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Emergency: Young Black Men in Danger

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
June 27, 2011

In March of last year the General Assembly of the United Nations declared 2011 "The International Year for People of African Descent." It called for the "strengthening national actions and regional and international cooperation for the benefit of people of African descent in relation to their full enjoyment of economic, cultural, social, civic and political rights, their participation and integration in all political, economic, social and cultural aspects of society, and the promotion of a greater knowledge of and respect for their diverse heritage and culture."

This mandate allows national governments to institute programs that can enhance the lives of people of African descent. One of the conditions that should engage the attention of our government, as a matter of nation urgency, is the state of young African males in the society. Many good and conscientious citizens are conducting programs in various parts of the country. However, it is time that this effort be elevated to the status of a national emergency. Left unattended, it's a cancer that will continue to eat at the social tissues of our society.

This is neither an African nor Indian problem. It is a national problem that continues to tear away at the heart of our society. To be sure, there are many elements that contribute to this problem: the dwindling influence of church (or perhaps religious education) on our young people; a de- emphasis on the importance of moral and ethical values at the school; the inability of the family unit to act as a transmitter of social values and the concept of personal responsibilities; and the bad examples that are set by adults.

It goes without saying that any program that strengthens the family will strengthen the performance of our black young men. The moral and ethical principles embodied in religious teachings can only give these young men a deeper understanding of themselves and a firmer foundation within the society. Yet, without the promulgation of a broad-based educational program it is not likely that people of African descent are likely to enjoy any of the rights for which the United Nations Declaration calls.

The plight of these young men can be seen in the disproportionate number of crimes they commit; the higher rates of unemployment among this group; their disproportionate numbers in the prison population; their lower numbers in our schools, particularly at the high school and college levels; their inability to read and write; and the sheer aimlessness of their lives.

Such a situation is bad for the black family. It is also bad for the nation as well. Black people cannot compete seriously in the national or international market place if our young men lack in the academic, social and civic skills that make them better and more productive citizens. Since poverty begets poverty (it is estimated that 70 percent of children from poor families will remain poor) the downward slide of Africans in the society is assured.

One needn't go further than the University of the West Indies at St. Augustine at which about forty percent of the students are males. Twenty seven percent of those males are Africans. In other words, less than ten per cent of our UWI students are black males. If only ten percent of our national university consists of black males then it is less than likely that the black community will ever enjoy the blessing of which and for which the UN Declaration calls.

University-trained persons are not the only models of success in any community. This means that all adult black males who have achieved some level of success in their professions or line of work can make a difference to the future of these young men. It all depends on their levels of social and ethnic/racial consciousness. I am not too sure that many of us are standing up to the test.

Many of us do not see it as our responsibility to act as mentors in the practical sense and to conduct ourselves in an exemplary manner. Recent literature in the United States suggests that supportive environments and relationships are important in fostering positive educational outcomes for high school students. Our parents knew this without reading sophisticated studies. It would be helpful if our generation see and accept this home-grown wisdom.

A recent study by College Board of the United States suggested that 51 per cent of African Americans were reading below the basic norms; 36 per cent of African American females were doing the same. I am sure that we are replicating these figures in the Caribbean. This suggests that the academic performance among blacks in the Caribbean and in the United States leaves much to be desired.

Four years ago the Boston public schools created "10 Boys" clubs, a program in which they offered additional tutoring, mentoring and emotional support to about 600 boys in Grades 4 (9 years old) through Grade 12 (17 years old) in approximately 50 schools. According to the Boston Globe, "that program proved to be so popular that the school district launched a similar program, Impact 300, to target boys in kindergarten through Grade 4." They wanted to get to the students while they were young. Recently, these students visited Harvard University to "in an effort to start breeding a college-going mentality at a young age."

Carroll Blake, the executive director of Boston school achievement gap office was enthusiastic about the College Board initiative and its impact on turning around the depressing condition of black youths. He said: "We are losing so many of our boys. In some cases, we are losing them to the street. In other cases, they are being killed." He may have been speaking about the plight of young black men in Trinidad and Tobago.

Solving this problem will not be easy. But it's time we place the following tag on the national agenda: "Emergency: Black Young Men in danger." Saving our young black men calls for a national effort. We can use the UN Declaration to spur on our efforts.

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