At a recent summit of higher education officials looking to confront the crisis of minority males, Dr. James H. Ammons summed up the mission ahead: “We, as leaders, have to step to the plate. [Black male] enrollment in prison cannot continue to supersede enrollment in higher education.”
Ammons, chancellor of North Carolina Central University, challenged his colleagues during a summit, held in the last week, entitled “Black, Brown, & College Bound: A Summit on African-American & Hispanic Males Meeting the Challenge of Higher Education.”
Sponsored by Hillsborough Community College in Tampa, Fla., the summit hosted sessions that addressed the alarming increase of Black male incarceration and the convergent decline in the numbers of Black men seeking a college education.
In his address, Ammons elicited alternating gasps of shock and “you know that’s right” nods of agreement as he laid out a series of alarming statistics concerning the plight of Black and Latino men.
In the past 40 years, the U.S. prison population has changed from 70 percent White to 70 percent Black and Latino, Ammons said. Additionally, one in three Black males are currently involved in the penal system and by 2020, if current trends hold, that figure will rise to more than 65 percent for Black males, aged 20 to 29.
“We will have more African-American men in prison than we did in slavery” by 2020 if current Black male incarceration trends continue, said Ammons, citing data from a book by Rutgers University Professor Byron Price entitled, “Merchandizing Prisoners: Who Really Pays for Prison Privatization?”
To stem this alarming tide, educators need to forge personal relationships with young Black students. “It’s not enough for us to work with them on the weekend in a setting on our campuses and never visit their homes, and never talk to their family or their friends,” Ammons said, adding that educators should “try to see the world at a young man does.”
Educators, at times, have to go beyond passively seeking relationships with students in the critical early years of their college experience, said Malcolm B. Williams, program manager for student support services at Morehouse College.
“Intrusive counseling is how you connect with African-American young men. In the 21st century, these young men come to the academic environment with incredible degrees of distraction and more often than not, not with the tools in the toolbox that are going to help them navigate the first two years of the environment,” Williams said. “The only way to connect with these young men is by identifying staffers who are committed to the process and who have the passion to take the time to do the work required to connect with somebody’s son.”
With great consternation, Williams also said his cohorts in the baby boomer generation “dropped the ball” and did not strive to form the connections with Black youth critical to their development. “There are some academics and some scholars who will take issue with that, but we see the manifestation every day, that’s why we’re having this conference. … In order for us to connect with these kids, we have to meet them where they are.”
Part of meeting Black youth where they are is creating space on hip-hop turf for colleges, says Tony D. Johnson, director of adult and community-based programs at Tallahassee Community College. Johnson said that community colleges should run advertisements on hip-hop radio stations and not shy away from hitting the club scene via dance-hall ads.
“I think there needs to be kind of a party flyer type of thing that’s distributed to students, really colorful — African-Americans on there smiling, having a good time, but it could be about enrolling in a community college. What always happens is those flyers always catch you for the club thing, why can’t we do that for college?”
Ultimately, Ammons said initiatives to reverse the Black male crisis have to be forged by Blacks who “made it.” According to Ammons, Black and Latino men of all ages should be very much concerned about the crisis confronting their population and “engage in nurturing and guiding our young men, for in fact, we are our brother’s keepers.”
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com