Good Intentions On The Path To Black Male Achievement.

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( With dismal graduation rates, and a widening ‘achievement gap’ of people pursuing an associate of arts in business administration and other degrees, organizations throughout the country are racing to develop and implement Black male achievement initiatives. From several big name foundations, to the overlooked grassroots community coalitions, the business of taking on the challenges of changing the climate of despair among this segment of the population is rapidly going mainstream.

Although it’s become commonplace to dismiss critics – of any controversial social issue – as “pessimistic”, “cynical”, “skeptical”, “paranoid”, or any other affront often used to neutralize opposition, we are also at a point in life when ‘broken systems’, and  ‘new approaches’ have become regular talk around the water coolers. Yet, because it’s forbidden to assign fault on those who’ve been   negligent in their responsibilities, we’ve opted instead to throw systems under the bus. This standard has created a practice in which influential individuals are allowed the unlimited opportunity to play the role of social laboratory surgeon – with limited liability.

Mismanaged care, and misdirected effort are no strangers to social change, and philanthropy. We are now quickly approaching the point when – at the early stage of the Black male achievement crusade – the dangers of hasty effort will perpetuate some of the same problems that the movement seeks to resolve. Serving as a devoted activist, and volunteer in my community, I have been able to see up close the way an eager movement can galvanize a segment of the community, and ultimately instill more mistrust and anguish when tangible results do not follow the lofty rhetoric, and fervent passion. We note one of weeknight talk show host Jimmy Kimmel’s gags during his hosting of last night’s White House Correspondents Dinner, when he mocked President Obama’s 2008 presidential candidate platform – “Remember when the country rallied around you in hope for a better tomorrow? That was a good one.”…Not quite so good for those with genuine hope.

The myriad of entities embarking on the mission of making a better tomorrow for Black males in America would be wise to assess our efforts, and the approaches we’re taking to implement the various initiatives. To highlight the severity of this point, I appeal to one report, “Trends in Chicago’s Schools Across Three Eras of Reform,” released by the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research.

In 1988, then U.S. Secretary of Education William Bennett declared Chicago’s public schools to be the worst in the nation, prompting aggressive reform efforts. Despite the many positive gains made over several decades of reform initiatives, the U. of C. study also reveals:

-“Despite progress, the vast majority of CPS students have academic achievement levels that are far below where they need to be to graduate ready for college.

– “Racial gaps in achievement have steadily increased, with white and Asian students making more progress than Latino students, and African American students falling behind all other groups.”

I maintain a reasonable level of optimism about the motives behind all who embark on the mission of social change.  Even so, we should constantly be reminded that – in a society ridden with problems, and countless well-meaning people willing to address them – good intentions ought not be the primary motivation that drives one’s desire to make an impact on the lives of others.

Given the fragile conditions of a significant segment of the Black male population, it is essential that efforts targeted to revive this segment be treated with the utmost level of diligence, and integrity. This means pulling back from creating another social laboratory, where trial and error is business as usual – part of the nonprofit industrial complex – showing positive gains on one end, as a scapegoat for substantial failings on the other end.

Measures should be taken to ensure ‘Black Male Achievement’ doesn’t fall in line with the various sectors in the poverty industry. Outcome protections to consider for Black male initiatives should include:

  •         Implementing a panel of local community activists charged with providing ongoing public assessment, and strategy recommendations to entities that receive public and private funding;
  •         Developing a rating system that provides acclamation to entities that achieve stated benchmarks; and
  •         Establishing nontraditional program benchmarks for entities that receive government funding.

Certainly, entities that are serious about the business of making a positive impact on the troubled segment of the Black male population have implemented solid tools to ensure projected outcomes, as I’m sure all other entities across the nation have implemented genuine means to ensure outcomes. Yet, for the sake of so many souls who’ve given up on the desire to become productive members of mainstream society, we cannot afford to produce, and discard a generation of human experimental subjects – to try it all over again several decades from now.

Staff Writer; Joe Kellam

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