America Has Lost A Generation Of Black Boys - And Replies

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

There is no longer a need for dire predictions, hand-wringing, or apprehension about losing a generation of black boys. It is too late. In education, employment, economics, incarceration, health, housing, and parenting, we have lost a generation of young black men. The question that remains is will we lose the next two or three generations, or possibly every generation of black boys hereafter to the streets, negative media, gangs, drugs, poor education, unemployment, father absence, crime, violence and death.

Most young black men in the United States don’t graduate from high school. Only 35% of black male students graduated from high school in Chicago and only 26% in New York City, according to a 2006 report by The Schott Foundation for Public Education. Only a few black boys who finish high school actually attend college, and of those few black boys who enter college, nationally, only 22% of them finish college.

Young black male students have the worst grades, the lowest test scores, and the highest dropout rates of all students in the country. When these young black men don’t succeed in school, they are much more likely to succeed in the nation’s criminal justice and penitentiary system. And it was discovered recently that even when a young black man graduates from a U.S. college, there is a good chance that he is from Africa, the Caribbean or Europe, and not the United States.

Black men in prison in America have become as American as apple pie. There are more black men in prisons and jails in the United States (about 1.1 million) than there are black men incarcerated in the rest of the world combined. This criminalization process now starts in elementary schools with black male children as young as six and seven years old being arrested in staggering numbers according to a 2005 report, Education on Lockdown by the Advancement Project.

The rest of the world is watching and following the lead of America. Other countries including England, Canada, Jamaica, Brazil and South Africa are adopting American social policies that encourage the incarceration and destruction of young black men. This is leading to a world-wide catastrophe. But still, there is no adequate response from the American or global black community.

Worst of all is the passivity, neglect and disengagement of the black community concerning the future of our black boys. We do little while the future lives of black boys are being destroyed in record numbers. The schools that black boys attend prepare them with skills that will make them obsolete before, and if, they graduate. In a strange and perverse way, the black community, itself, has started to wage a kind of war against young black men and has become part of this destructive process.

Who are young black women going to marry? Who is going to build and maintain the economies of black communities? Who is going to anchor strong families in the black community? Who will young black boys emulate as they grow into men? Where is the outrage of the black community at the destruction of its black boys? Where are the plans and the supportive actions to change this? Is this the beginning of the end of the black people in America?

The list of those who have failed young black men includes our government, our foundations, our schools, our media, our black churches, our black leaders, and even our parents. Ironically, experts say that the solutions to the problems of young black men are simple and relatively inexpensive, but they may not be easy, practical or popular. It is not that we lack solutions as much as it is that we lack the will to implement these solutions to save black boys. It seems that government is willing to pay billions of dollars to lock up young black men, rather than the millions it would take to prepare them to become viable contributors and valued members of our society.

Please consider these simple goals that can lead to solutions for fixing the problems of young black men:

Short term
1) Teach all black boys to read at grade level by the third grade and to embrace education.
2) Provide positive role models for black boys.
3) Create a stable home environment for black boys that includes contact with their fathers.
4) Ensure that black boys have a strong spiritual base.
5) Control the negative media influences on black boys.
6) Teach black boys to respect all girls and women.

Long term
1) Invest as much money in educating black boys as in locking up black men.
2) Help connect black boys to a positive vision of themselves in the future.
3) Create high expectations and help black boys live into those high expectations.
4) Build a positive peer culture for black boys.
5) Teach black boys self-discipline, culture and history.
6) Teach black boys and the communities in which they live to embrace education and life-long learning.

Phillip Jackson
Executive Director of the Black Star Project
Chicago, Il.

* * *

Mr. Jackson has submitted a powerful opinion letter which points out important issues. However, every one of the short term and long term goals he has enumerated must be done by parents in the home and by churches, not the government.

It is not the government that has failed these boys; rather, it is their own mothers and absent fathers who have failed them. They are not taught basic manners at home and they don't know how to treat girls and women because their fathers are absent.

And I fully expect to hear from Brenda Washington about this because she wants to hold everyone responsible except those whose bad behaviors are causing trouble.

Jane Brophy

* * *

I always read the opinions on and have come very close to providing comments. This time, however, I feel inclined to do so since this particular issue holds a sensitive spot in my heart.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, very much for awakening a sleeping giant in Chattanooga, Mr. Jackson. The startling statistics of incarceration in this city and especially as it relates to the African American community would lead one to believe that 'lock em up' is the proverbial cure-all.

