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A BLACK GRANDSON GRADUATING  

 

“I am confused and afraid
I wonder what path I will take
I hear that there’s only two ways out
I see mothers bury their sons
I want my mom to never feel that pain
…I understand people believe I’m just a statistic
I say to them I’m different
I dream of life getting easier
I try my best to make my dream true…”

(“I am Not What You Think” by Antwon Rose)

 

Notwithstanding the fact that an estimated 3.5 million students will graduate from high school during the 2018-19 school year, every Black male graduating constitutes a very significant event.  In 2007, this extra special importance was highlighted by Antoine M. Garibaldi who wrote, “…The preceding data clearly show that African American boys and men are continuing to fall behind their female counterparts on most educational performance measures and also on graduation rates from high school and undergraduate and graduate programs. But even more significantly, these young men are losing educational and economic ground to just about all other racial and gender groups...”

A more recent Schott Foundation report stated, “…estimates indicate a national graduation rate of 59% for Black males, 65% for Latino males and 80% for White males.  In most states it is easier for the public to track the number of Black and Latino males who are incarcerated than the number who graduate from high school in any given year…”  The point regarding the incarceration of Black males cannot be over emphasized.

As far back as 2013, the “Sentencing Project” reported, “…Racial minorities are more likely than white Americans to be arrested; once arrested, they are more likely to be convicted; and once convicted, they are more likely to face stiff sentences. African-American males are six times more likely to be incarcerated than white males and 2.5 times more likely than Hispanic males.  If current trends continue, one of every three black American males born today can expect to go to prison in his lifetime…”  In short, the “School-to-Prison Pipeline” is often a Black male reality, not a catchy phrase.

One might believe being raised in an upper-class home would be sufficient to close the achievement gap for Black boys.  On the contrary, the report, “Race and Economic Opportunity in the United States: An Intergenerational Perspective” presented the following startling information:

  • Black boys growing up in wealthy families were more likely than their white peers to live in poverty as adults.
  • Twenty-one percent of black men raised at the very bottom were incarcerated.
  • Black men raised in the top 1 percent were as likely to be incarcerated as white men raised in households earning about $36,000.
  • The worst places for poor white children are almost all better than the best places for poor black children…

Knowing the incredible set of circumstances required to not only raise a Black male from childhood to manhood and also have the child function as a mature, well-equipped, autonomous adult, I wrote the following to my son, Omari and his wife, Cherice, when my grandson, Javon, was born.  “Dear Omari and Cherice:  …Raising Javon is going to be tough because our society continues to be a perilous place for African American males, …Notwithstanding all that you and Cherice do for and with him, you will wonder if he will reach manhood, unblemished by racism, unencumbered by the weight of adverse economic circumstances, and unequivocally qualified to pursue a life of self-actualization…”

Eighteen years since Javon’s birth, there remains a “conspiracy to destroy Black boys” (See Jawanza Kunjufu).  Therefore, fully aware of what it takes for the village to raise a Black male, my grandson’s high school graduation has great emotional significance for me and I am remined of Denzel Washington’s response to viewing the film Black Panther.

In explaining why he was brought to tears, Washington stated, “…I said man, look at these young boys, …You know, Sidney, to now?  And I'm in the gap -- and me and many others are in the gap, …I felt like the third leg of the relay race. Like, here, go. Now, I ran behind them - I'm still running. But I was like, man, they gone. They're gone…” 

Rising up from rural segregated Virginia, my father was determined to “make a way out of no way” when he migrated to Baltimore to work in the Sparrows Point Steel Mill and later on the railroad in Johnstown, PA.  He and my mother “ran the first leg” for their children.  My wife and I, along with Javon’s grandparents, Tommie and Delores Tyson, ran the second leg our children.  My son, Omari, and his wife, Cherice, “ran the third leg,” handed the baton to Javon and, now as I bare witness to his achievements, I look at Javon and know he is gone!  Very tragically, Antwon Rose didn’t get the opportunity to run his full course but, as Antwon Rose aspired, Javon was able to do his best to make his dreams come true.

As Javon carried the baton at Atholton High School in Columbia Maryland, he excelled athletically and academically.  From 9th through 12th grade, the Honor Roll was his academic home.  While handling the rigors of academia, he starred on Atholton’s Basketball team which, during his senior year, earned a 19-3 record.  He was Captain of his Cross-Country Team, leading it to the Maryland State Championship meet while holding his Team’s best times for 3 miles, 5000 meters, and 5,400 meters.  Still, he found time to participate in the Alpha Achievers program which is designed to help students maintain a minimum of a 3.0 GPA from 9-12th grade.  Knowing the importance of service, Javon served as a referee for youth basketball games and as a media specialist for his church.  His many efforts were rewarded by scholarships that will assist him when he enrolls at Towson State University.

Pride was not the only emotion I experienced at the prospect of my grandson’s high school graduation ceremony.  I was simultaneously saddened when I reflected on the undertow that daily destroys so many Black males and contributes to approximately 41% of Black males not graduating from high school.  Therefore, with the baton in their hands, the newest graduates must go to the forefront of the unrelenting, frontal attack on the systemic racism which produces the disparities in access to high quality education, health, housing, and employment.   They must have vital participation in organizations such as 100 Black Men of America, Inc.; President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper Alliance; and other Black male support groups.  They must do so because “to whom much is given, much is required.” 

 

Jack L. Daniel

Co-Founder, Freed Panther Society

Contributor, Pittsburgh Urban Media

Author, Negotiating a Historically White University While Black

https://www.amazon.com/dp/1732433909?ref_=pe_3052080_397514860

May 23, 2019

 

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