Phillip Jackson is executive director of The Black Star Project, based in Chicago. For more information, call 312/842-3527 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Massive Failure of Black Males in the American Education System
by Phillip Jackson
The problem of Black male failure in education and the corresponding issue of high unemployment for Black youth are huge and complex, but they are still solvable. This may not be the case in 10 to 15 years.
Anyone who only wants to talk about the massive failure of Black males in the American education system is now officially part of the problem. Empty words become an unnecessary diversion from one of the worst educational and economic catastrophes to ever confront America. Either we will get into action to solve this problem, or we will watch multiple generations of young Black males become expendable in our society, and literally perish from our communities and our nation.
Take a minute to review the graduation rates for Black males from 20 school districts with 10,000 or more Black male students. According to a 2004 study, "Public Education and Black Male Students: A State Report Card," by The Schott Foundation for Public Education, these districts have the lowest graduation rates for Black males in the country. They are: Cincinnati and Cleveland, Ohio, 19%; Chatham County, Georgia, 21%; Rochester, New York, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Pinellas County, Florida, 24%; New York, New York, 26%; Buffalo, New York, 27%; St. Louis, Missouri, 28%; Duval County, Florida, 29%; Chicago, Illinois, Clayton County, Georgia, and Richmond County, Georgia, 30%; Oakland, California, 31%; Hillsborough, Florida, 32%; Indianapolis, Indiana, Orange County, Florida and Palm Beach County, Florida, 33%; Caddo Parish, Louisiana and Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina, 34%.
Young Black men who are out of school and out of work are more susceptible to illegal activities that will likely result in their incarceration. So far, the Black community has not responded sufficiently to this catastrophe involving its young Black men. In fact, this problem is not even on the radar of many Black churches, businesses, elected officials, media outlets, civil rights and social service organizations. Each day that passes without an adequate response from our Black community leads more young Black men into drugs, gangs, violence, prison and ultimately to their death.
While the massive problem of Black male failure in education and the corresponding issue of high unemployment for Black youth are huge and complex, they are still solvable. This may not be the case in 10 to 15 years. A large part of the solution is a return to the basics of family living with parents, families and communities taking the primary responsibility for educating Black male children. The successful education process starts with the family in the home and community, and continues in school and throughout life. The extent to which Black parents become actively involved in the education of Black male children is the extent to which the destruction of potentially millions of young Black men will stop.
When young Black men realize they have become expendable, are we ready for their reaction?
The United States does not tolerate young Black men being unproductive or counter-productive to the goals of mainstream society. Black males are suspended, expelled and failed in schools at rates that are two to five times higher than students of other races and go to jail at rates five to ten times higher than people of other races. The question arises, "Are young Black men expendable?" The apparent answer from our inaction seems to be, "Yes! They are expendable."
Fixing this problem will take 35 to 50 years, if we start today. While many individuals and institutions have a powerful role to play, the Black community must supply the leadership, energy and resolve to fix this problem. The government must provide the financial resources and the legislative will. The cost to fund this initiative should be diverted from the Department of Justice and front-loaded into the Department of Education. Foundations and corporations must also participate in this effort with financial support and leadership. The issue of educating Black males must become a 24 hour a day, 365 day a year effort. The proper and successful education of young Black men must become America's next civil rights movement!
The brunt of this effort will fall to the Black community. This includes:
- Getting Black parents, Black families and the Black community properly involved in the education of Black male children
- Creating and maintaining nurturing, effective, supportive, child-centered, two-parent families
- Reconnecting Black fathers to their children
- Instilling strong educational values in young Black men
- Developing positive community structures, principles, morals and activities to help with the social development of young Black men
- Finding strong, positive role models for young Black men
Any time someone encounters a Black male child or teenager, whether a friend, relative or stranger, he or she should ask, "How are you doing in school?," "What college do you plan to attend?," and "What are your career interests?" The importance, value and power of education must be reinforced constantly for these young men.
While this is a tough problem now, it will become insurmountable unless action is taken immediately. Young Black men want and deserve their place in America. That's the American way! Who is going to tell these young men that because they don't have good academic skills, because they have dropped out of high school, because they can't find a job, because they have been to jail...they cannot participate in mainstream America? When young Black men realize they have become expendable, are we ready for their reaction?