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National Urban League Panel Says Incarceration Most Serious Issue Facing Black Males

National Urban League Panel Says Incarceration Most Serious Issue Facing Black Males


At the 95th National Urban League conference held in Washington last week a distinguished panel of religious leaders, business executives, politicians, activists and journalists gathered together to discuss what some are calling the Black-male crisis.

On average, only 62 percent of Black men graduate from high school with their class. Black men tend to die 10 years earlier than their White counterparts, and twice as many Black women as Black men now attend college. However, all these issues took a back seat to the most critical issue of the session — incarceration. African-American males make up only six percent of the population and 40 percent of the prison population. Forty percent of those inmates are between the ages of 17 and 26.

The diverse group of panelists, which included the Rev. Al Sharpton, U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill., and Newsweek columnist Ellis Cose among others, had varied assessments in the causes and solutions to the problems Black men face.

Kevin Powell, hip-hop historian an author of Who’s Gonna Take The Weight? Manhood, Race, and Power in America, insisted that Black men and women must develop spiritually, politically, culturally, and economically to be successful. And they must monitor their physical and mental health. According to Powell, there is a difference between the brother who’s consistently locked up and the one who is counseled.

Sharpton received a standing ovation after explaining how intelligent strategizing in the political arena could be used as a weapon to combat high incarceration rates. The Black community must hold politicians accountable, Sharpton stressed.

“We must stop allowing people to gain politically from us and then refusing to reciprocate the giving and not being held accountable to our needs,” said Sharpton. “There are people in office that we elected who come and wave to us on Sunday morning while the choir sings and we act like that is reaching out. But they never address remedies for our community’s problems.

“Imagine me as president going to a convention of Whites and half of them were unemployed or incarcerated and I just smile, wave, sing a hymn and leave. They’d whip me with a pocket knife,” Sharpton said.

Adelaide Sanford, vice chancellor of the board of regents of the State of New York, said education was the solution to the incarceration problem. But it must be an education of liberation, she said. “The education system most visible in this country is not an education of liberation, but one of dependence. If they talk about chattel slavery, they don’t teach about the insurrections and the measures enslaved people took to get their freedom. What African-American teenager wants to identify [himself] with a person who was born a slave and died a slave?” asked Sanford.

The panel concluded that Black males are not endangered but in serious danger.

Added Cose of Newsweek: “If one were to add the number of incarcerated Black and Latino men in the United States, their numbers would rival that of the seventh largest city in the country. That is the most serious civil rights issue that we face today,” he said.

Michelle Nealy

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