Black youths missing in the progressive framework of today’s society
What impact will this have on the future?
By Victor Carrington
PRIDE Guest Columnist
There is an old African proverb that says “It takes a village to raise a child”. Where is the village in the case of our Black male youth?
In a February 23, 2016 Pride News Magazine article, “Black Judge Urges African Canadian Community to Get Better”, Justice Donald McLeod is concerned that Black parents are lowering their expectations; Black male youths are listening to the wrong kind of music and failing in the education system; populating the prison community disproportionately; and stand the risk of social extinction in a vibrantly economic Canadian future.
Where is the Village? Has it turned its back on Black Canadian youths.
Are the institutions, family, church and state failing our Black youths? Are we responding appropriately to their needs? As a society, do we even recognize the needs of Black youth, or even care enough to do something substantial about it?
“Fighting an Uphill Battle”, a study done by Peel Region and funded by United Way, indicated that around 9% of Black boys in Toronto are not graduating from high school; elsewhere the percentage is about 23%.
Black boys are dropping out of high school at a rate of 40% and students born in the Caribbean and in East Africa are failing all subjects in Grades 7 and 8. Black boys represent one of the largest groups of young men not passing the Grade 10 literacy test and not graduating from High School. Is this by default or design?
A Toronto Star article reported that Black males are overrepresented, 4 times greater, in the prison population than their proportion to the general population. This reflects the findings in Canada, but I am sure that it is worst in the USA.
The United Nations suggest that we, in Canada, have urgent problems that require urgent measures.
Are we neglecting the cries of our Black youth? As a society are we listening to their desperate cries for help? Are we responding appropriately to their needs?
Are we just empathizing and not acknowledging the impact that the failure of this demographic will have on the future of the Black society/race, and the role and location it occupies in a progressive and prosperous world of the future?
These social indicators are an alarming indictment to the social and economic health, and economic presence, of our Black youth. This could lead to the extinction of Black males within the strata of a vibrant Canadian Society. Indeed, we do have a few Black youths excelling academically and otherwise. This fact fails to receive equal acclaim or notoriety. Our elite would again be tokenized by just a few good men as the world turns.
We should be asking ourselves if it is by default, or design, that the Black youth experience is being played out in this manner?
We must take time to identify the underlying issues to this tragedy and the impact they are having on the minds of Black male youth, our race and the nation, as a whole, moving forward. We must determine if it is by default or design.
I once attended a concert celebrating 20 years of Black History Month in Canada, organized by the Durham Outreach Multi-Cultural Association (DOMA) and the keynote speaker was Justice McLeod.
In his address, he pointed out that now is not the season for celebration; we need to do more as parents, as a community and as a society.
He reflected on the importance of the musical lyrics played during the period of the Civil Rights Movement, and the struggle of the Black race through our history.
Lyrics such as, “We shall overcome” and “We shall not be moved”, and similar tunes that fuelled the movement and propelled the activity forward.
He voiced his disappointment as he compared those lyrics with some of those from the tunes that form the listening consumption of our youths today. Similarly, we can relate to the boisterous refrain “Black Lives Matter”, although it is not music, it bears a rhythm that is mobilizing the Black community, in particular, and society in general.
This movement has opened dialogue and initiated the examination of draconian and discriminatory practices, which is leading to reform and corrective action.
In this new environment for change and reconciliation, we should also consider what is happening to the minds of Black male youths along the way, and listening to negative or demeaning lyrics in their music doesn’t help their position.
Justice McLeod, in his address, mentioned that parents are lowering their expectations; youths are being influenced by the wrong type of music; and lower standards and negative thinking are contributing to the damaging social indicators that define the Black youth experience.
I agree with the judge; we all need to be ever vigilant.
In my opinion, emphasis should also be placed on the responsibility of the education system, and personal responsibility. The underlying issues must be identified, for it is only by appropriately identifying these, that we can effectively address and take action to rectify the weaknesses.
I believe that there are weaknesses in our society and they are being played out through our children. We must be mindful that in generalizing human experiences, many do not fit into the general framework expressed: young Black men lack self-identity and self-worth (they have an image problem); they are not being taught to love themselves as a rule (love and respect come with committed intent; the system misreads, prejudges, and profiles Black youths, which leads to hostility and isolation; and society proves to be a hostile environment to Black youth, rather than accommodating and encouraging, and so does the school system.
Efforts to change the course of events should include the fact that learning begins in the home. Because parents are the first, and most important, teachers of their children, parents need to demand excellence from them, as they engage in the teaching process — and they should teach them to pray.
The importance of lyrics and music has long been a part of Black culture. The late Whitney Houston, in the lyrics of her beautiful song, “The Greatest Love of All”, speaks to this issue in many ways, as I see it:
I believe the children are our future
Teach them well and let them lead the way
Show them all the beauty they possess inside
Give them a sense of pride to make it easier
Let the children’s laughter remind us how we used to be
Everybody searching for a hero, people need someone to look up to
I never found anyone who fulfill my needs
A lonely place to be, so I learned to depend on me.
