“Black males are overrepresented in every category associated with failure, and underrepresented in every category associated with success.”
- Dr. Pedro Noguerra, NYU Professor of Education
- Dr. Pedro Noguerra, NYU Professor of Education
The heaviness and truth of that quote is what drives this post. The quote starts with two words, that have everything to do with classifying a group of people who have a shared sociological identity – BLACK MALE.
I am not an expert on this topic, but perhaps maybe one day I’ll stretch my wings and at least be a thought leader that contributes some solutions to what I see as an epidemic crisis. The fact that some prisons are built based on third-grader’s test scores speaks volumes to the trajectory of which black men and their education have real consequences. Don’t assume consequences are all bad, it is merely the result of an action and or decision. Some black men and their education have awarded them a lot of positive consequences, while others…not so much. Here’s my take on where we stand presently…celebrating our successes, and accepting some real obstacles ahead.
I’ve included two video clips in this post to help articulate my sentiment(s). The first video highlights Urban Prep Academy (UPA). UPA is a predominately black all boys Chicago high school set in a low-income neighborhood. For the past three years 100% of its graduating class has been admitted to college. The school doesn’t stop there, they view college completion and retention as the ultimate goal. While Urban Prep Academy is not the only solution to helping fix the black male education crisis, it is certainly one solution and a forerunner of promoting positive change.
Another clip I’m sharing is a trailer for a documentary called Beyond the Bricks. It’s a film that documents two young black males experiences struggling through the Newark New Jersey public school system. While I can assume some of the systemic entities that have probably contributed to these men’s struggle (poverty, lack of positive male role models, lack of proficient teachers, textbooks & relevant curriculum, etc) one of the things that the film’s costar points out is: “ It had a whole lot to do with me. At first I tried to blame everybody else, but the only person to blame was myself.”
Let’s just stop right there…call Bill Cosby and tell him someone has admitted it. “Black men are doing this to themselves!“ And to be honest, …on some levels, that is completely accurate. Black men (and other members of society) are affirming black maleness identity in ways that have nothing to do with valuing a formal education.
More often than not, young black males are not conditioned/taught to see themselves as learned, smart, nerdy, brainy, etc. or through the lens of a formal education. While there may be just contextual reasons for this behavior, the unfortunate aftermath is that it steers young black males away from the importance that education plays in our society. Whether we like it or not, education is our social capital to navigate our way through society…to have life choices in plain speak. Black men are often told that school smarts are for “white” people, and are redirected to be street smart. Don’t get me wrong, street savvy skills can get you very far – but they aren’t typically qualifiers for job postings. Most job postings require some degree of formal education…and while we all know a degree doesn’t guarantee a job – it’s a foot in the door to be considered. Again, this is about having life choices…and education opens that door.
I’d be lying if I said that young black male children who show a sole interest in learning and scholastic endeavors without any other type of “appropriate black male” behavior to balance that out (sports, rapping, clothes, etc) are usually ostracized and/or ridiculed. Of course we want to encourage our young boys to have social skills and be well rounded, but isn’t an avid interest in relevant societal topics like science, art & history well-rounded? If a young black boy is only interested in school – something MUST be wrong with him! Quick – get him on a sports team, to the church, or a girlfriend as soon as possible. The message that we are really sending through that idea is that his performance of blackness and maleness is lacking....he is insufficient. I know this all too well because I was that boy…luckily I had parents who affirmed my scholastic interests.
I think the takeaway charge that lay ahead for us all is that we have to continue to monitor our own beliefs and be intentional about language. Words have power. Even if we’re not in a position to expose little black boys to the things they need/should see to broaden their identity horizons, at the VERY LEAST use words that can affirm them as competent thinkers who take part in the education process. I haven’t always been the most consistent at that myself, and I’m a black male teacher who teaches young black boys. It’s easy for me to praise and affirm the ones who show an interest in learning, and get frustrated with the ones who can’t sit still or show no effort for their work. “Stay in school” means nothing to a black boy who will go through the motions of school but never truly connect and identify with how school can help him lead his best life. I know it can be done though…one person at a time.