A panel of high-profile academics, activists and political leaders gathered in New York on Friday to tackle what they called the most pressing issue facing African Americans in the post-civil rights era: the plight of the Black male.
Charles J. Ogletree, who teaches and directs the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard University’s Law School, convened the forum “Winning Strategies for Young Black Men” to propose strategies on how to close the achievement gap among Black boys and their White counterparts.
“I’m on a move to save African American boys,” said Ogletree, who is one of the country’s most prominent legal scholars. “If we don’t save them, the ideas of families, personal responsibility, jobs, education, just won’t happen.”
More than a 1,000 people—mostly educators, government officials and community leaders—gathered in a large auditorium overlooking the Chelsea Piers in Manhattan to strategize on what the nation’s response should be to such a vexing problem. The forum was co-sponsored by Sulliavan & Cromwell, a law firm, and Goldman Sachs, an international financial firm.
The statistics of Black male incarceration and high school drop out rates are alarming. In Chicago, for example, 45 percent of African American men between the ages of 20 and 24 are unemployed. Only 18 percent of Black men in Chicago have earned a college degree. The numbers are similar in other major urban areas throughout the country.
“A lot of young Black boys look around, and they assume at an early age that they are not going to make it,” said Dr. Henry J. Holzer, an economics professor at Georgetown University and a participant in Ogletree’s forum.
Holzer said that a trend is developing where African American men are slowly disappearing from the U.S. labor market.
“One-third of all young Black men will spend some time in prison,” he said, adding that when they are released they will find it much more difficult to find meaningful employment to sustain a livelihood.
Well-known scholars such as Professors Lani Guinier, John H. McWhorter and Pedro Noguera all outlined the statistics that showed a direct correlation between incarceration and school dropout rates. Nationally, Black men are 9.2 times more likely to serve jail time.
“There needs to be a natural effort to reengage these young men,” said Dr. McWhorter, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. “We need to do less talking about the causes and focus on practical solutions. We need to help people who need the help.”
But some argue that any conversation about the plight of Black men can not be divorced from a close examination of a disturbing pattern of years of systemic and institutionalized racism directed toward Black men.
Theodore M. Shaw, the director-counsel and president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, attacked organizations and government agencies that have attempted in recent years to shut down academic and social service programs that cater exclusively to young Black males.
Former Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who now serves as dean of Howard University’s Law School, said that African Americans should pull their resources together to support organizations that focus exclusively on providing services that will steer African American youngsters in the right direction. Others suggested the creation of voluntary male-mentoring programs that will help poor African American boys connect with successful Black men.
Despite the challenges, the situation is not entirely dire. In contrast to several decades ago, more African American males are enrolled in college than at any other time in U.S. history. Still, the decline in Black male enrollment in law, business and medical schools has caused major concerns about the potential for creating a diverse labor economy.
“We’re in a state of emergency,” said Marc H. Morial, the president of the Urban League, and former mayor of New Orleans. Morial faulted the federal government for failing to take a more proactive stance on this issue when it became clear during the 1980s that African American men were losing ground. “We need to get pass the analysis. We need to hold institutions responsible,” he said.
To read the full version of this story, see the upcoming August 10 edition of Diverse.
Reader comments on this story:
There are currently 6 reader comments on this story.
“our modern Kunta Kinte”As I sat at 4:00 a.m., looking online for grants, $$$, and other opportunities to assist my 17 year old son who is trying to attend college; I must admit, this article caught my attention.
While I was glad to see that someone has acknowledged this situation, I could not help but think, the topic makes for a good seminar, but for a more excellent application. Talk without works makes the black male distinct. Remember, good (discussion) is an enemy to excellent(action)!
Thanks,-Taunya B. McDonald
“black males”i am a black male and a father of 19 old year son. yes we need help may god bless me and my son……we need to help the black youth and their fathers….. good luck
“excellent job”Jamal Watson did an excellent job covering this issue. Besides Mr. Watson’s coverage in DIVERSE, I have seen no other magazines or newspapers cover this very important event.-Tim Jones
“teach them the alphabet before kindergarten”The main reason minority children do poorly in school is that hispanic and African-American parents are much less likely to teach their children to print the alphabet BEFORE they enter kindergarten. There are very few school or reading comprehension problems among kids who enter school able to write the whole alphabet.
“better off in parochial schools”As a professor and teacher, I have studied and thought about the plight of African American boys at length. The fact that many don’t have their biological father with them every day of their formative years is critical. Boys need their dads, and not just occasionally, but daily. Even if some of these boys grow up in unfortunate circumstances, how can their needs be met during the formative years? I believe that these boys would be better off in parochial schools than in public secular schools. James Coleman researched the “social capital” of schools, and parochial schools were found to have a more cohesive community, thus, offered more social capital to their students. Mark Holmes’s book EDUCATIONAL POLICY FOR THE PLURALIST DEMOCRACY: THE COMMON SCHOOL, CHOICE, AND DIVERSITY offers a wealth of wisdom about the need for social capital as well. How can these boys’ families afford parochial schools? Our government needs to realize the benefits offered by parochial schools and allow for joint ventures between public and parochial schools in the form of dual enrollment. Then public tax dollars would pay for the core academics while a minimal tuition (or scholarship) would pay for the parochial school.
“winning strategies for black men”The downfall of African American males as Dr. Juwanza Kunjufu cites begins as early as fourth grade. In the article, Dr. Henry J. Holzer states, “A lot of Young Black boys look around and they assume . . . that they are not going to make it.” As unbelievable as these statements may sound to some people, I as a young African American male who also happens to be an elementary school teacher can say very confidently that this is very true and is very much the case!
When you look at our urban cities across the United States and the environments in which these young boys are being reared; they are plagued with crime, drugs, violence, underperfomring schools, fatherlessness, and lack of resources. The only outlet that most of these young men growing up in “contemporary urban America” have are basketball courts. “You can always find one in a hood near you!” So it is no wonder why so many African American males focus on sports–it is one of the only resources that many of them have. It is viewed as an outlet to help these young men fine tune their competitive skills and with hopes to eventually show off their talents. Whether these talents are displayed on local courts or elsewhere it gives them a sense of pride because they know they are good at something.
As mentioned in the article there needs to be a natural effort to reengage these young men. This natural effort can be to get these young men to take that same competitive streak from the court and apply it to the classroom. But what we have to keep in mind is that this is not going to be an easy fix nor is it going to be a one size fits all solution. It is going to take a plethora of resources, people and time and once we have properly addressed certain issues with regards to African American males then we need to try and create long term solutions before we move on to the next issue on the agenda.
-Erik T. Wilson
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Division Director, Division of Graduate Education
National Science Foundation
Dean of the College of Social Work
The University of Tennessee Knoxville
Dean of the Tickle College of Engineering
The University of Tennessee Knoxville