Those Who Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail: Why STEM Opportunities Continue to Remain Outside of the Grasp of Most African-American Males

There is absolutely no doubt that one of my foremost frustrations with our people is the amount of time and energy that we spend reacting to the enemies attacks, time that precludes our planning, preparation for, and execution of projects that will move our people forward in a tangible way.

Now I do not want anyone to get the impression that we should ignore racial incidents such as the murder of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, or Michael Brown, however, it appears that in our rush to protest such gross injustice we routinely fail to address other areas that are arguably more important than the vaunted public protest that have served as a popular protest activity for our people from the twentieth-century until present day. Ironically, it appears that our failure to do the day-to-day planning and execution of mundane educational tasks has put our entire community into a seemingly never-ending cycle of poverty, crime, social dysfunction, and political inefficiency.

Consider the amount of time we spend talking about, debating, considering, and executing public protests against white officers’ criminal behavior; for many it is a veritable obsession.

Many individuals believe that their staunch resistance to injustice is homage to the Black Nationalist Titan Malcolm X, there is little room to debate that Malcolm would have also been on the frontlines addressing these matters as well, however, in there rush to defend ‘the fort’ such individuals are ignoring what I would term a larger portion of Malcolm, that being his admonishment that “the future belongs to those who prepare for it today.”

Considering the technological world that we live in today, it is not particularly difficult to understand that the future is going to be based upon the S.T.E.M. fields — Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.

Any educator can attest to the fact that educational advisement, funding, and outreach initiatives have colluded to direct students toward S.T.E.M. fields. Unfortunately for African-Americans, data from ‘Change the Equation’ indicates that the STEM workforce has made zero progress despite their most fervent efforts to diversify in the new millennium.

There is no doubt that the American populace has grown increasingly diverse along racial/ethnic lines, unfortunately such diversity has not been reflected in STEM fields. Whites and Asian’s seemingly have a monopoly upon STEM as they make up:

  • 87 percent of the engineering workforce
  • 84 percent of the computing workforce
  • 83 percent of the advanced manufacturing workforce 

The NSF reported that black men are employed as scientists and engineers at an overall rate of 3%.

According to Claus von Zastrow of ‘Change the Equation’ “This is not because these jobs aren’t available. Every other indicator we have … shows there’s actually robust demand here. We’re going to need all the talent we can get – we’re going to need all hands on deck.”

The primary question facing our people is the following; “Why aren’t more African-American males seizing STEM jobs? Such matters are particularly puzzling to those outside of the tech field, especially when one considers technology companies desperate need for workers.”

According to Karl Reid, Executive Director of the National Society of Black Engineers, “the lack of African-American men in stem is a Collegebyproduct of a failing system for African Americans in the overall school system. If you’re trying to survive in the educational process and you don’t have access to the [rigorous] courses … it really doesn’t bode well that you’ll be on the pathway to a STEM degree.”

African-American scholars such as Jawanza Kunjufu have for the longest time warned against the cumulative effects of a broken educational system that handicaps African-American males earlier in their educational experience. According to Kunjufu, African-American males begin to lag behind their contemporaries by the third or fourth-grade.

In light of such data, Morehouse College President, Dr. John Silvanus Wilson reasons that “The potential pool of STEM African-American males has shrunk already, so it’s earlier in the pipeline when we’re going to have to find the solutions to this. They get off to a bad start. You’ve got brokenness at the start – broken families, broken values, broken potential. And they go to broken schools, most of them. It’s no surprise you get a broken hope, broken ambition and broken outcomes.”

As with most worthwhile endeavors for African-American men there are several major roadblocks that must be overcome by not just those pursuing the goal, but also the village that surrounds them. To facilitate increasing rates of African-American males entering STEM fields we must collectively address sub-standard K-12 educational systems that often lack the necessary curriculum offerings, an absence of role models, and work toward a comprehensive injection of self-esteem and expansion of the worldview of African-American males via mentorship, role models, as well as purposeful travel and occupational exposure.

Central to all of this is both parental involvement and the abrupt disruption of marginal academic expectations for our young men at every level of their academic and social development. Such is the most logical and possibly the only means of avoiding the continuation of what Claus von Zastrow calls ‘squandered talent”.

Although this path of working to lay the groundwork for the future successes of African-American males in STEM fields may not be as glamorous as a public protest following the murder of an African-American male by a white law enforcement officer, it is the most reasonable means of uplifting the young men in our midst. From my perspective, there is no great way of honoring the legacy of Malcolm X than giving our children a glorious future by helping them prepare for it today.

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

©Manhood, Race and Culture, 2016.

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Author, Creating Revolution as They Advance: A Historical Narrative of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense

Author, ‘Foolish’ Floyd: The Life & Times of an African-American Contrarian

Author, O’Bruni: An African-American Odyssey Home?


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