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Rescue for the endangered – role for Historically Black Colleges and Universities in developing African American leadership

Historically Black colleges and universities should play a major role in reversing the stagnant African American pattern of existence that is characterized by hopelessness and powerlessness, according to a new study of African-American males.


HBCUs should develop future generations of Black leaders through a “domestic service and opportunity corps,” says the National Task Force on African American Men and Boys in its just released report, “Repairing the Breach.”


The document, the latest effort by a task force of Black educators, business owners and community leaders at forging a prescription for self-help, offers no new solutions to reversing the cycle of crime, despair and dysfunction in the Black community. What does surface, however, is how untried ideas can be melded with existing, successful approaches to produce positive results.


“What happens to any of these reports? I think this one though, if it gets to the right organization and people, will make something happen,” said Courtland Lee, University of Virginia sociology professor and editor of the Journal of Black Males, after hearing a sampling of the report’s voluminous conclusions.


“This kind of stuff has been said before,” he said. Even so, he voiced hope that the new report, sponsored by the Kellogg Foundation, unlike scores of other written prescriptions for improving African-American life, will not simply sit on a shelf gathering dust.


“I think the momentum from the Million Man March compels people to do something with, this report rather than having it sit on the shelf,” Lee said. “I think the country, as never before, has been polarized. There is a real heightened awareness of issues like this.”


The recommendation about the role HBCUs should play in helping to develop new leaders in the Black community is an example of how an existing resource in the African-American community can be used to forge another tool. In the recommendation cited, the new tool would be a “domestic service and opportunity corps.”


The idea has been around for several years. Originally spawned by Dr. Steven J. Wright, the group of scholars that further refined it includes Dr. Bobby William Austin, the chief author of the Kellogg report.

“The involvement of historically [B]lack colleges and universities would be a major part of [the corps’] development as well as the development of local leadership,” the report concludes in a section on leadership. As with each topic it tackles, the report’s conclusions address statistically documented aspects of the dilemmas facing African Americans.


At the core of the report’s recommendation is a call for:


·        The establishment of a “national work group” to address the problems andthe applications of solutions;


·   Creation of a philanthropic organization to orchestrate the funding of the solutions; and


·       * Launching a “national conversation race relations” that would include financial support for the Race Relations Institute at Fisk University President Henry Ponder is a member of the National Task Force on African-American Men and Boys.


·        The core recommendations are draw from the report’s fundamental conclusion that “African-American males … have faced continuous forms of mistreatment and oppression.”


·        The report was unveiled to reporters a month earlier than its actual by Austin and other members of the task force’s writing committee. In briefing reporters, Austin stressed the importance of the concept of “polis,” a Greek word that refers to community organization within a political jurisdiction, as a goal for the African-American community to achieve.


·        It singled out for attention, and emulation, the experience of Surry County, VA, a 60 percent Black county in southeastern VA, as an example of the effectiveness of grassroots organizing. The report chronicles how the roughly 6,000 residents of the small county apply the “polis” concept of governance, through


·        representative assembly. As all result of cooperative governing and widespread civic involvement by its residents, county officials have turned the windfall revenue from a nuclear power plant into new education and recreation facilities while keeping the crime rate so low that a two-cell holding facility meets their temporary incarceration needs. In the works for the last four years, the report pulls together a statistical picture of the African-American community.


·        It also cites self-evident, but rarely noted, phenomena and developments. Media expert Dr. George Gerbner. example, noted that the demise of the tradition of storytelling by Blacks to their children plus the overarching influence of television combine into a single ominous threat.


·        “For the first time in our history most of the stories to most of the children most of the time are no longer told by the parent. They are not hand-crafted in the community, no longer by the school, no longer by the church, and very often no longer by anybody who really has anything to tell, but increasingly by a highly centralized, globalized group of conglomerates that have something to sell,” he said in a 1994 speech to the task force.


·       “A ten-year-old child today knows more brands of beer than names of  American presidents,” he said. The report assails what it calls  the”profound erosion of America’s education system” and recommends focusing on school as “a day-long process, beginning at 7:30 or 8 a.m. and ending at 6 p.m.” and as a year-round phenomenon, not just a nine-month affair.


·        The reason for shifting focus, the report said, is the need to address one of the most dramatic challenges facing the Black community: development of its young men. “African-American boys are not being challenged and prepared with even the basic skills needed to compete successfully in the world of employment in an emerging global economy,” the report states.


·        To address the need to establish a dialogue that would lead to racial harmony, the task force concludes that “the only way, ultimately, to dissolve racial differences — and create the prosperity that the task force calls for — is for more [B]lacks to join the mainstream.”


·        But the report stresses that the need is to work “within those institutions … is in all likelihood the surest way for large numbers of [B]lacks to better their conditions.” Even so, it says, “that conclusion does not mean that we accept uncritically much about the mainstream, or that we do not believe that much about mainstream policies require reform or change.”


·        COPYRIGHT 1996 Cox, Matthews & Associates
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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