Friday, October 24, 2014
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An awkward silence intruded an otherwise lively and informative panel discussion on the implications of today’s critical challenges for African Americans.  The uneasy non-response followed a question relating to the prominence of race.  (Panelists were racially mixed left of center proponents—two former politicians, a housing development expert and a journalist.  The program was part of the California African American Museum series, “Conversations at CAAM.”)  The question, “How do you account for the continuing disparity of Blacks in education, housing, jobs, etc.?”  There are no easy answers, but panelists being totally stymied was both surprising and telling.  (Apart from institutional racism, high on the list of reasons for the disparities are a lack of racial pride among Blacks, ineffective Black leadership and the Black community’s failure to hold its leaders accountable.  Not one of these things was suggested by the panel.

 

            In a momentous demonstration of ethnic pride a few years ago, thousands of Jews celebrated a Star of David flag-raising at the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles.  Nothing wrong with that. However, the point is, similar expressions of racial pride by Blacks are still widely frowned on as politically incorrect, or worse, unpatriotic.  A corollary is the angst among Europeans over former colonized subjects’ unbridled racial pride after their independence.  But like many other “emancipated” people, Black Americans have not totally shed conditioned inferiority.  Suffice it to say, Willie Lynch, Jim Crow, de jure segregation and “integration” all served to scar Blacks’ identity and, perforce, dampen racial pride.

 

            Los Angeles is a prime example of this malady and with the exception of the Black Congress (1968), which itself was too short-lived, virtually all subsequent attempts to forge sustainable unity have failed.

 

            A Twenty-first Century Foundation (21CF) initiative may prove to be different.  The foundation’s mission is to build and leverage Black philanthropy.  Its Men and Boys initiative followed nationwide research on the challenges and problems facing Black men and boys.  Initially grants were given to New York, Chicago, Oakland and Los Angeles.  The Foundation was encouraged by research that found Black men and boys reaching out to each other, Black families forming in non-traditional ways and Blacks who “made it” returning to the “hood,” sharing their experiences and strengthened by those who never left.

 

            Underscoring the need for the initiative were sobering, if predictable, findings (circa 2010): Blacks made up 12% of the country’s population, yet comprised 50% of those incarcerated; 42% of Black boys failed an entire school year at least once.  As the nation shifted to lower-paying jobs, Black men and boys were severely impacted; over three-fourths of these jobs were held by Blacks and Latinos; for Black males, the suicide rate (15-59) increased 140% and for the ages 10-14, 233%; 60% of non-custodial fathers who failed to pay child support were uneducated and unskilled.

 

            According to 21CF, the Men and Boys initiative was created after identifying, publicizing and supporting programs that transform the lives of individual Black men and boys and pursuing strategies that challenge the devaluation of those lives and attack the roots of the crisis.  The foundation made grants to organizations that positively impact men and boys’ lives “on a daily basis”—raising high school graduation rates, lowering recidivism and bringing non-custodial fathers back into their children’s lives.

 

            In 2008, 21CF convened a series of forums in the first four focus cities that identified the following urgent needs:  Education—in many urban areas, more than half of Black students drop out of high school.  At the other end of the spectrum, Black men earn advanced degrees at only half the ratio of white men.  Employment and Economic Sustainability:  In every age group, Black male unemployment was double that of white males; one of four Blacks lived below the poverty line and the median worth of all Black Americans was one-tenth that of whites.

 

            Criminal Justice:  One out of three Black males will be incarcerated at some point in their lives, compared to 4 out of 100 white males; Black men are arrested much more frequently and serve longer average sentences than white men for every crime.  Engaged Fatherhood: Black men face barriers to engaged fatherhood disparately that include poverty (3.4 million non-custodial fathers lived at 200% below the poverty line); unemployment, imprisonment and lack of strong male models.  Health:  At birth, Black men have 5 years less life expectancy and are twice as likely to die during middle age.  The prevalence of HIV-AIDS among Black men and boys was 8 times greater than for their white counterparts.  Nonetheless, the Foundation contended a strategic approach built on coordination, sharing of best practices and innovative grant-making would yield promising results.

 

            The Men and Boys Initiative’s chief value is its potential to actually focus on the specific needs of Black men and Boys.  But this requires a strong Black men and boys component within any such initiative.  Otherwise, it will simply be another in-vogue “diversity” model that fails to give Blacks proper attention and respect. A crucially  needed focus will only happen when initiatives like Men and Boys—and other socio-political efforts that target Blacks—become unapologetically Afrocentric, acknowledging race and racial pride as foundational for achieving sustainable success.

 

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Category: Opinion


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