January 1, 2015 marked the 152th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation that outlawed enslavement in the Confederacy and allowed Black men to actively participate in their own liberation. It is without questions that since 1863, African-Americans have overcome many hurdles, shattered numerous barriers, and set countless precedents on the way to freedom, justice, and equality in the United States.
However, any cursory review of current socio-economic statistics and it is easy to understand why so many argue “that Black Males are an endangered species, worthy of federal protection.” For example, Black males unemployment rate is the worst in the country at almost 20%, there are more Black men involved in the criminal system than college, and homicide is the biggest killer of Black men ages 15-24. However, by far, the most severe crisis within the African-American community is the disaster regarding young Black male, and the educational system.
According to The Schott Foundation for Public Education, the 2007-2008 high school graduation rates of Black males was an appallingly low 48%. Even more alarming is the quality of education most likely attained by those Black male graduates. In 2009, for example in my state, only 12% of Oklahoma Black male eighth graders were reading at or above a level of proficiency. By projection, therefore, only 6% of Oklahoma Black male students graduated from high school in 2007-2008 knowing how to read proficiently. Worse, only 1% of Black males graduated from Tulsa Public Schools college ready, which is not far off from the national average!
These figures sound a clarion call that young Black males are in grave trouble. They are in trouble not only because of their lack of education, but what that lack of education means for the quality of their lives, the lives of their future families, and the economic success of our society in general. Instead of preparing our young Black men for the successful college experiences that are preconditions to economically gainful and productive occupations, the current system continuing to prime the school-to-prison-pipeline with young Black men, together with its devastating effect on the economic, emotional and physical well-being of Black families.
Yet, lacking the presence of a strong, positive Black male in their lives, even as earlier as the 2nd grade young Black men (“YBM”) show signs of succumbing to the pressures of street culture, violence, drug use, and misogyny. YBM’s are literally dying physically and emotionally every day from lack of love and resources. They have not learned the basic fundamentals of manhood, and instead are trapped in the destructive and unproductive state of “boyhood,” or even worse, “malehood.”
Most of these young Black men have no real sense of who they are, what good they are capable of, and the tremendous obligation they have to maximize their every opportunity. They have never had an opportunity to learn about their unique history, accomplishments, and potential from strong Black male role model/s who are capable of teaching and guiding them by example and shared discourse. They have overwhelming and unrealistic belief in professional athletics as the sole opportunity for social and economic advancement.
However, as bad as the facts cited above are, and they are bad, and how bleak the current situation is I strongly believe in the words of my friend Susan L. Taylor, CEO and Founder of the National Cares mentoring, movement & editor-in-chief emeritus Essence Magazine below:
Reclaiming the lives of our children is a battle we can win. With the quality of their lives as the guiding factor in our choices—personal, political, financial and spiritually– can create what is needed to move these soul-crushing statistics in the opposite direction. Mentoring is a low-cost, high-yield investment. Indeed, it’s a front-line investment! The time, energy and support we dedicate today to the nation’s struggling youngsters will dictate the tomorrows we create for all of our children, our communities and country. With a fast-growing number of children falling below the already substandard poverty level, we have no choice but to develop innovative strategies that begin with the core understanding that it is no longer enough to secure just a few children when so many are languishing. And for everything it will mean to our precious young to be loved fully, educated properly, honored regularly, provided for consistently, imagine for a moment what it will mean for us. Imagine the United States as no longer having the world’s highest rate of incarceration, but being the world’s leading producer of educators, doctors, engineers, entrepreneurs and a dynamic 21st century workforce.
Imagine the impact on the nation’s economy if instead of sinking dollars into prisons, we invested in creating an ever-growing army of young people able to compete in the global-knowledge and innovation economy. And for a fraction of the cost! This is more than our challenge. It is more than our mission. It is our mandate” the impact on the nation’s economy if instead of sinking dollars into prisons, we invested in creating an ever-growing army of young people able to compete in the global-knowledge and innovation economy. And for a fraction of the cost! This is more than our challenge. It is more than our mission. It is our mandate.”
So, on a macro-level it is obvious we need dramatic changes to public policy as it relates to ensuring proper funding for education and employment programs that fundamentally change the socio-economic realities of the communities most YBM reside. This is why efforts by the Obama Administration like the recently created African-American Education Office to “help coordinate the efforts of communities and agencies to ensure that African-American youth are prepared for high school, college, and eventually a career” is so encouraging.
In fact, this commitment of additional resources is a positive and much needed step towards reaching President Obama’s goal “that every child has greater access to a complete and competitive education from the time they’re born all through the time they get a career.” However, no initiative (regardless of how well-intended, funded, and administered) will succeed until at the grassroots level we:
- Concentrate our resources and energy to inform, inspire, and empower our youth to understand that it is education that has the revolutionary power to radically impact and improve their lives and the lives of their families;
- Find creative ways to educate our children with relevant and practical academic and life skills that best fit their reality and prepare them for the challenging realities of a 21st global economy and world
This can be accomplished by becoming active with an innovative mentoring program. My experience and research proves that the very best mentoring programs are designed specifically for YBMs, implemented by adult Black males and integrate hip-hop language, relevant and practical life skills education, entertaining team building activities, and committed mentors. Additionally, the parent’s or guardians’ of the most successful Programs are active participants who are integrated into the Programs curriculum in order to reinforce lessons taught the mentees by mentors.
If you, like those Black males who answered the call after the Emancipation Proclamation, would like to become actively involved in “liberating” a YBM in your community by becoming a mentor. You should be prepared to undergo a comprehensive screening process which normally includes the completion of an application, personal interview, personal and professional reference checks and criminal background checks. Any credible program will also require at least you to attend one mandatory training session usually lasting 90 minute. You should also be prepared to commit to a specific time to regularly meet with your mentee in individual and group sessions.
In closing, I encourage you to make sure the mentoring Program you associate yourself with has a track record that proves its sole mission is to “inform, inspire, and empower Black male students” to seek, find, and maximize their education, career, and social opportunities.
Damario Solomon-Simmons, M.Ed., J.D., is managing partner of SolomonSimmonSharrock & Associates and professor of African and African-American Studies at the University of Oklahoma. He regularly writes and lectures on issues of race, sports, social policy. He is also the founder of the Black Male Mentoring Plus Program targeting Black Males Youth in Oklahoma. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or @profsolomonesq.