be and show that you’re really there in their corner supporting them – not just when you when you seem them doing bad but encourage them no matter what! Let them know through good or bad you’ll be in their corner and when they mess up that mistakes happen, learn from them and don’t make the mistake twice or it becomes an option if you’re continuing to do the same things. And I believe that sometimes adults try to cover the truth- kids need to hear the truth instead of having things sugar coated or telling them what they want to hear have to be up front.
Actually I’ve had quite of few white people in my corner that always wanted nothing but the best for me. I was into doing my own thing and not caring what others had to say. I believe if I had taken advantage of the opportunities in my face at the time I would have been better off. Not all (people) are racist or believe in racism there really are some who believe in (us) and want to see us successful.
I hope it helps- it sounds like a good story for the readers to read. I hope I can touch some youth as well. Thanks Dirk! I can not wait to get started this season. Let’s stay in touch!
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