NAACP Seeks Solutions to Crisis of Black Males

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The statistics alone are startling enough. Gathered from studies by government agencies, national think tanks, educational associations and medical and health organizations, they paint a bleak picture of life for black males in America.

One of four black men in their 20s is either in jail, in prison, on probation or parole.

Violence is the No. 1 cause of death for black males between the ages of 15 and 25; their murder rate is 10 times that of their white counterparts. In California, black males are three times more likely to be murdered than to be admitted to the University of California.

Black men in poor, inner-city neighborhoods are less likely to live to the age of 65 than men in Bangladesh, one of the world's poorest nations. Black males are the only U.S. demographic group that can expect to live shorter lives in 1990 than they did in 1980.

And the list goes on.

What makes those raw numbers even more frightening, say educators, health officials, politicians and community activists from across the nation who are gathered in Los Angeles this week for the NAACP national convention, is what they eventually could mean.

"If we cannot turn these numbers around, they threaten the very existence of the race," said Beverly Cole, director of education and health for the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People.

Consequently, the NAACP tried in a Monday workshop on "The Endangered Black Male" not only to examine the situation but to pass along solutions to a problem that officials say threatens black communities and America as a whole.

During a 1 1/2-hour session Monday--the second major conference on the subject held by the NAACP--panelists grappled with what has become a national concern. While the statistics for blacks as a whole are bad, they note, for black males they are even worse.

Black males place at the bottom of nearly every social indicator, statistics show: Highest unemployment--black males, more than double the national average; highest infant mortality rate--again, black males, more than double the national average.

For life expectancy, high school graduation and college participation and graduation, black males rank lowest.

But the primary focus of the NAACP seminar was to pass possible solutions to these problems on to representatives from the organization's 2,200 chapters.

The hope is that those representatives will return home to implement programs that will turn around more black males like Nehrwr Schoop of Chicago. Two years ago Schoop, then 14, was a member of the Black Stone Rangers, a notorious Chicago gang. Later he joined the Moorish Americans, another gang. He drank, fought, robbed, smoked marijuana and sold a little drugs on the side, he admits. He says he had been shot at, stabbed, beaten and had watched as a fellow gang member stabbed a 7-year-old in the back over a belt as the youngster ran to get into the car of his parents.

Today, Schoop is one of 1,000 bright young high school students nationally who have traveled to Los Angeles to compete for $300,000 in college scholarships by showing their talent in categories such as chemistry, architecture, computer science, photography and physics. The scholarships are awarded under the NAACP's ACT-SO program. A chemistry wiz, Schoop has a project called "How Different Sea Water Salts Affect the Oxidation of Iron."

After Schoop saw the 7-year-old killed he began to rethink his life, he said. He began to listen to friends and family who had been trying to steer him in another direction.

But for Schoop and youngsters like him, finding that new direction is not easy.

"Coming out of grammar school, I didn't have any goals," said Isiah Murray, 19, whose photographs are up for an NAACP award.

"A lot of my friends were the same way," added Murray, who plans to enter college in the fall and eventually teach. "They got out of high school and they were just stuck. I knew I had to get myself together. I had a mission to find out what I was going to do with my life."

Many of the problems, panelists said, are systemic. Black males operate in school systems where there are few black male teachers to serve as role models or counselors. They are greeted with lower expectations than other students. Consequently, they are disproportionately placed in remedial and special-education programs.

Panelist Antoine Garibaldi, dean of the Xavier University school of arts and sciences in New Orleans, pointed to a study of that city's school system showing that while black males made up 43% of the students, they made up 58% of those who got failing grades, 65% of suspensions, 80% of expulsions and 45% of dropouts.

"It seems that black males fare much worse on all of these indicators in terms of behavioral performance," he said.

But for Garibaldi, the most disturbing portion of the New Orleans study was a survey of teachers' attitudes toward black male students. Six of 10 said they did not believe their black male students would go to college. Sixty percent of those teachers worked in elementary school and 65% were black.

"Obviously, teachers' racial, ethnic or cultural affiliations do not make them immune from holding negative self-fulfilling prophecies about the children whom they teach," Garibaldi said.

But while there are systemic problems, much of the blame for allowing the situation to deteriorate to its current level must be placed squarely on the shoulders of black adults, some panelists said.

Garibaldi said that in New Orleans, a fourth of parents never reported to school on report card day, a mandatory routine for all parents in that city's school system.

Panelist Jawanza Kunjufu, a Chicago educational consultant and author, noted that Asian children study an average of 12 hours a week, white students eight hours, and black students five hours.

"Consequently, Asians score 980 on the Scholastic Aptitude Test, whites score 908 and blacks average 719," he said.

"I would say two-thirds of the problems are our own creation. At the same time, we are 100% of the solution."

The panelists laid down a list of possible solutions. At the core was greater emphasis on education.

Teachers should hold black male students to the same standards that they hold other students, they said. They should encourage students in the earliest grades to pursue college or postsecondary education. More black male elementary school teachers should be hired, especially in kindergarten through the third grade. Currently, black males make up only 1.2% of teachers in elementary grades.

Black male students should be required to participate in extracurricular activities not related to sports, such as student government, debate teams, acting clubs.

Schools should place the most emphasis on rewarding academic achievement, such as awarding "letter" jackets, sweaters and shirts that go along with academic performance.

Parents must become more active participants in the education of their children by visiting the schools frequently and assuring that their children are in school daily.

And there should be a moratorium on placing black males in special-education classes.

Beyond education, panelists said that the black community, particularly black men, must take a greater role in providing guidance and role models for young men.

They suggested that black males become more involved in mentor programs. They suggested the implementation of a "Rites of Passage" program to teach boys what it takes to become men.

"Obviously the gangs can't do it," Kunjufu said. "The adult men have to do it."

Kunjufu said there is disparity between the way many black mothers raise their boys and their girls.

"Black mothers tend to raise their daughters and love their sons," he said. "They teach their daughters to be responsible and not their sons."

He suggested that women hold their sons to the same standards as their daughters.

"They should teach them how to cook, how to sew, have them clean the house and study in the same way that they would have their daughters study," he said.

PRIMARY ISSUE: Police misconduct emerged as the overriding concern of NAACP branches.B1

BLEAK PICTURE: A report says blacks have fewer opportunities in the film industry than 10 years ago. B3

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