‘Wake Up Everybody’ To Save Black Boys
Watching a generation disappear is not an option.
Black boys in America are facing an uphill battle when it comes to success.
Traditional institutions and age-old strategies are being stretched in order to find solutions to stop this accelerating trend of hopelessness and despair.
Why have we found ourselves in this place? What got us here? With 70 percent of Black children being born into single-parent households, many of us would suggest that the lack of a stable family structure has a great bearing on where we are today.
Everyone that I knew as a child had a strong home environment. While our fathers weren’t perfect, they did provide us with the necessities of life — food, clothing, shelter and, most importantly, guidance. Just as important was the fact that there were grandfathers, uncles and cousins who served as father figures. So all of these Black men were always around, telling us that we could be something in life. Our entire neighborhood took an interest in our development. I both admired and feared the men in my neighborhood. We all knew that if we stepped out of line, our elders would be there to kick us back into place. There was an unwritten rule in Black neighborhoods that the men there would take care of us and make sure that we were okay. This was just the way it was.
What we have now isn’t the way it has to be. As we skip into the new millennium, the state and welfare of Black boys is in peril. While there are some pockets of excellence, there are too many valleys of despair. Black boys are trapped in a culture of hopelessness. Time-honored phrases like “yes sir” and “thank you” have been replaced by “wuz up?” and “whatever.” Boyish looks and charm have been replaced by acting and looking too old too soon.
High expectations have soured into low or no goals. The concept of “It takes a village to raise a child” has turned into “make it the best way that you can.”
Ask a young Black male today to identify the late rapper Tupac Shakur and Colin Powell, my guess is that only 10 percent would recognize the first Black Secretary of State.
There is something drastically wrong with this picture. While this is the social malaise that Black boys find themselves in, we cannot allow this to be the future. Teddy Pendergrass sang in one of his many hits, “Wake up everybody, no more sleeping in bed, no more backward thinking, time for thinking ahead.”
Individuals and groups, both Black and White, must decide to be an elixir for this problem. Any person can mentor a child. It takes only a willingness to serve. Teachers, counselors, coaches and administrators must take up the mantle of hope and design programs for Black boys as early as pre-school, so they can start school on the right leg. Mentoring groups must
re-double their efforts to save Black boys from the social influences that place a higher value on designer-label oversized clothing than on schooling.
Places of worship must re-direct their efforts toward strengthening Black boys and the family structure. Don’t just adopt a family for Thanksgiving or Christmas, adopt the family for the entire year, tutoring the kids or exposing them to meaningful extra-curricular activities and helping the parents develop budgeting skills or job-interviewing skills — whatever they need to become self-sustaining. While partnering activities are on the rise, there ought to be more of them. Schools, cities, social service agencies and places of worship all have the ability to form alliances. Businesses also can play a major role by sponsoring programs and events. Our communities grow stronger when all of its parts are viable and valued.
Watching a generation of Black boys disappear before our eyes is not an option. Talking about the problem, while admirable, will not stop the decline. Turning our backs on it and pretending that it doesn’t exist won’t work either. Let’s roll up our collective sleeves and do something that will help young Black boys have a bright future.
— Dr. James Ewers is the associate dean for student affairs for Miami University Middletown in Middletown, Ohio.
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