Who Can We Run To? Supporting Black Males in the Classroom and Beyond
In a country where one in three black males will be incarcerated at some point in their lives (Equal Justice Initiative, 2018), who do black males run to for support? The statistics are alarming. According to NAACP.org, African Americans/blacks are incarcerated at more than five times the rate of whites, and make up 32% of all children arrested. These numbers are compounded by countless black males passing away at alarming rates after their 18th birthday due to health issues, homicides, and accidental deaths. The results of slavery, Jim Crow, and other forms of inequalities are having lasting impacts on people of color; more specifically, black men.
While there has been considerable progress made since the civil rights movement, African Americans still largely lack access to a quality education and access to postsecondary options. Theedavocate.org reports that “black males are four times as likely to face suspension in school, and suspensions of black high school students have increased eleven times more quickly than white peers since the 1970s.” Additionally, students suspended during their freshman year are two times as likely to end up dropping out of high school. As an educator, count the number of students in a classroom and take note of how many black male students you see. How many of these young men would likely go to prison, according to statistics, and what impact does this have on our communities? These gaps in the black community have led to young males seeking a sense of belonging or responding to trauma in ways that feed into the cycle of incarceration or death.
It’s also no secret that the media spurs the creation of bias, stereotypes, and prejudice against black males. The mindsets that come as a result contribute to inequities in education: higher suspensions of black males, the assumptions that black youth need medication or have special needs, etc. This, and the gaps in the black community that mean fewer positive black male figures interacting in many of our students’ daily lives, only perpetuates the cycle we are in today.
As a black male educator, the opportunity to authentically connect with other positive, black men of like mind is rare: only 2% of teachers in American public schools are black males (theundefeated.com), a statistic I see ringing true in most of the schools I visit. As a black male, I’ve been in schools where I am the only one or one of only a few. In college, my classes were filled with women and a few white males; to add, they were usually taught by white females. I was always known by my professors for obvious reasons (often the only black male in class) and was typically sought for my opinion or input. However, I was also assumed to be the voice for everything black, so felt I couldn’t make mistakes, and I held back. I observe this in the students I see around the country. In poorly managed classrooms where biases go unchecked, I’ve observed that black males are often disengaged in their education.
Schools serving African American males in disenfranchised communities must be intentional and strategic in how they create spaces for black males to develop their sense of belonging and engage with positive role models to stay in school, engage in learning, and break that school-to-prison pipeline. The following are examples that could have a potentially positive impact on the lives of black male youth:
1) Connecting with fraternities, or other black professional organizations, like 100 Black Men. Examples include establishing mentorship or rites to passage programs, etiquette courses, or college prep programs and tutoring.
2) Creating school-wide mentoring programs that require every child has a mentor, teacher or staff member. Utilize all building employees and regular volunteers.
3) Offering after school and weekend activities that cater to black males, such as men’s groups, Saturday open gym at schools supported by male organizations, and enrichment activities for relationship building.
4) Recruiting more African American male teachers both for and from college of education programs. There is power in making sure that school staff mirrors the population of children they serve. This is most important for black males and the unique need we have when it comes to guidance and mentorship. Utilize Future Educators of America programs specifically targeting black males, or develop programs that offer free tuition in exchange for their service in that district following graduation.
When black males enter into the field of education, they often enter into strange territory. In many cases, they are the minority in the school and if assigned a mentor or lead teacher, they are often female and white. When issues arise, they report or answer to female leaders or more than likely white female leaders. So to better support and retain black male educators, consider the importance of building trust. It is important that schools have mentors for the ones entering the field. In addition, creating groups for black male teachers that focus on support, fraternity, and uplift are key to ensuring black men stay in education, and those leaving high school have a desire to educate the next generation.
As a child, I can remember officers from the Police Athletic League (PAL) leading activities such as after-school plays, tutoring, and coaching sports, as well as drug awareness, gang aversion, and health courses. And these men looked like me. They were not only visible in my school, but in my community as mentors in safe spaces. These experiences helped set high expectations for young black men in my community and provided the youth opportunities to build character, establish societal norms, and develop a strong sense of belonging. We must support our black male youth now in a time where the majority of their role models appear on TV and not in the communities they live in or schools they attend. And because of these alarming statistics, schools that serve black youth must also work to check their biases and make sure they are serving 100% of students, especially those who have been underserved by society for so long.
To learn more about Ronardo’s background as an educator, click here.