Tag Archives: African-American youth

Invest now to change boys’ path to the future

30 Aug

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.


Students need sticks, but they need carrots more

22 Mar

Imagine how fed up you must be if you’re willing to risk your child’s humility to save him.  That’s what a Tampa mother recently did when she stuck him on a street corner with a sign around his neck saying among other things “GPA 1.22. … Honk if you think I need education.”

Being a fan of tough love myself, I immediately thought “hooray for her!” According to this recent AP story, Ronda Holder says she and the boy’s father have tried everything to get their 15-year-old to shape up academically. They’ve offered help, asked to see homework, grounded, lectured him and confiscated his cell phone. Sound familiar?  Apparently, James Mond III’s indifference at a school meeting was the final straw. The following day, Holder made the sign and made her son wear it for nearly four hours.

Yes, she was reported to the Department of Family and Children’s Services and of course experts were highly critical of the move.  Holder insists she’s fighting for her child’s education.  She’s right of course. The real truth is: she’s fighting for his life.  With so much at stake in this fight, the undeniable question is: how can Holder and other engaged parents motivate their young students as a complement to reprimanding them?

There’s much we don’t know about this situation.  I’d like to presume James was performing in school at some level before he fell to his current 1.22 status and that he had a level of motivation; however fleeting.  I’m curious to know whether his parents understand what motivates him – – what, if anything he’s invested in.  I don’t know the basis on which his cell phone was returned.  Given his grades ultimately fell to a 1.22, I’d say it was returned prematurely.

We don’t know if “carrots” were offered to James when he climbed himself out of his previous academic performance holes.  He had to have, right? After all, he got his phone back.  Was he rewarded by word or deed for the increased effort, given an additional carrot on top of the returned phone?  We need to expect academic success and then recognize and reward students’ effort, progress and achievement at every juncture along the way.

We all need to be motivated to engage – to be emotionally concerned and invested – in what we want to achieve: do well in school, lose 10 pounds, eat more healthfully, clean out the garage, or learn a new language.

As we all continue to “fight for children’s education” as Rhonda Holder says she is doing, let’s add some carrots to jump-start the intrinsic motivation students need to get in done in the classroom.

After James’ recent experience, perhaps he has newfound sources of motivation to draw on when the work seems uninteresting or he’s just not motivated to work hard.  I pray the drastic step his mother felt compelled to take got his attention.  I also pray that we add some carrots to the sticks and support our children need to achieve in school and in life.

Click here to view the news story and to hear about James’ story firsthand from his mom’s perspective.

Diddy’s lessons on parenting

24 Jun

It’s not an easy job, or a comfortable one, but we’ve committed to doing it.  That is: shedding a spotlight on the messages, attitudes, behaviors and beliefs that are being perpetuated in black culture—in our media, in our families, in our communities, in our school systems, by our “celebrities”.

So, if you’re a Diddy fan, I warn you now, that I’m only doing what we’ve committed to do…don’t shoot the messenger.

Did you catch the ABC Nightline special on renowned rapper, hip-hop producer and media mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs?

If so, then you’re probably wondering as I am: Has Diddy lost his mind? Are his priorities that out of wack?

You can’t hate on the man’s success.  For what he’s achieved and for the obstacles he’s overcome, you’ve got to give the man props.  BUT, you can STILL hold him accountable for how he leverages his success, his platform, to reinforce the myth that engaged parenting is optional…secondary to the public accolades.

As you pause this month to honor Father’s Day and to esteem the critical role of engaged fathers, you can slap him on the wrist for perpetuating the lie that as long as you take care of your kids, lavish them with expensive things, that compensates for not being present.  That a $400,000 Maybach car as a gift to your son on his 16th birthday is an appropriate stand in for instilling the values of hard work, academic excellence and integrity.

Apparently, we’re not the only ones who believe there’s something sadly out of sorts about Diddy’s priorities and approaches to parenting.  Nightline’s Martin Bashir didn’t let Diddy off the hook in his questioning of Diddy’s views on fatherhood.  And, Diddy was noticeably annoyed…arrogantly offended.

Check out the link below and watch the Nightline profile on Diddy.  What say you?


It’s the Culture, Stupid!

15 May

Graduation ceremonies are book-ending the academic year and schools are closing for summer break.  Soon, the topics of education and the stubborn academic achievement gap will retire from public discourse for its annual 2-month hiatus.  But, sadly, the facts that continue to tell a disturbing story will reemerge just as strong by the fall:

  • There are significant gaps between blacks and whites in virtually every measure of achievement: NAEP math and reading test scores, high school completion rates, college enrollment and college completion rates.
  • Blacks are not faring well in high school graduation rates—only 55 percent, compared to 78 percent for white students and 72 percent for Asian students.
  • The dropout rate for black students is almost double the dropout rate for their white peers.
  • By the twelfth grade, on average, black students are four years behind their white or Asian peers.

But, discussion about this ominous academic achievement continually ignores one larger-than-life elephant in the room: the reality that African-American children are growing up in a peer culture and community network that, in too many ways, does not foster academic ambition. Instead, it’s a culture that, in too many ways, celebrates achievements in sports and entertainment more than academic achievement.

Consider these realities: Studies show African-American students are the least likely out of students in all racial and ethnic groups to:

  • Spend more time on their studies outside of school
  • To participate in academically-oriented peer groups or study groups
  • To believe success is based on effort rather than innate ability

They are more likely to view a C as a decent letter grade.  They spend 40% less time on homework than their white peers and 80% less time than their Asian peers.  And, nearly half of African-American fourth-graders and eighth-graders spend five hours or more watching TV on a typical school day.  This is compared to less than 20% of white fourth-graders.

It’s time administrators, educators and parents opened their eyes to the impact of the peer culture and community norms on how African-American children are faring compared to their peers in other racial/ethnic groups.  It’s time to consider new approaches for motivating student engagement in learning and commitment to achieve in school.

Consider the time and energy many parents invest in their sons’ and daughters’ athletic careers, yet they may not take 60 minutes to review their child’s academic standing or assist with homework. And, consider that students in general, and African American students in particular are often ashamed to excel academically. According to Lawrence Steinberg’s Beyond the Classroom, one out of every six students hides her intelligence and interest in academic achievement because she is worried about what her peers think.

We have to remove the blinders that relegate us to standard approaches to remedying this problem.  We have to recognize that school reform, while a viable part of the solution, is only a part of the solution.  We must supplement reform by confronting the overwhelming and powerful influence of peer, family and community culture—promoting a culture that routinely recognizes and rewards academic achievement as much as, if not more than, achievement in athletics and entertainment.

This is a battle we can win, but we must recognize the elephant in the room and see that a culture that respects education pays dividends.