Thursday, July 1, 2010

Young Black Male Crisis

I was inspired to write about the “Young Black Male Crisis” based on art work created by Abdi (Bravo's "Work of Art: The Next Great Artist") titled “I.E.D. "(Improvised Explosive Device). The contestants on this reality based show were asked to create a shocking piece of art. Many of the contestants defaulted to sex; auto fellatio, last supper with debauchery to spare, S&M tranny asphyxiation fantasies,etc. None of which, I found shocking or remotely interesting. Abdi’s work me had me at conception before the mold had even been cast. He described creating several sculptures of young African American male heads designed to represent ticking time bombs. Abdi wanted to create art and start a conversation about a crisis that is being overlooked. The artist explained and I paraphrase “Young black males as being marginalized by society, raised in impoverished environments, under –educated, too many see a life of crime as a viable option. He went on to criticize our government who could care less and compared these young men to ticking time bombs”.

Abdi’s social commentary really struck a cord within me; the topic above has weighed heavily on my mind for the majority of this year. I love to do community service / volunteer work because I’m paying my tithe/tax to God. In addition to getting right with my higher authority, my intangible reward is priceless. A few weeks ago, I was volunteering at a Harlem elementary school for a writing club called “The Young Authors Club”. Our club consisted of 20+ kids between the ages of 8-9 years old, 18 boys and 2 girls, and 5 volunteers. I’d like to add, I was the only African American volunteer, and 97% of the kids were African American – problem # 1. The volunteers were there to help the kids write plays, poems, letters, biographies, etc. I’ll never forget one project in which the team leader suggested that the kids write about their future .We’d all watched a civil rights movie based on Martin Luther King’s lifework. The movie took us through life in the segregated south, showed all of us how far this nation as come, explained sacrifices were made by our grandparents, struggles to overcome; beatings, lynching, marches, marginalizing, etc, so that we could have the opportunities we have today.

The team leader then asked the kids to write about their dreams for the future and how they’d plan to arrive at their destination 5-10 years from now. She asked them to create a plan for their lives. My heart shattered into a million pieces when not one of the kids especially the boys could see themselves being anything other than a basketball / football player. One of the newer students looked me in the eye, at 9 years old and said jokingly “I’m going to be in jail”. I tried not to focus on the negative and asked the kids to come up with a plan B and after literally 30- 45 minutes of coaxing; I got my group to come up with alternatives (doctor, artist, lawyer, and teacher). The volunteers were dismayed; we’d work with the kids for months and knew first hand how smart most of these kids were. They often shocked me with their knowledge of random things, pretty good readers, and came up with excellent stories when the boys weren’t horsing around :)

A lot of people may read what I’ve written above, absorb the information, and process it as an isolated incident. Those folks would be lying to themselves. The fact is, African American’s are more likely to be victimized by crime than are other groups, which creates individual and community problems. Secondly, the rate at which African American males have come under some form of criminal justice supervision not only affects the individual victims and families but communities as well. The point is for every action there is a reaction. Let run down some fact.

• 49% of prison inmates nationally are African American, compared to their 13% share of the overall population

• Nearly one in three (32%) black males in the age group 20-29 is under some form of criminal justice supervision on any given day –either in prison or jail, or on probation or parole.

• As of 1995, one in fourteen (7%) adult black males was incarcerated in prison or jail on any given day, representing a doubling of this rate from 1985. The 1995 figure for white males was 1%.

• A black male born in 1991 has a 29% chance of spending time in prison at some point in his life. The figure for white males is 4%, and for Hispanics, 16%.

*Marc Mauer “The crisis of The Young African American Male and the criminal justice system”

The price the community pays for African American males lost to a racial unjust criminal justice system is very high (whole other blog topic). Incarceration creates an imbalance in the male – female ratio among adult African Americans - 86 males to every 100 females, disrupts the influence of families, schools, religious bodies, and other institutions to transmit values and promote positive role models – How could the community be built up if the base of the family isn’t around? Incarceration and racial bias within our criminal justice system continues the cycle of neighborhoods with high levels of joblessness, social disorganizations, lessens the chance of parents / neighborhood leaders with the ability to assert the kind of influence that would recreate a “ Black Wall Street”, attract changes in government which could bring forth social cohesion, and also affects political influence by eradicating convicted felons right to vote in many states ( estimate 1.4 million African American males, or 13 % of the male black population aren’t able to vote). Casting my vote for Barack Obama and knowing that it helped him win the 08 election is one of the many high lights in my life. My vote determined who’d be in the White House creating polices that affected me.

I didn’t want to convolute my message by bringing other elements into this topic; our need to address the current drug policies, race and class effects, crime rates, etc. My goal is to encourage whoever is reading this blog to open up their eyes and spread the word. The African American community is in the midst of a crisis. We need to get more involved, demand that certain racially biased polices are changed, become the positive roles models our community needs, build up our neighborhoods versus moving away, support African American entrepreneurs, who should in turn support non profit organizations that promote education , keep our kids off the street, and encourages change. We need to stop dividing ourselves based on educational backgrounds, lightness of skin, faux bougieness versus ghetto antics, and work together. I apologize if these feels like a lecture but improving our community is my passion.

*Marc Mauer is one of the leading authorities on racism in the criminal justice system. In speeches, research publications, congressional testimony, organizing, and lobbying Mauer has worked tirelessly to expose racism in all aspects of the system. He is also active in challenging felony disenfranchisement -- the denial of the right to vote for ex-felons -- and other negative social consequences of imprisonment. Mauer will explore the social and political forces that have led to the unprecedented explosion in the prison population over the past 30 years, and will examine the impact of these developments on crime, community, and race relations.

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