Transforming Lives: Let’s Change The Equation For Black Boys

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    Why are Black boys the majority of those confined in the special education units of urban districts across the nation for so-called learning disorders?

    How many times have parents been told that their young sons have anxiety problems or some other sort of disorder that hinders learning?

    They have a learning disorder, we are told by so-called experts, but it does not affect their mastery of all the musical lyrics being released by their hip-hop and R&B idols.

    And how well do these children perform when the parents are smart and discerning enough to quickly realizing a lasting damage about to be done on their children’s abilities and talents and move them out of that particular school to another learning institution that will nurture and mentor them?

    The problem is not that these children wherever they are have learning difficulties, the issue is the kind of environment that shapes their upbringing.

    If they are been raised or schooled in an environment that impedes their growth, dismisses their ability and talents, because a lazy teacher or uninformed parent is not concerned or patient enough to do what is best for them, the special education units will continue to overflow with Black boys.

    And as long as we are dealing with the absence of Black men in communities because of the prison industrial complex, we will be facing another lost generation of Black boys to special education units who don’t belong there in the first place.

    It is time to reign in on these special education units. We ought to know what criteria is used to determine if a child’s personality for learning is hindered. Do these children need mentoring figures in their lives or special educational requirements that treat them like students with severely limited potential?

    First Lady Michelle Obama enthralled thousands of students last week at Wayne State University where she dwelled on mentoring, bringing along with her noted filmmaker Spike Lee, basketball great Earvin “Magic” Johnson and a host of other figures Black children look up to.

    The message from the First Lady was clear: Education is the key that unlocks the potential for a better future.

    But that can be achieved only if children are mentored and if the schools are fulfilling their mission to bequeath on the students an educational legacy that will prove to be rewarding for the rest of their lives.

    Many of the leaders and celebrities young people look up today were once told they could not pursue their dreams. But because they defied the skeptics (including teachers who told them they were not smart enough to attend the best schools) and proved that they were as capable as their White counterparts, they are role models today.

    We know race and racism are at the center of this major ongoing social issue that deeply affects one race more than the other. We need not be reminded that often the subtext of cultural and identity issues complicates the learning relationship between a Black child and a White teacher who may know little or nothing about urban life. Yet, there are White teachers who have gone the extra mile in studying Black life and Black culture to form the premise for their dealings with those students.

    But beyond the paradigm of race, we do have control of our future and have enough potential mentors that young Black children can look up to. We cannot allow mass media images to confine the future of our children to guns, drugs and violence. The result is that is the violent crime and murders that Detroit is witnessing with alarming regularity.

    The challenge is for those of us who brag about our success and upward mobility, but rarely, if ever, step out of our comfort zones to give back, and mentoring is a commendable and effective way to give back. The need is great.

    Aside from the excitement that Mrs. Obama brought to Detroit lies the challenge of us responding by doing our part. Civil rights icon Rosa Parks once said, “You can’t expect young people to know what they haven’t been taught.”

    Recently I interviewed Dara Munson, president and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit about their efforts to reach Black men to serve as mentors. I was puzzled but not naïve to the fact that there would be such a need in a majority African American city.

    Detroit should not have an issue in seeking Black male mentors, especially when the definition of Black male mentors is not confined to Black executives and so-called successful men, but includes every man who has a love for a child and is willing to encourage them to grow and reach their full potential.

    In a real sense, changing the pessimistic perception of the future of young Black children largely depends on the readiness of us all to step out and demonstrate that we care. There is something for everyone to do. Caring and mentoring does not mean sitting behind a desk and making phone calls. It means real involvement. When a child fails and ends up on the wrong side of the law, we have to take our share of the blame.

    No child should have to grow up in a community or environment that handicaps his/her future. That is why the battle against poverty must continue because it threatens all of our futures. The levels of poverty we see all around us should be a wakeup call to all of us to stand for something.

    Yes, some have made it out of the crucible of poverty to become world changers, yet this does not lessen the biting effects of poverty and deplorable lack of opportunity that we see all around us.

    We can do something. Those children who come from disadvantaged backgrounds who don’t have the luxury of going on a Disney World trip are waiting to hear from us. They should not have to pay for the conditions they were born into. They are smart, intelligent with great potential. Special education facilties are not what they need. Give them a chance to prove themselves.

    And that is exactly what one Detroit businessman, Sid E. Taylor, is doing to create an educational and entrepreneurial future for young Black men. With the support of his wife Donna, in 2000 he stepped out to begin the Real Life 101 Scholarship Fund to enable economically challenged young Black men in Detroit to afford college. Real Life makes a five-year commitment to providing a $1000 scholarship at the beginning of each semester to a scholarship recipient.

    This Saturday, June 5, as an annual event, “at risk” students selected from each of the schools will be awarded scholarships at a banquet in Southfield.

    Since its inception Real Life 101 has awarded more than 130 scholarships and Taylor, who runs SET Enterprises Inc., is backed by some of his colleagues, including Glenn Stafford, Roderick Rickman, former NFL player Jerome Bettis and others.

    A child’s background — including race, ethnicity and economic status — should not adversely affect that child’s potential to grow and represent the future. And it all begins with mentoring.

    Watch senior editor Bankole Thompson’s weekly show, “Center Stage,” on WADL TV 38, Saturdays at 1 p.m. This Saturday, June 5, will feature a no-holds-barred round-table on how Detroit Mayor Dave Bing and Police Chief Warren Evans are handling the crisis of gun violence. E-mail bthompson@michronicle.com.

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