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What’s Happening to Our “Talented Tenth?”

What’s Happening to Our “Talented Tenth?”As the father of two boys who have grown into young men, I have become a keen observer of the behavior of African American males, particularly those who attend predominantly White institutions. Black men at selective public and private campuses are said to be “the best of the best.”
Dr. W.E.B. DuBois, the noted African American scholar, referred to them as the “Talented Tenth,” a cadre of exceptional men who would contribute outstanding leadership to the Black community.  When it comes to education, they have had the best. They often come from affluent backgrounds and they are increasingly second-generation college students. However, despite these advantages, they often fail to become involved in many aspects of university life.
I am increasingly concerned that too many of our young men at the University of Virginia are making decisions to be inactive because they don’t see the value or the importance of engaging in university life.
Our young Black men haven’t always behaved this way. Among the reasons they were admitted to the University of Virginia is their outstanding leadership and extracurricular involvement in their high schools.
I have been disturbed by this behavior for some time now. It reached a culminating point for me this past January.when my office was co-sponsoring the Martin Luther King Jr. birthday celebration. As I looked around the room, I was disappointed to see that among the hundreds of students in attendance, very few were African American males. What was even more distressing was the fact that the night before, there was a standing room only “step show” sponsored by a sorority. Where are our young men’s priorities?
I find myself constantly asking how prepared our youth will be to meet the challenges of the new millennium. As the enrollment of African American males at UVA — and many other predominantly White institutions — continues to decline, it appears our young men’s motivation to become involved in university life also has waned.
Why is this happening? I suspect those African American students lack incentives to get involved. But could it be that the consumption of music — particularly hip-hop — has taken too many of our boys far away from the realities of life?
It has been said that a lot of what you see in hip hop is the guilt of the Black middle class — guilt about its economic and perhaps its academic success, its inability to put forth a culture of its own. From one perspective, hip-hop has benefited Black youths in their need for release and expression. However, the attitude displayed in the hip-hop culture is intended to convey a “hard” outward appearance in an effort to achieve the respect that has been denied to Black males for so many years. How does this present generation of Black youth who have beaten the odds and who have competed with the best to have gained acceptance in the elite colleges and universities put forth a culture of their own? They do the worst possible thing, falling back on fantasies of street life. However, hip-hop, if utilized and managed correctly, could have positive and empowering impacts on today’s Black youth. 
The question then becomes, what can we as parents and advocates do to help our young men reclaim their “Talented Tenth” status? We need their active presence and talents in helping to shape our world.  We need to teach our young to connect, to reach out, to engage and embrace every opportunity the university offers. In so doing, we ensure, in the words of the poet Maya Angelou, that our Black males truly become the “hope and dream of the slave.” 

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