ARCHIVES OF LEAD STORIES
June 9, 2005
Black Mass. Conference
calls for more role models for boys
Hundreds of black clergy, elected officials, activists,
educators and others from all walks of life converged on the Hynes
Convention Center Friday and Saturday for the fourth annual State
of Black Massachusetts Conference.
Convened by state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson, the gathering brings
together interested people to discuss topics of concern to the
black community and to propose action steps.
This year’s theme was “The Pampers to Prison Pipeline:
The Ms. Education of Black Boys,” a play on words emphasizing
the shortage of male role models in the lives of many black children
and the negative affects this shortage is believed to have.
Panelists at the opening night Town Hall Meeting, which drew over
600 people, urged blacks, particularly middle class men, to volunteer
their time, become more involved in the lives of vulnerable boys
and try to understand their disenchantment.
“Why are our young black boys angry?” asked Nation
of Islam Minister Don Muhammad. “Most of us interpret that
anger as being at white people. But they are angry at us —
the mothers who leave them in front of the tv.
“They are angry at themselves,” he continued. “These
young hip hop listening dudes, I know some of the things they
talk about are vulgar and ignorant, but they are angry at their
environment, an environment not created by themselves.”
The panel of six included three members of the clergy, highlighting
the importance Wilkerson placed on religious leaders’ role
in the discussion.
Panelists cited environmental factors that often gives black boys
the message that they cannot succeed: high dropout rates, a disproportionately
high incarceration rate for black men, the lack of a father in
many households and the shortage of male teachers, particularly
black males, in inner city public schools.
Statewide, 52 percent of black males graduate high school, compared
to 74 percent of white males, according to Schott Foundation data
from 2000. Black girls tend to graduate from high school at a
higher rate than black boys.
Black males do not just drop out of high school and even junior
high at alarming rates; they are often siphoned out of mainstream
classes or suspended from school for bad behavior.
Boys are much more likely than girls to be termed “mentally
retarded,” “emotionally disturbed” or “learning
disabled.” In Boston, 22 percent of black males, compared
to 17 percent of white males, were put into one of these categories
in 2000-2001, according to Schott Foundation data.
“This number of our sons is not mentally retarded,”
argued Schott Foundation President Rosa Smith. “That we
allow the special education bureaucracy to do these things to
our sons is criminal.”
Black students are disproportionately given out-of-school suspensions.
Furthermore, black children are much more likely than whites,
Latinos and especially Asians to be expelled from pre-school,
according to Smith.
Like other speakers, Smith put the onus on black parents to counter
“Some of these problems are about The Man, but most of them
are about us,” she told the crowd. “Does racism exist?
It most definitely does. But we as adults must not let it break
the spirits of our children.”
Workshops on Saturday focused on the problems faced by black boys
in three areas — health care, education and the criminal
Suggested action steps included the creation of a charter school
for black boys, churches partnering with individual public schools
to provide support, better monitoring of how public dollars directed
toward black boys are spent, better medical screening in schools
and the recruitment of more black male teachers through incentives.
Wilkerson successfully pushed for a statewide Commission on Health
Disparities following workshop discussions on the need for such
a commission at the first State of Black Massachusetts Conference
Wilkerson said she expects action to be taken on suggestions made
at the conference, and noted that the conference was simply an
extension of an ongoing conversation among clergy and other community
members about how to support black boys.
“Across the state, I expect to see and have [further meetings],”
she said. “Some I’ll attend and some I won’t.
But I had a very good sense there was a level of energy at a pitch
I haven’t seen in a long time.”
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