Category Archives: Black Boys

HOW A GROUP OF EIGHTH-GRADERS FROM ARNOLD MIDDLE SCHOOL REMINDED ME OF WHY I DO WHAT I DO

Like everyone else, I am susceptible to growing weary while performing the mentally straining and emotionally exhausting heavy lifting required to provide the next generation of African-Americans even a remote possibility of succeeding in a society where their inferiority is an absolute given. There are periodic moments when one’s will to continue this never-ending fight is nearly extinguished; without fail, a symphony of doubt, frustration, and questions regarding the seeming futility of the struggle appear as the weary blues. The only balm to the mental and emotional exhaustion mentioned above is the occurrence of some event that reminds you that it has not all been in vain. Unfortunately, the alluded to validation cannot be ordered on command; instead it arrives via unexpected sources at opportune moments.

Recently I was approached regarding my willingness to aid The Collegiate 100 — a subsidiary of the 100 Black Men of America — an organization of extremely impressive African-American collegians that are simultaneously positioning themselves for success while lifting others as they climb the ladder of success, via addressing a group of 8th Graders from Arnold Middle School during a scheduled campus event. Mentors selected these 8th Graders for a host of reasons. During my adolescence, they would have been labeled “at-risk youth,” a term that indicated more about environs than intellectual capabilities and prowess. I knew such a group very well as years ago I carried a similar label. I accepted the assignment without hesitation.

As usual, I arrived early to the 9:30 event and busied myself researching topics for future blog postings, however, slightly before the scheduled start time, a cadre of students, the majority of them currently enrolled in one of my History courses arrived and began their preparations for the young scholars’ arrival. Within minutes our “guests of honor” arrived, took their assigned seat, and were listening to my presentation regarding issues such as self-responsibility, planning, and the development of a familial educational legacy. Put simply; my address sought to inform these young people that they are the primary determinant of their success and the future of this entire nation was resting upon their broad and sturdy shoulders.

One of the promises that I made to myself as a student was that if ever provided the public speaking opportunities that I would never replicate the droning and draining lecture style of orators who operated out of an old authoritarian style of I lecture and you passively listen to my brillance. Put simply; such characters left no room for interaction with by the end of their address was an auditorium full of inattentive listeners. Hence, I always consider it essential that I interact with my audience via a “Question and Answer” segment.

As previously mentioned, the desperately needed jolt that re-energizes those who have grown weary of the Herculean task of uplifting Black America invariably comes at an opportune moment from unexpected sources. I am proud to relate that I received a much-needed jolt from this group of 8th Graders who dared to betray a steely silence that always accompanies persons of their age by peer pressure. To my delight, this group engaged me in an unusual manner that simultaneously displayed their brilliance, intellectual curiosity, and previous exposure to success formulas resting on personal accountability. Their mentors are to be applauded as these children demonstrated an unusual ability to answer an array of issues presented to them in a manner that betrayed their youth. Their superior intellect was displayed at every turn except when I queried “Where do you plan to be five years from now?”

After several questions regarding by background, my alma mater, the degrees I have earned and books that I have written, most were shocked to learn that I was a first-generation collegian. As expected, the conversation turned toward questions surrounding why they should attend a Historically Black College or University.

The question, poised by a brilliant young lady on the left side of the auditorium, was a particularly piercing one of “Since you have been to a white university and now work at a Historically Black University, why should we come to an H.B.C.U.?” Although I have much love for my alma mater, THE Ohio State University, to the best of my ability I explained to this attentive audience that at a place such as Prairie View A & M University “You will not only be invited into, but also joining and embraced by an esteemed tradition of black thinkers, educators, and professionals who are dedicated to aiding you in traveling down a road that they created for your success. You matter mightily at this place from the moment that you make the decision to enter and well-beyond your exit. You are going to find that we will nurture you, challenge you, and guide you every step of the way as you pursue your dreams, goals, and aspirations. At this place, we are serious about producing productive people.”

By the end of our interaction, the vast majority of these individuals had expressed their intention to become Prairie View Panthers and vowed to keep in touch during their high school tenure. As I gathered my belongings and prepared to exit the venue, one young man rushed up to me and related the following, “I thought about where I will be five years from now. I am going to be sitting in your History class right here at PVAMU.” I could do nothing other than smile at him and respond, “Sir, I’m looking forward to it. And I truly mean that.”

