In a momentous demonstration of ethnic pride, thousands of Jews celebrated the Star of David flag-raising at the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles. What's wrong with that? Nothing, but similar expressions of racial pride by Blacks are often still suspect, i.e., politically incorrect or even unpatriotic. (A corollary is the angst among Europeans over former colonized subjects' unbridled racial pride after their independence.) Unlike most others emancipated, Black Americans have yet to shed conditioned inferiority.
Since this column regularly addresses the antecedents to Blacks' political and economic impotence, suffice it to say that Willie Lynch, Jim Crow, de jure segregation and "integration" all served to cripple their mentality and contrary to their own interests, many still reinforce racist practices.
Los Angeles is a prime example of this malady. With the exception of the Black Congress (1968), virtually all subsequent efforts to forge sustainable unity have failed. Recent attempts, including the highly touted, well-funded Knowledge Transfer Summit (KTS), have also not gotten off the ground.
Fast forward to a new, positive initiative:
The Twenty-First Century Foundation's (21CF) mission is building and leveraging Black philanthropy. Its Men and Boys Initiative emerged from cross-country research on the challenges/problems facing Black men and boys. It currently has grants in New York, Chicago, Newark, Oakland and Los Angeles. (21CF's research also 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 (but predictable) findings: Blacks make up 12 percent of the country's population, yet comprise nearly 50 percent of those incarcerated; 42 percent of Black boys fail an entire school year at least once; as the nation shifts to lower-paying jobs, Black men and boys are severely impacted–over three-fourths of these jobs are held by Blacks and Latinos; for Black males, the suicide rate for those ages 15-19 years old increased 146 percent and for ages 10-14, 233 percent; 60 percent of non-custodial parents who failed to pay child support are uneducated and unskilled.
21CF's Men and Boys Initiative was created to respond to the challenges facing Black males by: 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 deep roots of this crisis.
Since 2006, the Black Men and Boys Initiative has made grants totaling over $445,000 to twenty nine organizations that positively impact Black men and boys' lives on a daily basis-raising high school graduation rates, lowering prison recidivism and bringing non-custodial fathers back into their children's lives.
21CF convened a series of forums in its four initial "focus" cities-New York, Chicago, Oakland and Los Angeles-that identified the following urgent needs: Education-In many urban areas, more than half of Black men drop out of high school. In New York City, only 24 percent graduate. At the other end of the spectrum, Black men earn advanced degrees at only half the rate of White men; Employment and Economic Sustainability–In every age group, Black male unemployment is double that of White males. One out of four Blacks lives below the poverty line and the median net worth of all Black Americans is 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 more frequently and serve longer average sentences than White men for every crime; Engaged Fatherhood-Black men face barriers to engaged fatherhood that include poverty (3.4 million non-custodial fathers live at 200 percent below the poverty line), unemployment, imprisonment and lack of strong role models; Health-At birth, Black men have five years less life expectancy than White men and are twice as likely to die In middle-age. The prevalence of AIDS among Black men and boys is eight times greater than their White counterparts. Nonetheless, the Twenty First Century Foundation believes that a strategic approach, built on coordination, sharing of best practices and innovative grant-making is already yielding promising results.
The Black Men and Boys Initiative embodies racial pride essential to forge group-oriented unity and is the key to successfully collaborating with other groups. The Initiative also exemplifies sorely needed, unapologetic Afro-centric strategic planning for the future.
Larry Aubry can be contacted at e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org