The “what’s wrong with Black males” chorus has been one long sung by the national media. Lengthy, well-reported articles in the Washington Post, The New York Times and others have devoted page after page chronicling the dysfunction, poverty and haplessness in which many African American men find themselves.
We get it: lots of brothers are in trouble. I don’t think there’s been any shortage of that message. But among the stories sometimes there are gems out there that go a bit deeper than the treatises we’ve become used to reading that somehow reduce us to the existence of Native Son’s Bigger Thomas.
So perhaps accolades are in order for the Open Society Institute, which last week released a 79-page report that focuses on how to create opportunities for uplifting African American boys. The study, titled “Building a Beloved Community: Strengthening the Field of Black Male Achievement,” looks at practical solutions rather than viewing Black men and boys through a magnifying glass from the safety of an ivory tower, an editor’s computer screen, or a bureaucrat’s desk.
The study looks at methods of creating avenues for achievement through the specific sectors of philanthropy, community and faith-based and non-profit organizations and research, which is important because those doing the homework are changing their emphasis from what’s wrong to what works, the report says.
Additional sectors include government (which is where initiatives like the White House’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative comes in) and corporate, faith and others including civil rights and professional organizations.
But there are also themes in the second part of the report that are probably the most poignant, because they actually touch on root causes of issues. They recognize that to remedy symptoms, you have to treat the actual ailment.
A major component of improving life outcomes for black men and boys, then, is changing the narrative to one that lifts them up as assets in society.
The point made here is that a societal narrative that looks at Black males as liabilities needs to be attacked. Some would argue that this is the reason behind Black males accounting for 8.7 percent of total K-12 school enrollment, but more than 26 percent of total expulsions, according to BMAFunders.org.
Another important issue struck upon by the study is employing a holistic approach to problem solving by actually realizing the interconnectedness of problems. “You don’t improve fatherhood without there being good job prospects. You probably don’t improve the employment issue without some schooling involved. Everything is linked to everything,” University of Michigan professor Alford Young, Jr. told the study authors Seema Shah and Grace Sato.
The report goes on to ask the important question: How do we get to success? In a few short paragraphs, it gives the example of the 100 percent college acceptance rate at Chicago’s Urban Prep Academies; public-private partnerships like the Institute for Black Male Achievement; or President Obama’s efforts to highlight solutions for young Black and Latino males.
But even that may not be enough.
One of the things that gets some emphasis in the study is the need for black males to help themselves, and on that I agree. It will take, through all of the resources outlined in “Building a Beloved Community,” not only a funneling of dollars, but sweat equity to those on the ground level to make all of this work.
Even though this report is an excellent step toward improving things, it doesn’t mean much if its intentions can’t reach people who are able to apply them in the Brevoort Houses in Brooklyn, or Treme’ in New Orleans, or Back of the Yards in Chicago.
Direct engagement with young Black males is what works, even though policy change, research and funding are all crucial allies as well. Evidence of success by engaging with Black boys is already there and has been for generations.
Drug dealers and gang leaders have engaged our boys since we started to become large populations in inner cities. They never had any problem with walking up to kids offering quick money, protection, even family where those things did not exist for them.
To keep our children away from the negativity and focus them on achievement, resources must be placed among those who can most effectively use them at the grassroots level and continue using them, long-term and with replication.
Download “Building a Beloved Community: Strengthening the Field of Black Male Achievement” here (PDF).