As I ended my exchange with this obviously brilliant young man, one of the chaperones for this youth group approached me and stated the following. “You probably don’t remember me, but I was one of your students.” I searched my mental Rolodex for him, yet came up empty. He continued, “I looked different back then. I had a big Afro and gold fronts (teeth). However, I wanted to take a moment to thank you for all that you did for me. I am assuming an Assistant Principal position next week.” I could do nothing but laugh at the fantastic news and responded, “From gold fronts to Assistant Principal?” We both shared a hearty laugh at the development.

One thing was sure, as I exited the building, I knew that these young people had made an indelible impact on me; an impact that re-charged my emotional state and simultaneously reminded me of why I do the work that I do.

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

“Do or do not; there is no try”: ABANDONING EXCUSES AND DEMANDING EXCELLENCE FROM BLACK MALES

I long ago realized that the least likely locations provide important nuggets of wisdom. When such a moment occurs, I always gather these amazing words of wisdom and integrate them into my life. Life has also taught me that just as I did not anticipate the arrival of these illuminating thoughts; my use of them will likewise be impromptu.

I must tell you how pleased I was when my son took an interest in Star Wars, a movie series that I grew up watching. Our mutual affinity for the Star Wars series has provided many a moment of bonding and intense conversation regarding good versus evil, Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, and “the force.”

As any doting parent would, I have done my absolute best to help my son create a path that will lead him to be an engineer, his chosen field. I am confident that you under why I strategically aim each recreational purchase at developing his prodigious mind and keeping him in what he terms “master builder mode.” So it was only natural that this Christmas he would be gifted builder sets with moving parts, batteries, and even one that ran off of solar energy.

After a morning of spending time with family and opening gifts, my son retreated to his room and became engrossed in constructing a mechanical arm that included several different power sources and over 300 pieces that only a “master builder” could build. The ability to remain on task is most certainly one of my son’s strengths, so I was not surprised when he dedicated several hours to his new building project before emerging with it in tow. However, I was shocked when he frustratingly related, “I keep trying to get this thing to work, and there is something wrong with it. Dad, the construction plans are wrong.”

I was confident that there was nothing wrong with the building plans. And to my son’s dismay, I related that fact to him before telling him that he needed to deconstruct the entire project until he found his error. As expected, this frustrated teenager remarked, “I have tried and tried. Nothing is working.”

It was at this moment that I used one of my favorite lines in the Star Wars series that was voiced by Jedi Master Yoda. “Do or do not; there is no try.” James pivoted and headed back to his room with his failed project in tow. In less than fifteen minutes, he returned with a completed project in hand and a smile that communicated everything that I needed to know about the problem he had confronted and conquered on his own.

Were I permitted, I would point every person toward the words of Yoda, “Do or do not, there is no try.” Such a life philosophy is the lynchpin capable of transforming our hopes and dreams into achieved goals. You must never cower in the face of difficulty as it is merely an obstacle standing between you and your goals. So go forth and become one with the force as you make your hopes and dreams a living reality.

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

© Manhood, Race, and Culture, 2017

We Need To Talk: Black Men, Depression and Hyper-masculinity

For centuries, it has been said that there are few guarantees in this world. Famed soul singer Marvin Gaye chimed in on this subject when he quipped “Three things are certain in this world: death, taxes, and trouble”.

I must append Gaye’s poignant observation by adding another guarantee. Although I already know that this addendum will rub many folks in the wrong way as it deals with one of the most divisive issues this nation has ever engaged and seemingly been incapable of extricating itself from. The guarantee that I alluded to is the reality that it is an extremely arduous task being an African-American male.

Beyond the usual trials and tribulations associated with life, myriad additional factors contribute to the black male experience being in a word, treacherous. The list of additional obstacles includes, but is in no way limited to: the prison industrial complex, housing segregation, lack of quality education, unemployment, environmental racism and police brutality. The aforementioned maladies directly contribute to the psychological issue of depression in African American men.

An American Medical Association study indicates that chronic depression was found among 56.5% of African-Americans, however, less than than 50% of African Americans sought treatment for the mental illness. A plethora of studies have shown that  millions of Americans suffer from depression, however, less than 30% of those individuals sought treatment, predictably, that number is even lower for African-American men.