Somehow, around 1999 or so, I came upon a book called: Countering The Conspiracy To Destroy Black Boys, by Jawanza Kunjufu. The book provides a very in-depth look into the issues that plague the life of young black males.

Just as Mr. Jackson pointed out in reminding us that we must ensure that young boys read at grade level by the third grade, Mr. Kunjufu's book provides startling information that young black males after third grade, seem to make a poor transition to fourth grade into what he calls "Fourth Grade Failure Syndrome".

Below, Mr. Kunjufu quotes Harry Morgan in his book "How Schools Fail Black Children:”

"When blacks enter first grade the stories they create express positive feelings about themselves in the schooling situation, but by the second grade students' stories express ‘negative imagery of the teacher and school environment,’ and by the fifth grade the over-all feeling expressed by students is that of cynicism. In other words, upon entering school in primary grades, black children possess enthusiasm and eager interest; however, by fifth grade the liveliness and interest are gone, replaced by passivity and apathy. Primary grades presented a more nurturing environment than intermediate or upper grades. In early childhood education much of the activity is child-teacher centered and child-child interactive. In primary grades, blacks progress and thrive at the same rate as their counterparts until the third grade syndrome. I found after the third grade, the achievement rate of blacks began a downward spiral which tended to continue in the child's academic career. The classroom environment was transformed from a socially interactive style to a competitive individualistic, and minimally socially interactive style of learning."

In addition, Mr. Kunjufu points out that black male teachers (role models) are surprisingly absent past third grade because these teachers are re-assigned by principals to work in the higher grades to provide discipline.

I'm not sure what ideas or curricula Mr. Jackson proposes to ameliorate the trend of losing our African American boys, but Mr. Kunjufu offers a curriculum called SETCLAE (Self-Esteem Through Culture Leads to Academic Excellence) with the major components including:

Black Male Teachers
Twenty to Twenty-Four Students
Cooperative Learning
Physical Education
Nutritious Daily Meals
Science Lab
Martial Arts Training
Musical Instruments
Whole-Brain Lesson Plans and Tests
Math Word Problems
Junior Business League
Corporate Sponsors for Summer Employment
Academic Contests and Assemblies
Monthly Parent Meetings

Now, you might be asking, Ms. Lee, what do you bring to the table? First off, I bring effectual, sincere, and fervent prayer, which is paramount to effective cooperation among Chattanooga's stakeholders. With the growing apostasy in our nation and sadly, in our schools, prayer is certainly number one on the list.

Secondly, I have researched and written many papers in graduate school (Public Administration) regarding Privatization of Prisons. Believe it, incarceration is big business...there is profit in prisons. Do the research--there are many Tennesseans who actually own stock in Corrections Corporation of America. I think that you will be quite surprised. And it is quite interesting that plans are being implemented to renovate and add more space at the Silverdale Workhouse. I only wished money tapped to build more jails could be used to develop and implement curricula to ameliorate the issues facing all of Chattanooga's youth. White youth are not far behind with regard to incarceration.

I have attempted to work alongside others on a committee called Disproportionate Minority Confinement in a futile attempt to address the issues of black youth incarceration. It is like pulling eye teeth to get our juvenile officials and other stakeholders to the table.

I've also had one meeting in the past to meet with the county mayor's executives to explore the possibility of implementing successful models that have been used throughout our nation with regard to prison reform or alternative sentencing. I never received a call back after our initial meeting.

It's time to take action. Parents, citizens, schools, churches, judges, politicians, government, colleges, foundations, special interest groups, it is obvious that there are those interested outside of Chattanooga--but the overarching question is this: Is there interest among the ranks (stakeholders) within our scenic city? Or is it business as usual using a band-aid of 'lock em up' (I need my stock to rise) but in essence, disguising the problem as gang activity.

Oh, by the way, in case there are those such as certain judges who say, "it is your problem - you take care of it." Please remember that it takes a village to raise a child.

Ms. M. Lee

* * *

No, Ms. Lee, it does not take a village to raise a child. A village may assist, but what is truly necessary are two fully involved parents in each child's life.

Where is Mr. Jackson's concern for all of our children? Be they white, black, brown, pink, purple, male or female there's a significant portion of our population who suffer from DNA (Daddy Not Around).

Just like global warming, "it's for the children" has become a serious financial resource for many organizations around the country. But what are they truly doing?

