“When we sit down and talk on an honest level, we see there is a problem in our neighborhood … There’s a lack of love. There’s the bottom-line right there,” said James “Loose” White III, a former gang member setting the foundation for a discussion on improving the plight of young Black men.
“There’s a generation gap. I don’t know what I haven’t been through. If I don’t have nobody to tell me, preferably an older Black male, how am I going to know how to teach the young ones?” asked White, who helped form the Newark, N.J.-based gang intervention organization, Saving OurSelves, or S.O.S.
Some of the problems of Black men are documented in figures on high school dropout rates, incarceration rates, unemployment rates and other statistics. A forum held yesterday in Washington, D.C. sought solutions from a diverse panel that included Dr. Bill Cosby, former gang members now working against gang violence, educators, scholars and two Black men who graduated at the top of their high school class.
White’s comments came during the panel, “Paths to Success: A Forum on Young African-American Men,” sponsored by the Kaiser Family Foundation and The Washington Post. The Post has been running a series of articles examining the issues and experiences of Black men.
Moderated by Harvard Law School Professor Charles J. Ogletree, Jr., panelists focused on personal accountability, the collective responsibility of churches and well-to-do Blacks to give back and various programs making a difference in the lives of Black men.
Cosby, who in controversial statements two years ago sounded the alarm about the misdirection of Black children, started the discussion with his take on the problem.
“Unless I missed it, I heard not one Black man say anything about being a father. I heard not one Black man say, ‘My responsibility is…’” Cosby said in response to a video presentation in which a variety of Black men were asked what it means to be a Black man.
“I’m not interested in statistics telling me things are not as bad as they seem. They are horrible,” Cosby said. He added that he was looking for actionable steps rather than studies and news stories that scratch the surface of issues affecting Black men.
“I’m tired of this drive-by crap,” he said.
Every institution, from schools to churches to the juvenile justice system is failing Black youth, said former U.S. Congressman and Oakland’s Mayor-elect Ron Dellums.
The real crisis is the decline of the Black family, a problem that has sent boys into the streets looking for “proxy fathers,” added Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, who represents Washington, D.C. in Congress. Government programs have failed, but so has Black leadership, she said.
“Why not shake your finger at us? We have to have self-help and self-responsibility,” Holmes Norton said.
Dr. Alvin Poussaint, a Harvard University Medical School professor who consulted on the “Cosby Show”, referenced a Yale University study that found that pre-school expulsion rates for Blacks were twice that of Whites. And nine out of 10 Black preschoolers expelled are boys. In most of the cases, the boys were cited for being aggressive, violent and using bad language.
“Is it racial profiling starting at three or four or is it something going on before preschool that relates to the family and community making those Black males unable to adapt, unable to fit in. You can see why they have problems down the road. We have to ask ourselves some tough questions,” Pouissant said.
Pouissant also discussed the importance of parenting skills among other subjects. He said it was important to recognize how the overuse of corporal discipline, emotional abuse and the glamorization of violence in popular culture play into a child’s development.
Former Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Faye Wattleton called on Blacks who’ve moved away from primarily Black neighborhoods to invest their time with Black children in the communities they’ve left behind. “We have to redefine how we can be a community again with the reality of our dispersal,” she said.
Jachin Leatherman and Wayne Nesbit graduated at the top of their Washington, D.C., class at Ballou High School this year. Both young men credited their fathers and sports coaches for “staying on top of them” and instilling daily the importance of setting goals and staying focused despite the distractions that would come their way.
Drawn to the streets at as a youth, Marcellus “Bishop” Allen wasn’t as fortunate, but he’s taken it upon himself to make sure kids in Newark don’t follow the wrong path.
“I feel like the whole community failed us,” said Allen, a former gang member and cofounder of S.O.S. “We really don’t have anything. We do this ourselves. We want our young brothers and sisters, particularly the gang members … to know and understand that they’ve got an option in life. If you don’t know that, you’re lost and you’re going to stay lost.”
— By Toni Coleman
An archived webcast of the forum is available at www.kff.org/pathstosuccess.
Reader comments on this story:
There is currently 2 reader comment on this story:
“abandoned by their families”
“it takes more than money”
We have to enrich our people by staying with them. Every community has it’s good and bad. The main problem with our communities is that the good never comes back; leaving the bad to manifest itself and become the order of the day. Let’s reclaim our communities one at a time! Return, mentor, teach, and learn!!
The problem with these discourses is that some of us think that we have the answers; we know what the rest of us are not doing; and then we throw money at our people as if money will fix it all. No sir, it takes more than money, it takes you being there, everyday, morning and night; folks making a living; ordinary, simple living, raising a family; being a husband and a wife; simple , less complicated realities. The only way to change the trend, is to come home!
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