There are more African American young men in jail cells than in classrooms today. Among the hundreds of factors that produce this statistic, one contributing facet is the lack of black men who pursue education as a career.
According to a College Board report (2011) and the US Census (2008), out of the 39.6 percent of African American men who obtain high school diplomas only an average of 20.9 percent of those young men will enroll in a two or four year college. An unacceptable fraction of 1.7 percent will enter into graduate school thereafter. When you calculate the very low retention rates that plague African American collegians nationwide into this equation, one could debatably say that only 1 out of every 10 African American men will graduate with an Associates degree or higher.
In 2009, the NY Times released statistics that displayed the disproportionate figures of incarcerated men across racial lines. These statistics conclude that about 25 percent of black children at age 14 (born in 1990) would have had their father in prison. Additionally, as of 2009 the Department of Justice states that of the 2.1 million inmates imprisoned in our nation, over 40 percent of them are African American men.
It’s no secret that many states in our nation, when creating their budgets, project the financial responsibility for the construction of prisons on test scores of African American young men as early as elementary school. What does this fact illustrate about America’s school system that serves millions of African American students across our nation everyday? Additionally, what can we as black men do to change that?
When people ask why I graduated from college and immediately became a teacher, instead of listing my catalog of passionate reasons I simply respond, “If I’m not teaching the future black leaders of America, then who is and who will?” Thinking back on the past 18 years of my schooling in various sectors, both public and private, I can count on one hand how many of my teachers were African-American men. Of those teachers, most of them I encountered in the Africana Studies department in college, an institution where most young black men will sadly never have the privilege of attending. In my current position as an educator, I witness hundreds of teachers enter classrooms to teach African American boys and girls, yet the number of black male teachers I encounter are scarce.
Black male educators make up only about two percent of all teachers across the country, thus there is a high need for black men to enter America’s classrooms as educators and mentors who serve as a role model that believes education is not an option but a necessity. Ultimately, one difference between Yale and jail for young African American men is seeing a strong black man standing in front of your classroom on a daily basis.
In many of our urban cities where the need to see positive black men in the daily lives of our students is imperative, that need is unfulfilled. Students spend over forty percent of their day in classrooms until the age of 16 in most states. Consequently, the role that a teacher plays in their lives is extremely critical to their social and academic development. Young African American men in urban areas see their role models in the media, on the basketball court, or in a music video. In all honesty, the first role model that many young black men see growing up in a marginalized area is the neighborhood drug dealer who sacrifices his life daily for the survival of his family.
It’s difficult to see the importance of education if for the first ten years of your educational career you realize that the only black men you see in your school building are the janitors, lunch attendants, or security guards; if you’re lucky you’ll see a black male P.E or music teacher. Black male teachers have more of an impact on the future of our black children than anyone truly realizes.
Given the amount of time a child spends in school, one can say that students spend just as much time with their teachers on a daily basis as they would with their parents. Black male educators are in a position to have the most profound and immediate affect on students. Being in a position to give new generations better opportunities could mean one less black man in the ‘state pin’ and one more that graduates from Penn State.
As referenced earlier, there are about one million African American teenagers leaving their fatherless homes to go to school each day. It is our duty as progressive African American men to greet them at the doors of education with the key to unlock their successful futures.