Focusing on the Flight, Not the Plight Of Black Men
The retention of Black men at the collegiate level, within the general context of the “plight” of Black males, has been generating significant scholarly and public interest recently, with stories on the subject appearing in The New York Times, The Washington Post and Diverse, to name a few. Last year, I attended several regional and national conferences addressing the topic.
I believe that every crisis creates an opportunity. And some colleges and universities are implementing strategic initiatives designed to improve the status of Black men in higher education.
From the “War on Drugs” to “No Child Left Behind,” Black men, young and old, are often placed in a defensive posture. Many Blacks and other minorities have been able to enjoy the individual fruits of their labor, but far too many have been left behind. From Frederick Douglass to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Blacks have always had to appeal to America’s moral consciousness. One of the goals of the Million Man March held more than 10 years ago was to bring about atonement and spiritual regeneration, yet there is still a need for spiritual healing among Black men.
“Why is it so hard for me to get a job, but so easy to sell drugs?” was the rhetorical question posed by University of Pennsylvania sociologist Elijah Anderson during the conference “Poor, Young, Black and Male: A Case for National Action?” We are all painfully aware of the statistics — there are more Black males in prison (840,000) than in college (635,000) in this country. So why do we build more prisons instead of programs to incorporate ex-offenders back into society? Where do we draw the line between personal integrity and societal responsibility while acknowledging the lingering effects of institutionalized racism? Mentoring and successful role modeling for young men are critical. One possible remedy is to reestablish the after-school and summer job programs that have become virtually extinct over the past few decades. Another possibility is to place more emphasis on academic enrichment programs in inner city and rural communities.
Although the situation with Black males is, in many regards, dire, we do have reasons to be optimistic. Approximately 600 Black men graduated from the all-male Morehouse College last year. And there are several programs aimed at working with Black male students, including Morgan State University’s Morgan Mile, Clemson University’s Call Me Mister program and the REACH Mentoring Pilot Program here at Wright State University. Also worthy of recognition is the City University of New York’s African American Male Initiative, which is currently facing legal challenges. As a society, we seriously have to think about where and how we spend our resources when it comes to Black males.
It appears there are two options — prison or outreach programs.
Attending the various conferences motivated me to design a course on Black male images, from the Middle Passage to the present. I’ll be teaching the course at Wright State alongside Dr. Martin Gooden, an assistant professor of psychology on campus. This class will take an interdisciplinary approach to the study of Black males in society, emphasizing sociopolitical and psychological perspectives. Thematically, it encompasses self-definition or identity, historical consciousness and community service. It is imperative that young Black males connect philosophically with intellectual traditions that help clarify their perspectives, increasing the likelihood that more of them will matriculate through college with positive experiences.
We need to begin a new dialogue about the flight of Black men, instead of focusing exclusively on their plight. I am referring to the astronauts, businessmen, scientists and physicians who take flight both figuratively and literally. Also on the horizon is U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, who recently announced his candidacy for the President of the United States. And there are the exceptional young men who run afoul of the law but retain enough dignity and humanity to return to college or the work force.
We have to be vigilant and visionary not to lose any generation. I would conclude by calling for a community-based, intergenerational national forum to create a blueprint for addressing Black male student retention and recruitment. With the attack on affirmative action and a shortage of grassroots programming, the goal is to empower young Black males, enabling them to become positive catalysts for societal change.
— Dr. Tracy D. Snipe is an associate professor in the political science department at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio.
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