Young Black Men

A few years back, I took a bunch of kids from our youth program to
visit some local colleges. We visited a commuter school, a liberal
arts school, a Christian school, and a HBCU. At the HBCU, one of the
young men in my program pulled the male tour guide aside and asked
about the young women on campus. (I remember asking the exact same
question when I was his age!) The tour guide explained that the
campus was 90 percent female, so the odds were good.

It struck me at that moment what a profound crisis we are in the midst
of in our big cities as it relates to our young black men. For while
I knew women are the majority on all campuses, and suspected the
imbalance was even greater at HBCUs, the fact that there are nine
women for every man on campus - while perhaps good news for the young
man in my program - was a very, very clear sign of the problem facing
young urban black men.

This week's Philadelphia Weekly has a nice piece about a Washington
Post book called "Being a Black Man: At the Corner of Progress and
Peril." The author concludes his review of this new title by
encouraging all Philadelphians to pick it up: "Everyone in
Philadelphia needs to read Being a Black Man. Especially those who
write to me to ask mockingly, 'Why y'all keep killing each other?',
who see the city's violence as a black problem, who think racism is a
thing of the past, who fail to understand the complexity and humanity
of black men, and who accept their peril, and never fathom their
success. Maybe then black men would evolve in our consciousness into
something valuable."

When she was in college, my wife, who is Caucasian, decided to take an
African-American studies class with her white friend. They were
dismayed to find out on the first day of class that they were the only
non-black students in the class. It shouldn't be so, for the ones who
most need to get educated about the African-American experience (or
the Asian-American or Latino or women's or gay or whatever experience)
are those who do not themselves have to live it every day of their

For the second year in a row, the murder count in Philadelphia is
averaging more than one a day. A vast majority of the killers and the
killed are young black men. For that very reason, too many of us have
remained unmoved, maybe even a little smug. At best, many of us
express discomfort, the sense that something is not quite right, that
it is beginning to encroach into our bubbles, that our consciences
tell us we ought to feel something.

What we should be feeling is outrage. If we can summon feelings about
the Michael Vick case because of a sympathy for dogs, what is the true
assessment of our value of the young black man if we have calmer or no
feelings about their untimely deaths?

Michael Nutter was criticized for calling himself "an outraged black
man" over the violence in our city, and other politicos are similarly
accused of pandering to votes when they chime in on the subject.
Whether they are or aren't, perhaps we should stop tsk-tsking public
figures for expressing anger and start tsk-tsking ourselves for not
joining them.


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