Achieving Generational Success for Black Boys

This piece originally appeared on the Black Male Achievement Leadership Institute website.

I am the oldest of three girls, the mother of three daughters, and aunt to four nieces. There is not one boy child in my immediate family. So many might wonder why a woman who has lived in a female-dominated family might be so concerned and passionate about making sure that boys do well. It is very simple; my daughters and nieces will date and eventually marry. I am open to each of them finding love with any man regardless of his race; yet I want each of them to have an option to love a black man just like their grandmother, mothers, and aunts have. However, I know that the likelihood of them meeting and loving a black man with the same education and social class will be dependent upon what we do today to fix the systemic and structural challenges facing black boys.

Unfortunately, my sentiment above is as true today as it was 25 years ago. Black boys are doing as poorly as they were two generations ago. The call to fix these ailments has not gone unanswered. A host of programs were developed to support black boys and to help them transition successfully into manhood. Despite the good deeds of these programs, the work has not been sustained. In 1995, the Urban Institute profiled 51 promising programs directed at supporting and improving the outcomes for black boys. Ten years after the study, 75 percent of the programs either no longer exist or stopped doing black boy-related work. Now nearly 20 years later, the movement is revived. There are organizations and caring adults in every urban center across the country working to reverse the ills affecting black boys. The challenge before these good-willed and smart-minded leaders throughout the country is to not only restart the movement, but to make sure that it lasts beyond one generation and that our efforts fulfill our best intentions for black boys.

The Skillman Foundation is pleased to work with the Open Society Foundations Campaign for Black Male Achievement as it launches the Leadership and Sustainability Institute. This effort aims to strengthen the leaders and organizations serving black boys so that the work sustains and black boys prosper over several generations. The Skillman Foundation joins in this effort, because we understand the explicit tie between how black boys fare and Detroit’s future. In both cases, we plan to take the long view so that we can achieve generational success.

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I started tutoring and mentoring an African American 10 year old boy three summers ago. He is now thirteen, in therapy, but still very much at risk of becoming a statistic. He is very bright, but the primary challenge-his parents. His mother has three other children (boy 19 in jail, daughter 8, & daughter 9 months). The father is in the picture but not involved yet passive aggresive in his dealings with the mom & his son. The primary obstacle has been poor parenting skills of mom & dad. There is little understanding of child development, the importance of an orderly home with predictable routines, and a take-no-prisoners attitude about school work. Mom is depressed/angry & smokes dope most of the day. She is intoxicated about 4 nights/week.The result is neglect. The boy is hording food. She demonstrates little attachment to the 9 month old, who is not reaching developmental milestones. And yes, she has been reported to the authorities but the situaiton is not dire enough for an investigation. What I see are isolated adults who were wounded emotionally as children. I deal with child & have to deal with the family so I can continue to tutor/mentor. It is exhausting. But I must say that it has opened my eyes to the impact of intergenerational emotional/physical abuse and poor parenting on African American boys. I think it will take some form of sponsorship of family units by a well-trained & supported volunteers working with new moms/parents over the long haul to make a difference. Preschool & the early grades are where we can engage Black parents, particularly mothers, in teaching positive affirming parenting. I hope we do not drop the ball on this one and allow all sectors & tested interventions, not just church leaders, to engage to make a difference.

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