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The Often Unspoken Pain of the Racially Diverse Gifted Child

By Tiombe Bisa Kendrick-Dunn.

In our society, many school-age children hear the cliché “you can be all you can be if you work hard.” The latter is especially true of children possessing high cognitive ability. Educators, parents, and society in general have extraordinarily high expectations of individuals with high IQ test scores. Many of these students are encouraged to enter professions and careers “smart” people are thought to choose, such as medicine, business, engineering, accounting, information technology, architecture, commercial/international banking, etc. Although high intellectual ability may be a factor in an individual succeeding in certain professions and careers, non-cognitive variables such as motivation, persistence, resilience, grit, strong support systems, preparation, socio-economic status of parents, and meaningful opportunities also play a huge role in the ultimate success of gifted students. The aforementioned variables are important to the social and emotional development of all gifted students.

Many racially diverse students start out believing hard work will afford everyone a life of success and ease. Many of these students are just a few generations removed from the second civil rights movement in this country. As a result, many of these gifted students are unaware of the lingering issues of racism and its consequences. As many of these gifted students transition from high school, college, and finally to their careers or professions, they begin to experience feelings and actions they figured the civil rights era eradicated. Unfortunately, many gifted racially diverse students are not prepared emotionally and socially for the realities of adulthood in our society. For example, many very gifted and talented athletes from racial groups considered minorities in the U.S. often dream of playing professionally for the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the National Football League (NFL). These same gifted and talented students often are disenfranchised from later becoming team owners, head coaches, or team executives and are underrepresented in these areas in disproportion to their numbers in the league. Another example entails gifted racially diverse students aspiring to enter the field of medicine following high school graduation. Although many summer programs exist around the country for students interested in this field, many of them attend schools that fail to properly prepare them for the academic rigor of such programs. In so many instances, gifted individuals from racially diverse backgrounds lack the very opportunities that would allow them to move to the next level in their education and/or careers.

Many gifted racially diverse individuals will eventually experience shock as they go through their careers and begin to realize the harsh realities of the society they live in. In my opinion, these individuals should receive intense social and emotional support in childhood and throughout their adulthood. These individuals must learn how to effectively cope with all the negative issues they may experience in their lives. We have seen in some racial groups the cost of failing to prepare these youth for the reality of what they may face as adults. The cost has been very high and includes suicide, substance abuse and addiction, estrangement from family members, and poor handling of personal finances.

Addressing the social and emotional needs of gifted students from racially diverse populations is critical to their success and development as individuals. Racial diversity and giftedness is not often talked about in the gifted community. This needs to change.


Tiombe Bisa Kendrick Dunn, SSP, NCSP, SENG Board President, is a nationally certified school psychologist and is licensed to practice school psychology in the state of Florida. She has been employed with the Miami-Dade County Public School District as a school psychologist since 2005.

Ms. Kendrick Dunn has a very strong passion for addressing the needs of gifted students from culturally and linguistically diverse populations and has been instrumental in significantly increasing the numbers of culturally diverse students participating in the Gifted Program at her schools. In addition, she has many helped parents find services outside the school district to help address the needs of their gifted children. In 2006, Ms. Kendrick Dunn was a member of Miami-Dade Public Schools Gifted Task Force Committee and was also awarded the Mary Frasier Scholarship sponsored by the National Association of Gifted Children (NAGC). In 2007, she was both appointed to the NAGC Diversity/Equity Committee and was awarded a grant by the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) Children Fund Inc to establish a resource center specifically designed for gifted students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. Ms. Kendrick Dunn completed her undergraduate work at Miami Dade College and Florida State University and her graduate work at Barry University. Ms. Kendrick Dunn has presented at numerous professional conventions on the topic of gifted children.

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