What are they doing to stem the tide of illegitimate children being born to children as young as 12 and 13 years old?

What are they doing to reduce "sport pucking"...sorry, I used to play hockey occasionally as a young boy.

What are they doing to reduce the 50%(+) of all children being born out of wedlock and even higher numbers in minority, if there is such a thing any more, communities? The numbers only increase rather than [decrease], no matter what evidence is presented for a solution.

What are they doing to reduce the financial rewards for bringing a child into this world without benefit of marriage? There once was a time we had shame in this nation. No more, from the look of things.

What are they doing to reduce and eliminate the attitude of young boys that it's a rite of manhood to see how many children they can have with more than one girl? This competition of conquest seems to transcend race and social status.

What are they doing to reduce financial rewards for DNA? Many of our laws actually punish low income parents for having a daddy around.

What are they doing to ensure that every child has two parents at home?

What are they doing to reduce the incidence of divorce?

What are they doing to reduce the incidence of a child waking up one morning with a mommy and a daddy, only to come home from school that afternoon to a parent and a visitor because one of those parents has been told to leave?

Ms. Lee could begin by asking these questions of Reps. Brown and Favors who, for many years now, have fought tooth and nail against enacting laws that would allow both parents to be involved with their children...exempli gratia, the rebuttable presumption of equally shared parenting legislation they have worked very hard to keep from the floor of our State House for the past four years or so. They, along with Speaker Naifeh's gang, don't even want to see this one come to the floor for an up or down vote.

When we begin pushing for both parents' involvement in our children's lives, no more DNA, we'll begin to see an improvement in statistics such as 96% of young black men [incarcerated] in Gwinnett County, Ga., coming from a home with no daddy (a statistic from 1996).

It's for the children? Why did we have such a significantly lower incidence of criminal and "gang related" activity on the part of our young people before the advent of the government nanny state and no fault divorce?

It's for the children? Money isn't going to solve the problem...but parents will.

In the meantime, about all we can do is punish poor behavior. As Sammy Davis, Jr., once sang...don't do the crime if you can't do the time.

Royce E. Burrage, Jr.

* * *

Responding to Mr. Burrage: "we'll begin to see an improvement in statistics such as 96% of young black men [incarcerated] in Gwinnett County, Ga., coming from a home with no daddy (a statistic from 1996)."

Actually, Gwinnett County, Ga., I do believe, and a few other surrounding counties in Georgia have what is called the DC-6 Ordinance. This ordinance dates back to the old post slavery days, whereas former slaves could be arrested on the spot if the law happened upon them and the felt they were even THINKING of committing a crime. It also dates back to the loitering laws of that time as well, where former slaves could be arrested on the spot for just standing in one spot too long or where a gathering of more than one or two blacks were casually hanging around and talking in a public setting.

In essence, these laws were used to force former slaves and their descendants back into slave-like conditions, where they were, in reality, enslaved all over again and forced to work on farms (formerly known as plantations) and in the dangerous factories and mines for free labor. They were actually leased out from the prisons and jails to a middle man who sub-leased them to farmers and mines and to other factory-type jobs.

The prisons and jails got paid, the middle man got paid, the farms (former plantations), mines and other factories got their free labor, once again. The former slaves and their descendants received nothing. In essence, they were still slaves.

There were other less ethical methods used as well, such as the one where my now deceased father-in-law was actually stolen (around 1916) from his parents' farm in Hope, Ark., and forced to work under slave-like conditions on a farm in West Texas until he managed to escape a year later.

The DC-6 Ordinance mainly targets poor inner-city areas. Last year alone there were over seven thousand arrests made thanks to the DC-6 Ordinance. It doesn't suggest that any of the victims of the law were doing anything to warrant an arrest. It is a GIVEN, though, that if a certain area of, ethnic, racial or religious group of people are targeted for whatever reason for persecution and arrest there will be a large number of those groups arrested. On the front end it looks all legitimate, but under deeper scrutiny, the truth comes out and the inhumanity of it all is exposed for all to see.

See, there's history, HIS-story and then there's the OTHER and REAL story behind that story. That's why history, as we're allowed to know it, is so incomplete - because crucial parts never get to be told.

These newfound laws, some of which you suggest and I agree, are destroying the very structure of the African-American family, culture and community in ways that even slavery and Jim Crow failed to do.

Brenda Manghane~Washington
St. Elmo

* * *

Well, someone said Brenda Washington would chime in to blame everyone except those who are causing trouble. She appears not to have disappointed.