Empirical research  conducted by the Center for Disease Control has revealed that suicide ranks as the third-leading cause of death for black males between the ages of 15-24 . Obviously, depression is an extremely pressing issue for Black men, unfortunately, the majority of African American men refuse to pursue help for what is often an undetectable ailment by family and friends.

There is a host of reasons that African-American men do not seek professional help such as:  mistrust of medical institutions, a lack of medical insurance, the fallacious notion that misery and suffering are natural extension of the Black male experience, and the foolhardy belief that religious fervor and prayer are sufficient to quell mental illness.

African-American males are also facing yet another mighty demon in regards to their mental state, that entity being a toxic hyper-masculine culture that has seemingly taken control of every aspect of the African-American male existence.

The socialization of African American males to separate themselves, if not totally mute, from the natural range of human emotions begins at a rather young age. During adolescence when scores of us faced physical and verbal reprimand  as a consequence for misbehavior, we heard the rhetorical cliches from a parent or guardian “stop crying ” ,” man up”, or “be a man”.

The alluded to socialization continues throughout secondary  school many of us with the age old admonishment of “men don’t cry” is hurled at young African-American males. Subsequently  many young Black men  who audibly or visibly express feelings of pain will be denigrated by not only peers, but also family members, including parents.

The alluded to images are also perpetuated  through the mass media,  namely through Rap Music.  Music from artists like Snoop Dogg, Chief Keef, Young Jeezy, and others  has  reinforced the notion that masculinity is synonymous with hyper-sexuality, anger, criminality, and violence. These images combine with highly questionable lyrics to create a poisonous socialization cocktail that inevitably leads African-American males to believe that the only emotional expression available to them is one that can only be characterized as anger and unbridled rage.

The alluded to socialization inevitably forges a Manhood construct that makes the absence of emotion as a core principle of what it means to be a man. It is not surprising that when African-American males age that the unavoidable problems of life leads to an internalization of life’s problems and around the clock emotional anguish. As previously stated, African-American males consider their private hell preferable to the ridicule and condemnation that they fear will flow from their peers if they share their issues.

One obvious result of these flawed and wildly illogical manhood constructs is that African-American men staunchly refuse to address depression and consequently neither share grief, nor pursue psychotherapy out of fear of being ostracized by their community.

The alluded to repression of emotions  has extremely negative repercussions on  those who choose to do so. When individuals suppress emotions, it is inevitable that the emotions will manifest themselves in an  extremely destructive fashion such as: domestic violence, substance abuse, alcoholism, sexual promiscuity, and suicide.

Ultimately, the toxic hyper-masculine culture that unfortunately serves as a ‘North Star’ to African American males dooms not only them, but also the entire African-American community. It is imperative that this entire process is reversed via the creation of a free, non-judgemental space where African-American men can unconditionally express their deepest fears, emotional distresses, struggles and heartbreaks. We must understand as a community that Black masculinity and emotional vulnerability  are not mutually exclusive, and never will be. If we fail to learn this basic less, issues relating to depression will not only fail to disappear, but also will become exacerbated over time and guarantee that the vicious cycle of denial of mental health maladies in our community continues unabated.

Alexander Goodwin

©Manhood, Race and Culture, 2016

#ManhoodRaceCulture

No Longer My Brothers Keeper?: How the Murder of Black Men Compromises the Entire Community

Quite possibly the most difficult thing for any parent or family member to overcome is the death of a child. For most parents even Gun Violence 6the thought of losing a child sends uncontrollable shivers up and down their spine.

Undoubtedly, one of the most tragic aspects of a young person being murdered is that death provides an exclamation point that extinguishes ALL future contributions that the deceased would have made in “the land of the living”.

I fervently believe that it is this finality that negatively impacts the African-American community in untold ways. Making matters worse is the reality that the alluded to missed opportunities and wasted resources reverberates over time.

Apparently, the grief and subsequent desensitization that the constant stream of murders engenders prevents us from reflecting upon the reality that the demise of untold numbers of anonymous African-American Males robs our community of the genius that God has placed within them.

I am certain that no sensible person would resist the assertion that the murder of Black Males is a national crisis. For those who doubt Gun Violence 4such an assertion, I offer the following stats provided by the Center for Disease Control (CDC). The reality that the vast majority of these murders are the result of black-on-black crime should make the addressing of this issue a primary issue within the African-American community.

According to the CDC the following is true in regards to the deaths of African-American males.

