I work as a community organizer working in one of those types of neighborhoods that we regularly see on the news or read about in the paper. We have drugs, we have homicides, and we have starving families and parentless children absent from school. But despite the sheer hopelessness of the situation, we also have committed folks, who do care about their neighborhoods. They want to make it better. And they spent a great deal of time in the neighborhood working through block clubs, town watches, neighborhood clean ups, home and school associations, truancy prevention and other activities for the youth.
The problem is that in many of these cases, these wishful and often helpless residents are mostly women. I see it played out every single day. I can call a meeting and 8 out of 10 of the attendees will be women. They are manning the townwatch groups, shouldering the cleanliness of their community and doing the lion’s share of the work to keep the community afloat. What that suggests to me is that the effects of the conspicuously missing Black male is felt not only in individual households but in entire communities of color which are now mostly matriarchal. So where are the men?
Well the mass incarceration of people of color through the War on Drugs explains part of their absence. While some black colleges have up to 70% female populations, our country’s prisons are filled to capacity with hundreds of thousands of black men, who have largely been locked away with mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes that are mostly ignored when committed by whites. This criminalization, for many, began as young black boys; black males face much harsher discipline in public schools than other students. According to statistics provided by the Civil Rights Data Collection, while Black children make up only 18 percent of those enrolled in the schools sampled, they accounted for 35 percent of those suspended once, 46 percent of those suspended more than once and 39 percent of all expulsions.
But while the prisons have claimed a large portion of our Black males, there is a certain disengaged interest in the mindset of those men, who are educated and successful. Those men, who are in a better position to influence, uplift and guide the minds of these young men are noticeably absent from the front lines. And they have taken their influence, financial security and knowledge with them right out of the very spaces, which could offer the most good.
The absence of educated, financially astute, black role models is most evident by the big push from the country’s Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who toured historically Black colleges and universities in hope to fill the void of Black male teachers in our public schools. Likewise, officials at the Big Brother program have too been pushing to get Black men involved in their mentoring programs. Right now, only 14 percent of all Big Brother mentors are Black.