Stop blaming everyone else for the bad behavior of those who perform the acts, Ms. Washington. A "DC-6 Ordinance"? In Atlanta, Ga.? Please.

Until people like you stop making excuses for bad behavior it will keep on. You, and those like you, are a big part of the problem. It wasn't just blacks whose labor was sold to local businesses in previous times. It also wasn't just blacks who spent time on chain gangs here in the South. I remember seeing many more white prisoners on those chain gangs as we drove around when I was a child.

My husband and I enjoy listening to and reading the works of Walter Williams, Thomas Sowell, and Herman Cain, all of whom are black and grew up with segregation and "Jim Crow laws" but have become successful in their own lives despite their personal life challenges. Mr. Cain is the youngest of those I've mentioned and he's in his 60s. I'd like to share a portion of an essay Dr. Williams wrote, from his web site archives, "How Not to be Poor:"

"Avoiding long-term poverty is not rocket science. First, graduate from high school. Second, get married before you have children, and stay married. Third, work at any kind of job, even one that starts out paying the minimum wage. And, finally, avoid engaging in criminal behavior. If you graduate from high school today with a B or C average, in most places in our country there's a low-cost or financially assisted post-high-school education program available to increase your skills."

Farther down in the same essay:

"The Children's Defense Fund and civil rights organizations frequently whine about the number of black children living in poverty. In 1999, the Bureau of the Census reported that 33.1 percent of black children lived in poverty compared with 13.5 percent of white children. It turns out that race per se has little to do with the difference. Instead, it's welfare and single parenthood. When black children are compared to white children living in identical circumstances, mainly in a two-parent household, both children will have the same probability of being poor."

A prevailing theme for all three writers above seems to be; get a job, get married before making babies, stay out of jail, and use your head for something besides a hat rack. But do those who complain about "the man" pay attention? No. It's easier to sit around and complain, maybe to look to those like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton for solutions that serve to do nothing more than line their own pockets. It's easier to follow these, who are racists and bigots in their own right, than it is to go out and get a job and work to make something of ourselves isn't it. They've become millionaires from their activities while those who follow them continue to languish in "poverty."

We can either be part of the problem or part of the solution of all life challenges. Stop being part of the problem Ms. Washington. Get that chip off of your shoulder. It isn't becoming.

Barbara Fields
Stallings, N.C.

* * *

I can see from some of the comments from your readers about Mr. Jackson's opinion piece entitled, "America Has Lost a Generation of Black Boys" why it is so important for everyone who can to do something to counter this trend.

Guess what, it does not matter who the mother is or who the father is, a child is a terrible thing to waste. They did not choose their parents. Are we going to neglect children because their parents aren't fit?

I'll bet you an ice cream cone that Royce E. Burrage, Jr. is so-called "Pro-Life." As far as I am concerned a person is a hypocrite to fight for the rights of the unborn then proceeds to neglect these same children because they have irresponsible parents and to add insult to injury, they attempt to blame the government programs that attempt to provide services to the poor. You know, the government attempts to provide luxuries like food and shelter.

How sad. There are children, a disproportionate number of whom are African American, that actually never have a chance but Mr. Burrage, among others, is willing to see that they are born, neglected and actually, if they are lucky, finally incarcerated.

The unlucky ones wind up dead.

Why are we so willing to pay so much to cage our children but hesitate and are downright hostile to the notion of assisting them through childhood and, make excuses about what their parents should be doing?

If this were a perfect world he would be right but it is not. So we should allow children to linger in poverty and wind up in jail without even attempting to intervene? I think not.

As Christians and other believers we should find ways of assisting at-risk children of all colors.

It's interesting that in some segments of our society the African proverb, "It takes a village to raise a child" is attacked so forcibly. But we all remember how adults, total strangers, stopped us on the streets and reprimanded us when we were wrong, how our teachers talked to us about good citizenship and spanked us on occasion, how we went to the park and had adults look after us, taught us sportsmanship and team work, adults who were willing to chastise us if necessary, how we had adult supervision and guidance in organizations like the Cub Scouts, Brownies and others.

We were raised by the village and so was Mr. Burrage.

I say, every child should have a chance no matter who their parents are, what their parents are doing, how much money their parents earn or, where they live.

Is that really so much to ask in the greatest nation in the history of mankind?

Ronald Weathersby
Los Angeles, Ca.

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