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Preparing African American Male Children for 21st Century

By Richard A. Rowe

Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu, a prominent educator stated in his very important book, Restoring the Village: Solutions for the Black Family, that we are now faced with a generation of African American male children who may not succeed their parents in academic achievement, or see any male family members work. Moreover, Brother Kunjufu concludes that we now have far too many young men who do not respect their elders, who do not believe they will see their 21st birthday and who no longer view the church as a sacred place, but rather a place to rob and vandalize. With Dr. Kunjufu's gloomy forecast, have we prepared our male children for the 21st century?

Upon reviewing other recent trends in the African American community, I concur with Brother Kunjufu and believe we have far too many young men in our community who:

  • believe being smart is "acting white."
  • are addicted to a culture of immediate gratification and misguided values.
  • spend less time reading, spend more time in front of television and spend very few quiet moments in a library.
  • kill one another for such trivial reasons (e.g., a jacket, a pair of sneakers, a misconstrued glance).
  • are disconnected from their elders and are ignorant to the trials, tribulations and triumphs of their rich history.
  • are moved and mesmerized by the sadistic and self-destructive lyrics of thug rappers rather than the powerful melodies of Duke Ellington, John Coltrane and Wynton Marsalis, and
  • are in pursuit, not of personal excellence, but rather the latest commercial trappings of Madison Avenue. and,
  • they can neither spell or pronounce the labels on their jackets or their shoes.

    As we approach the end of the first year of the new millennium and as we examine the aforementioned trends, the question remains - have we prepared our male children/youth for the 21st century? Furthermore, do they possess the prerequisite skills to compete "head on" with male youth from other ethnic groups? Are they growing up in an environment that is conducive for their optimal development? Are our male children/youth destined for street corners and cemeteries, and are they loved to the fullest extent possible by the adults of the community? Unprepared male children end up as unconscious, unprepared and unsuccessful adult males.

    While we can spend precious time discussing and debating the reasons for this sad state of affairs, the truth of the matter is that time is running out for our male children/youth and the future of our community. If we are desirous of creating adult males who are both confident and committed, and who can maintain family life and function in a highly technological society, then it is incumbent upon us to focus our undivided attention on developing the best possible structures for our male children that will prepare them for tomorrow's challenges and opportunities.

    Therefore, in preparing our African American male children/youth for the 21st century I believe they must have:

    1. A sense of identity as an African American male.
    2. A sense of commitment to one's God.
    3. A sense of obligation to one's people.
    4. An understanding of "our story" from the beginning to the present.
    5. The ability to speak one or more languages outside of English.
    6. The ability to locate our primary records in libraries, bookstores and research centers.
    7. The skills to explore the Internet and feel comfortable with cyberspace and the super-information highway.
    8. The ability to understand, to explain and to enjoy our artistic creativeness.
    9. A love for learning and the self-motivation to pursue excellence in every academic pursuit.
    10. The commitment to build, maintain and expand African American businesses.
    11. The commitment to build life-giving and life-sustaining institutions from the ground up, and
    12. The willingness to sacrifice "things" for the advancement of the group.

    If we truly believe our male children/youth are our future and that they deserve a future that is full of hope, then every second must be spent on creating structures, institutions, rituals and ceremonies that promote the highest standards of human excellence and the highest morals of human behavior. Anything less will certainly maintain the present underdevelopment of our male children and place their destiny in the hands of others. And the future, to paraphrase the quintessential leader Malcolm X, belong to those who prepare for it today. If not us, then who? If not now, then when?

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