Perspectives: Ohio Gov. Focuses on Graduating Black Males, When Will Parents and Mentors Make Similar Commitment?

We must work together to change the “anti-academic” attitude among some of our young men as well as the perceptions within the education community about Black boys’ academic abilities that have kept them mired at the bottom of the education spectrum for too long now.

Several weeks ago, Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland convened a one-day conference on ways to increase the graduation rate for African-American males. Low graduation rates among Black boys is a problem that has been brewing for a number of years, and there’s been no shortage of scholars addressing this issue. Readers of this publication know that I’ve commented on the plight of Black boys on several occasions. Still, I’m glad to see the problem get the attention from Ohio’s highest-ranking state leader. Unfortunately, too many Black boys get sidetracked even before they get on the education track.

Education must become more valued in the African-American community. Regardless of parents’ educational attainment, more parents and their children need to see the benefits of education. A prevailing anti-academic attitude contributes to poor school attendance rates and high expulsion and suspension rates among Black male students. There is plenty more blame to go around, but the bottom line is that we must stem the tide before it is too late. In the governor’s address, he said that only 64 percent of African-American males graduate from Ohio’s high schools, compared to 88 percent of White males. This statistic alone should sound the alarm.

It appears that Gov. Strickland is serious about his efforts, as he has appointed respected former legislator C. J. Prentiss as his special representative on the issue. I believe this is a wise strategic move, as it places in his administration someone with the authority and decision-making ability to effect change. As policy makers institute change, I hope they listen to those most affected. At the conference, I was particularly impressed by the panel’s lone student speaker. Jonathan Lykes, a junior at Shaw High School in East Cleveland, eloquently laid out the case about the educational perceptions held by and about many Black boys. Those perceptions have kept Black boys mired at the bottom of the education spectrum for too long now. Unfortunately, members of the education community foster many of these attitudes. As a result, Black boys are often alienated and isolated from the very resources needed to be successful. Black boys, too, must be given the keys to hope and opportunity and not the locks of discouragement and despair.

Of the numerous workshops available, the one entitled “The responsibility of the family- tough love, no more excuses,” stood out the most. The panelists emphasized how we as parents and providers must set high standards of achievement for our children. Black boys must see themselves as high achievers and not as victims. We must convince them that it is okay to make good grades. I have never understood this notion that good grades equals weakness. Another commonly held view, especially among some Black students, is that if you speak well then you are classified as a nerd. While I do understand the concept of “relaxing your language” at times, I don’t subscribe to sounding untutored and untrained in the English language. Because of my work as a member of the Teen Mentoring Committee in my community, I was keenly interested in the workshop entitled, “The responsibility of mentors-beyond the role model.” The issue of the day in this workshop was quite simple, and yet we fail constantly: spending quality time with kids. Black fathers in particular need to understand their role and take it seriously. Being a father is an every day commitment and doesn’t have a time-out clause in it. 

The energy and synergy were high at the governor’s conference. Our task now is to do something with the ideas and knowledge that we gained in Columbus. We have our work cut out for us, not just in terms of public policy, but how we, the community, interact with Black boys daily.

– Dr. James Ewers is the associate dean for student affairs for Miami University Middletown in Middletown, Ohio.

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