Black boys are flailing and we must do more than continue to treat them like defective girls if we are to change the trajectory on which so many of their lives are headed. We need to act quickly on information we already possess about the differences in the ways boys and girls learn and develop. We need to consider more fully the uniqueness of boy’s development and the implications for parenting and teaching them, especially given that so many are being reared and taught by women, live in poverty in homes with absent fathers, and in communities with too few positive male images.
It should come as no surprise that under these conditions black and Latino boys are failing to thrive. They account for 90 percent of young murder victims and perpetrators, and have a 50 percent higher poverty rate than their white and Asian male counterparts. They are two times more likely not to graduate high school – – almost guaranteeing the cycle of poverty in which they are born will not be reversed.
According to “A Call For Change”, a 2010 study released by Council of Great City Schools, only 12 percent of black male students are proficient at reading by 4th grade compared to 38 percent of white males. By eighth grade, proficiency rates fall to 9 percent for black males and 33 percent for whites – which isn’t great either. Black males are almost twice as likely as white males to drop out of school. While they make up only 5 percent of college enrollment nationally, they represent 36 percent of the prison population.
We have to stop this train wreck and now. These negative trends result in unmet human potential and an economic and social drain on our national productivity. High school dropouts cost taxpayers more than $8 billion annually in public assistance programs like food stamps. While it costs about $14,000 a year to attend community college, we are spending on average $25,000 annually to incarcerate too many young black men who could become our future teachers, doctors, scientists, labor and business leaders.
Recently, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a new program in partnership with philanthropist George Soros aimed at tackling the widespread disparities of black and Latino males. The “Young Men’s Initiative” looks to bridge gaps in education, health, employment and the justice system. The ambitious new program would seemingly overhaul how the city’s government interacts with 315,000 disenfranchised black and Latino males, who are disproportionately undereducated, incarcerated and unemployed. Hats off to Mayor Bloomberg, philanthropist George Soros and others for stepping up to plate and spearheading efforts to change the lives of boys in New York City.
Like Mayor Bloomberg, I am deeply concerned that too many boys are increasingly without the knowledge and mindset they need to succeed and are too isolated from our mainstream economic system and society. That’s why the W.E.B. Du Bois Society will soon launch Livefor30—a free, monthly webcast series aimed at connecting black middle and high school boys with athletes, business leaders, entertainers and other prominent figures who will share their stories firsthand of academic ambition and persistence through life obstacles. Students will be allowed to submit questions and garner advice. These ongoing, inspirational conversations will help motivate young men to prioritize academic ambition—whatever their life circumstances —and to realize the value of an education for any kind of life success.
We are expecting hundreds of successful, respected African-American men will step up to invest their time by participating in these Livefor30 webcasts—volunteering an easy 30 minutes to engage with, influence, and inspire young, impressionable black boys all over the nation. Additionally, we welcome partnerships with other organizations that are interested in building upon these webcasts to further change boys’ perceptions about who has the ability to learn and succeed and who has not.
Malcolm X said, “education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” There is a great deal to be done and all of us have a role we can play to ensure America’s boys secure their passports and are not left behind.