By Charles Griggs
“What they [Black men and boys] need are believers and partners willing to invest generationally in their abilities, assets and dreams.” – Shawn Dove, CEO, Campaign for Black Male Achievement
Growing up in Jacksonville’s urban core, I know all too well what it means to be labeled as a non-achiever. We were described as young men who had no future or possibility for greatness. People outside of our community were eager to stereotype us as street thugs who might was well surrender to police.
Much like young Black males today the narrative hasn’t changed.
The difference between my childhood crew and the African American young men of today is that we weren’t allowed to believe any of the negative stereotypes being thrown at us. It was the late 60s and early 70s, and during that time we were still in the shadows of the Civil Rights Movement and segregation. There was so much attention was being payed to Black children and how societal change was impacting us.
While still struggling through segregation, Black teachers and administrators were there in the gap to reinforce messages of pride and greatness infused by parents. Yes, there were outliers who struggled through employment, education and family issues. But for the most part, the African American community was focused on providing cover for children – especially Black boys, considering the challenges that most anticipated lie ahead.
Covered by daily words of encouragement from extended family and neighbors coupled with character building activities, there was little chance that negative stereotypes would penetrate our world. Our village never let us down.
In my hood, most of us would grow up and participate in the American dream. Generally, because it was all about high expectations, family support and, yes, prayer. Under those circumstances I consider our journey, in spite of the systematic overt racism and discrimination, we were the rule…not the exception.
Today, things are different.
As a community, African Americans have allowed people outside of the village to define their future warriors. And that is unacceptable.
Black boys need to know that things are not as bad for them as outsiders, and some of us, have declared. Yes, there are trials, but challenges should not void a community of hope. Nor should they paint Black boys into a corner of despair where their future is coopted by chaos, incarceration and death.
The village mentally is gone and community stakeholders have become lax at protecting Black boys from the distractions of stereotypes and the perils of unforgiving racism. African American boys are extraordinary in their ability to survive and thrive in a system that has determined they are better off exterminated.
The Black community should get back to being focused strategically on engaging, encouraging, and empowering African American males. Because we know children do not develop in isolation, so families and their neighborhoods need to become a direct part of the solution by changing the narrative of how we support and inspire our youth. Believe it or not, focusing on the needs of Black boys is a way forward to racial justice and equality.
During the recent Urban Education Symposium: Reclaiming Young Black Males for Jacksonville event, presenters highlighted high school graduation rates for African American males. Quietly, success rates have increased by more than 12 percentage points from 2013-2014 through 2017-2018 school years, which means there are small victories to celebrate.
As a community, we should take this information and other positive evidence and use it to support Black boys. Changing perceptions about who African American men and boys are will not be easy. But getting back to basics, and setting expectations while engaging in village principles can work wonders.
I believe in our boys, because my community believed in me. I believe in our boys, because they are our future.
It’s time to change the narrative.
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