I decided long ago, never to walk in anyone’s shadows
If I fail, if I succeed, at least I’ll live as I believe
No matter what they take from me, they can’t take away my dignity
Because the greatest love of all is happening to me
I found the greatest love of all inside of me
The greatest love of all is easy to achieve
Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all
Black male youths need to develop significant self-Image and self-worth and, since we know that they are our future, we must teach them (male and female) that they are important and necessary to their personal future, their family’s future and the future of society.
We need to relate to them with respect so that they themselves can develop a sense of dignity and pride and teach them to love themselves first, so that they can love others.
I believe that in having a sense of self-pride, one develops a sense of responsibility and holds himself/herself accountable for his/her own progress and success. Indulging in harmful and negative behaviour would be self-depreciating and diminishing to such a person.
Speaking to young Black men today, one gets the distinct impression that there is a disconnection between the home, the school, and society. They feel demeaned, disrespected and isolated.
They find that in their homes they experience criticism and are subjected to rigid orders, rather than guidance, polite and respectful correction and encouragement. They complain of isolation, which breeds resentment, separation and aggression.
This perspective follows them into the school system.
In the school system, Black youth feel that they are discriminated against, targeted, streamed unfairly into stereotypical positions, ignored and are given as little academic support as possible.
Immediately after entering the school system, they are sold the idea that they could only benefit from some kind of sport, or that they should trade any other future professional aspiration for sports.
There is nothing demeaning about playing sports, or pursuing a noble trade, however, when it is laid out before Black youth as their only capable option, without any scientific evaluation or assessment of their academic potential, it becomes streaming.
Streaming is being applied heavily in the school system in the case of Black youth.
When Black youths pursue academic endeavours, their examinations papers are graded lower than those of other racial groups, for the same or even better work.
When there is a disturbance in school involving a Black youth, there is reliable evidence to support the fact that suspensions are dispensed more readily and for longer periods, to the them. Black youth are expelled from school at a greater rate than any other ethnic group.
Unless there is vigilant parental intervention, the school system crushes the will of the Black male youth. It is not surprising that under this overwhelming burden, black youths crack under these enormous pressures. Not only were there studies that support these findings, but personal experiences, which demanded my intervention.
It is well known that teaching is a very noble profession that impacts the future of the world. Teachers who care and recognize the importance of developing young minds produce students who love to study, who aspire to success, and achieve favourable results.
Teaching is a skill, which involves the heart more than the material of the subject being transferred. When teachers fail to recognize the value of the minds that they influence, the impact is devastating.
We witness this in the court system, in the prison system and in society.
Black youth who have been crying out for help, but not receiving it, seek relief and solace in gangs, which in turn degenerates the situation and plunge the individuals deeper into an abyss of fear and indulgence.
Society needs to act, not react, to the Black youth experience. It sees an angry, violent, uneducated Black youth, who should be removed to protect the safety and sanctity of society. Society quotes all the negative social indicators for its justification. This is how most Black youths are viewed and served by this society.
We still have an issue with carding, a practise which is used by the Toronto police to target mostly young Black males. Pedestrians are stopped for no reason, and asked personal questions, which according to retired Justice Vibert Lampkin, is illegal and unconstitutional. This is also contrary to appropriate behaviour in a free society, and tramples on individuals’ civil rights. Random pats; frisks; searches by police are commonplace in the experience of black Youth, and they play negatively on their minds.
Whatever happened to the mantra “A mind is a terrible thing to waste”?
Black youths need to feel that they belong; that they are important; that they are being heard; that they are worthy.
But, it is wishful thinking to believe that society would just open its arms and welcome our Black youth, just because they are members of the human race and deserve respect and support. They must command this through their actions, attitudes, attire and behaviour.
“Be ye transformed by the renewal of your mind”, taught Paul in bible days. It is time for a transformation, time for our youth to rise up and project their positive creativity, innovativeness, intelligence and charisma.
We have, in the Now Generation, enough Black role models in every field of endeavour, so the time for excuses is over.
And we, who have already successfully raised our children, have a responsibility to assist those who are in need of help. The other racial groups do this, so why aren’t we?
It makes no sense sitting in our churches spouting Christianity, as we read the Word, day after day, yet not being doers of the Word.
A sound education is paramount, and studies have shown that illiteracy in the Black community leads to unemployment, poverty, need, violence and crime.
We have to first nourish the minds of the young, build in them a feeling of self-reliance. We must begin by teaching our young ones to read and develop a love for reading, and encourage their curiosity, and inspire them to use conversation as a means of discovery.
We must teach them that building character is as important as building a career; teach them to love themselves; teach them to love others.
A vibrant church organization, or any social organization for that matter, helps in the process of socialization. Successful relationships are the keys to successful living. When one feels confident about oneself, and he/she you carries himself/herself in that manner, respect is demonstrated and commanded.
As parents we should maintain vigilance in the development of our children. We should support our children in every appropriate endeavour, and be there for them in the school system.
It is advisable to be aware of the friends they are hanging with and we should hold our children accountable for their performance at school. Let them know that excellence is expected at all times.
Be there for them when they need our help; let them know that “a mind is a terrible thing to waste”, and that Black Minds Matter.
Victor Carrington is a retired federal public service manager, who, along with his wife, Sharmon, is a recipient of the Excellence in Parenting award from the African Canadian Achievement Awards (ACAA).