  • For African-American males who die between the ages of 15 – 19 Gun Violence 5— 47.8% will be murdered.
  • For African-American males who die between the ages of 20 – 24 — 49.9% will be murdered.
  • For African-American males who die between the ages of 25 – 34 — 33.5% will be murdered.

In many ways it is amazing that so many fail to realize that the colossal social issues facing our community flow from the fact that African-American males have been under attack for centuries. Unfortunately for the African-American community, Black males have taken heed to prevailing societal constructs that the primary duties of a man is to serve as a protector and provider for their family.

In urban areas where there have historically been inferior educational resources that predictably feeds directly into a gross lack Gun Violence 2of economic opportunities for African-American males; the latter has worsened exponentially since Black leaders unwisely pursued integration as a strategy to uplift the Race. The battle for the few available resources in urban America has been, horrific. Make no mistake about it, the chaos found within urban Black America brings to light the First Epistle to Timothy 6:10 “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil” as nothing else can.

There is quite possibly no greater understanding of Black males’ collective failure to understand ‘The Game of Life’ than their desperate pursuit of sporadic dead-end revenue sources instead of long-term politico economic goals that hold the potential to uplift not only themselves, but also the entire community.

Most of those participating in what can only be termed ‘the paper chase’ fail to realize that their efforts to secure a pittance of money ‘by any means necessary’, is in fact a fruitless pursuit that ultimately leads to either their incarceration or death, usually at the hand of another African-American male who is ironically participating in the same hellish game.

There is no room to argue that the on-going genocide of young African-American males is not only robbing our community of much needed resources, but also definitively proves that many of our brothers’ have long ago abandoned uplifting mantra’s such as “I am my brother’s keeper.”

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

©Manhood, Race and Culture, 2016

“PUT SOME RESPECK ON IT”: WHY ATTEMPTS TO FORCE AFRICAN-AMERICAN MALES TO RESPECT AUTHORITY FIGURES WILL NOT NECESSARILY LIBERATE THEM

There is no doubt that everyone has an opinion regarding what the actual solution is to the voluminous African-American maleblack boys 3 problem. Although I believe that the vast majority of people proposing solutions are well-intentioned, they are failing to realize that they are in many ways their worst enemies.

I recently came across a story regarding a sign outside of Birmingham, Alabama’s, New Era Baptist Church that succinctly delivered what I am certain both church leaders and others in position of authority would deem a key component in reversing the current downward trajectory of African-American males. The sign was a brief quip that read, “Young black males must respect authority.”

New Era Baptist Church Pastor Michael R. Jordan relates that the sign is not only dealing with law enforcement officers, but also extends to other authority figures such as parents, pastors, and school principals.

I have always found it amazing that persons in positions of authority who are apparently lacking the level of respect that they desire, rarely take a moment to question why those that they interact with have very little, if any, respect for them. Apparently, they have forgotten that respect is not given; rather it is earned through one’s actions, deeds, and character.

It seems to me that there are so many persons in positions of authority within our community (teachers, pastors, principals, law enforcement officers) who have instead of presenting themselves as ‘servants of the people’, taken a domineering position that dictates to those whose lives and futures they have been entrusted with that ‘it is either my way or the highway.’

In effect, such individuals’ sense of superiority is not only noted, but also stringently resisted by those that they consider so black boysdisrespectful to them and their status. Although their arrogance routinely prevents them from realizing it, many of these aforementioned individuals are the primary cause of the disrespect that they receive; particularly when it comes to their interactions with an African-American male population that their lack of a relationship does not preclude them from chastising them regarding their errant ways on a routine basis.

I learned long ago that in my role as a Professor, although I may have the best intentions, it is impossible for me to chastise, discipline, or offer constructive criticism to anyone that I do not have a significant relationship with. Maybe, just maybe, if the so-called authority figures in our community took a few moments to build a relationship with what they are considering wayward African-American males, their message, whatever that message may be, will at least be considered.

Those seeking the respect of African-American males must remember that such a relationship is a two-way street that requires black boys 2both parties to not only forge a real relationship, but also work toward addressing and solving the myriad problems affecting not only African-American males, but also the entire African-American community.

So I would suggest that the sign hanging outside of the New Era Baptist Church be altered to read “You must give respect to receive respect.”

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

©Manhood, Race and Culture, 2016.