Is the Black Man in America doomed?
The NY Times says that Princeton, Harvard, and Columbia say that we are close. In “Plight Deepens for Black Men, Studies Warn,” Erik Eckholm goes over many statistics that show how the un/undereducated Black man is the rule and not the exception, and how that is leading them down a path from which recovery may prove difficult.
(Random thought: Before digging into this topic, I’d like to first note the irony in Princeton, Harvard, and Columbia doing studies about Black men. Princeton has 8.2% Black students, Harvard has 8% Black students, and Columbia has 5.3% Black students. I just find it interesting when I hear/read authoritative on Black people written by non-Black people. Now, I am in no way saying that the message is worthless because of the messenger, but I am saying that it is in some ways disheartening. I digress…)
With that said, the story and the studies it references raises some important facts. I applaud the approaches to measuring joblessness that include the incarcerated as well as those not looking for legal work. Though it is an interesting theory, I do not agree with the implication that child support law enforcement have contributed to joblessness.
There are some concrete steps that I see that can be taken to address this rampant joblessness.
The first set is psychological. For starters, many associate unemployment with vagrancy. I believe that in many cases it is a myth. Vagrancy, laziness, triflingness, whatever you want to call it does occur, but I think that’s less common than it is perceived. Evidence for this can be seen in the fact that many individuals who are not seeking work are “working” illegal occupations; you can’t be lazy and stay out of jail. The second psychological step is to remove the stigma of the man or woman who has come home from prison. What is tripped out is how many people show a lot of “love” to people when they get out of jail (remember Chris Rock saying people got more love coming out of jail than coming home from college), but they don’t get a lot of love from business owners (including Black business owners) when they are looking for legitimate work. This is part of the reason why people who come home are so likely to commit and be caught in the midst of illegal activity within 6 months of their release and end up right back in corrections system. What needs to happen here: People need to have positive attitudes towards their people. Do not confuse a positive attitude with stupidity, but instead confuse it with educated optimism. There is nothing wrong with giving someone a conditional hire. Do not confuse conditional with opportunity to humiliate. People are amazing in the sense that they will excel when people show faith in them. The article quotes a brother who says he and his peers suffer from a “general state of hopelessness.” Hopelessness is overcome by having faith in yourself and others having faith in you. Think about it, when was the last time you felt like you could do something when people were constantly putting you down saying you “never did it before” or that you were “incapable” of doing it? We need to invest psychologically in our brethren.
Secondly, there are opportunities to educate outside of traditional school. Ideally, everyone would matriculate through elementary, middle, high school, undergrad, grad, doctorate, post-doc, etc. In cases where that has not happened, that does not mean that education should not be an option. What can be done here: Maybe we can encourage young men/women to seek opportunities that they feel are more practical. What I mean by that is this: usually people leave school because they do not see immediate benefit. I more than anyone wish to eradicate instant gratification ideology from the world, but in the mean time, I feel like we can use it to demonstrate both immediate and future benefits gained from education. For example, why not identify trades/talents that students have in say, 8th grade. In their high school (9th thru 12th grade years), why not provide access to training in their fields of interest (e.g. web design, auto repair, cosmetolgoy, medical assistant, whatever)? Why not provide access to the training and tie performance in “regular” school together with the vocational training? Meaning, we should reward high performance in the vocational education equally. That way, there is recognition (who doesn’t like that?) for those that excel in economics and those who excel in electrician training. We should embrace Adult Education and Professional Certification programs. If/when people demonstrate hunger and willingness to work, then they deserve to have a chance taken on them (see above).
Re-entry. The article calls out programs that focus on prison re-entry. The same attention needs to be paid to juvenile re-entry. Programs like Detroit’s Partners for Success are great examples of taking a proactive approach to confronting the issues the will be present in the lives of young men/women when they leave the system. We talk a lot about this on the site, and some of the posts on the subject can be read here. Keys to successful re-entry are showing confidence and providing opportunities.
Those sound a lot like the keys to life in general.