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Published: Saturday, 6/2/2007

Not every one of our black sons is lost

BY ROSE RUSSELL

TODAY, my grandson graduates from high school. Erik is a black male, and the family is proud of him. College is an option for Erik, but he is particularly interested in the construction trades. Great, I told him the other day. "And when you become wealthy," I said, "please remember your Nana Rose."

Erik is an African-American male who has managed to defy the odds by not getting pulled into the plethora of negatives the world has to offer, and graduating from high school. Unlike many of his peers, Erik has some idea about his future. And although he didn't arrive at this point on his own, few children do, really. Erik has strong family connections, a determined mother - my step-daughter - and father, and support from his grandparents and other relatives and friends as well.

Too few young black men have the elements necessary to get them to high school graduation and to keep them on the straight and narrow so they can obtain a post-high school education, and jobs. Lately, the media have rightly bombarded the public with details about the awful outlook for this segment of the nation's population.

In Ohio, the picture is bleak. On Wednesday, Gov. Ted Strickland cited some of the miserable statistics for young black males during his Conference on Increasing the High School Graduation Rate for African-American Male Students. Facts about the status of black males could cause anyone interested in making a difference feel hopeless. The high school graduation rate for black males is a pitiful 64 percent, while the rate for white males is 88 percent, the governor noted.

Many young black males are on fast tracks to nowhere. Crime, violence, guns, and drugs proliferate among them. And young women with poor self-esteem flock to them, mesmerized by the negative power of guys wearing doo-rags and sagging pants and who refer to females in derogatory terms.

They have power, all right, but it's lethal and usually short-lived, and the entertainment industry doesn't help. In that world of rappers and gangsters, nobody's anybody unless everybody's bling-blinging half naked in front of a camera.

And, generally, schools don't help. Often, black children are mislabeled by educators. That happens when, for example, black boys' curiosity is described as disruptive while the same behavior in boys of other races is called adventurous. Too often our black sons are unfairly said to have learning disabilities, to be mentally retarded, disruptive, and in need of expulsion or suspension.

So thank you, Governor Strickland, for removing the lousy excuses and saying at the conference, "We cannot accept African-American males giving up on our schools, and we cannot accept our schools giving up on African-American males."

Let's be clear: The outlook for many black males is sad. And while many live in single female-headed homes with vast problems, a healthy dose of institutional racism directed at black males has an effect, too.

As a black woman who sees much of the good and the bad among African-Americans, I get weary of hearing about these issues as if every single black person and family is doomed. That's not so, and there's plenty to celebrate.

A week ago one of my youngest great nephews graduated from preschool. Yes, that was a big deal. On Sunday, a black male college student thanked God for reaching age 21 last month. Two weeks ago at my older daughter's commencement at the medical college of a historically black university, a significant number of the nearly 150 graduates with masters, PhDs, medical, and dental degrees were young black men.

The outlook for many young black men may not be entirely bright, but all is not lost. There is much going on in American black communities to be glad about, and I am.

That does not negate the need to address problems, and we will. Perhaps for a change, though, we could talk more about the good that goes on, because there's plenty of it.

And congratulations to you, Erik.

Rose Russell is a Blade associate editor.

E-mail rrussell@theblade.com



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