Without question, African American males are the cohort most severely impacted by race and its determinants. Last in all things positive, and first in all things negative. Young men of color, specifically young Black men, face daunting challenges. These challenges manifest in school, at work, in their community, within the legal and criminal justice systems, and even in healthcare.
Further exacerbating the problem is the perceived lack of positive male role models to emulate, and learn from. This dearth is seen across multiple points of engagement in the young Black males life. Oftentimes beginning at home (where many are raised by single moms), continuing at school (where there is a black male shortage), and expanding to almost all points of engagement where one could find positive direction (low representation in law enforcement, social service agencies, workforce, etc.).
The media magnifies the problem by promulgating negative narratives for Black men. Narratives that are rooted in inaccurate and poorly substantiated information. We must vehemently reject these false narratives. Demonizing black men, shifts the responsibility for inequality, oppression and disparate outcomes from America’s problem, to a problem we brought upon ourselves. This “Its your own fault” agenda is sustained by politicizing high incarceration rates, high unemployment rates, high instances of single parent households. Magnifying the “symptoms” shifts focus from the “root-cause,” and diminishes accountability, and a commitment to change.
Perpetuating negative narratives and images of Black men is destructive on multiple levels. At the micro-level, it causes young Black boys to question their self worth, their potential for favorable life outcomes, and the utility of higher aspirations. On a meso-level, it lowers expectations in communities and neighborhoods, and reduces levels of accountability for health, public safety and human service providers. On a macro-level, it fortifies a “wasted cause” agenda that negatively impacts funding decisions, and policy and program priorities in underserved ethnic minority communities.
The truth is, in every city, every neighborhood, scores of Black men volunteer for the betterment of their communities. Each year, the Bridge Builders Foundation oversees the implementation of several thousand volunteer hours for the benefit of the community. Computed at the national average rate of $25 per hour, this contribution is significant. Yet these efforts are seldom newsworthy, and never used to counter false narratives.
Failing to champion our successes, creates a fertile environment for outside agencies (with limited knowledge, access or credibility in the community) to “rescue us” by designing ineffective programs and receive funding for a community they don’t know or understand. There are many organizations that receive funding to serve African American males, but perform miserably because of lack of connectivity and flawed interpretations. Furthermore, because our communities are somewhat insulated, they can’t recruit, can’t retain, and they lack credibility.
When a group of Black Men (in suits) walk on a campus to engage our young men, it is like the “pied piper,” It draws attention, and the youth come. It dispels myths of disengagement. And, it provides needed visual and service supports to educators. This is why the “Thriving Under The Influence” Mentor Program Thrives. Yet, it is a story seldom told, because it undermines a convenient narrative that depicts us as unengaged, uninvolved and missing in action. This is WHY WE MUST SERVE. www.BridgeBuildersLA.org.