Reclaiming Our Way promoting the well-being of African American children & families


Philly Mayor Michael Nutter: Three Myths Hurting Young Black Men and Boys

Photo Credit: Associated Press

Photo Credit: Associated Press

On Huffington Post this past Thursday, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter highlights three myths about the experiences of African American males. His main points primarily address access to equal opportunity for Black males, the broader impact of violence among Black males and the role of government in shaping communities and opportunities that promote healthier lives for Black men and boys.

There's a great deal missing in terms of analysis and a broader frame promoting the development of a historical, social and cultural consciousness among Black males, but there's still a lot of value in having high-profile officials such as Mayor Nutter speak out in ways that shine a spotlight on the history and present-day reality of racism and cultural oppression that negatively impact Black males. It's a break from what we usually hear, which is the worn-out lecture about personal responsibility and the absence of Black fathers (speaking of myths...).

It's a short read, but important nonetheless, even if it only serves as a much-needed reminder that, indeed, we are not the crazy ones!

In America today, there are three myths, three fundamentally misguided beliefs that are hurting our young black men and boys -- bright young people that I have been fortunate to meet in my time as Mayor of Philadelphia. These myths chip away at the opportunities of these young men of color. As a result, we're putting an entire generation at a severe disadvantage and wasting the lives of millions of people who, with reasonable investment, could become vital contributors to our economy and society.

Here are a few very brief excerpts from the article. i still encourage you to take the extra 5 minutes and read the rest of it at Huffington Post.

1.  Myth: America has progressed enough as a nation that black men and boys have an equal opportunity to be successful.

We have a black President and many other elected officials, doctors, lawyers and industry leaders. Success is a possibility for any person willing to work hard to achieve it. That's the underlying belief that fuels this myth. But, it neglects the realities young black men and boys face every day in America: higher rates of poverty, arrests and incarceration, large health disparities and lower educational attainment rates.

2.  Myth: Black-on-black violence only affects the black community.

This isn't the case of "thugs killing thugs" that so many people pretend it to be. This is the mass murder and incarceration of an entire generation of African American men. It is the systemic decimation of opportunity, the obliteration of hope that makes these senseless and tragic deaths so damaging to our entire country. When a life is ended much too soon, a family loses a son, brother or father. Their world is irrevocably altered by that loss. But, so is our nation. We never benefit from their knowledge, creativity or abilities. We lose their contributions to our economies and communities.

3.  Myth: Helping young black men succeed is not government's problem.

This myth is rooted in the belief that federal, state and local governments have no obligation to help young men of color succeed. That mindset is wrong. We -- government at every level -- created this problem through decades of disinvestment, indifference and neglect.

Again, it's not a full analysis, but it's an important reminder.  We have to keep the pressure on, and keep doing the work to transform the societal and community conditions that shape the lives of our young boys and men, as well as our young girls and women.

That remains our charge!


Black Males and the Politics of Philanthropy

Interesting and brief exchange with Damon Hewitt, Imani Perry and Jelani Cobb talking about the relative strengths and politics undergirding President Obama's newly announced My Brother's Keeper initiative.


Truths You Won’t Believe – S1 Ep1 – Are There More Black Men in Jail or College


The Other ‘Talk’ We Must Have With Our Children – “We Must Continue to Fight for Justice!”

The Jordan Davis case led some parents to give their kids “the talk.”
But doing so absolves white people of their responsibility to unlearn stereotypes that scare them.

- Tonyaa Weathersbee, 02 12 14 @ The Root

There was a piece posted on The Root last week that captures my exact sentiments about the continuing injustices we face - more specifically our children, at the hands of white adults who claim to fear them.

The main point is that we have to be very clear about the messages we send our children when we only tell them to walk a certain way, talk a certain way, and to be overly deferential to white people they come across, be it on the street, in a place of business, in their own neighborhood, or in a local gas station parking lot.

Yes, we have to teach our children how to survive in a racist society. But we also have to teach them how to organize and resist so that ours, theirs and generations yet unborn can be guaranteed a brighter future.

This is not a game.

For all of you who have children, be they little girls or little boys... you know the stakes.

And the stakes is high!

Here's a brief excerpt from Tonyaa Weathersbee's article at The Root.

In the 2002 book Remembering Jim Crow: African Americans Tell About Life in the Segregated South, Charles Gratton recalled his mother’s instructions when she sent him to the grocery store. She told him, “If you pass any white people on your way, get off the sidewalk. Give them the sidewalk. Don’t challenge white people.”

Similarly, many black people who grew up during Jim Crow times remember being told not to look white people in the eye and to avoid doing things that might get them hurt or killed for being defiant or, as they would say back then, uppity.

A refusal to turn down music or take off a hoodie could translate into being uppity for whites like Dunn, who believe that black youths—who, like many of their white counterparts, are grappling with awkwardness and immaturity—owe it to them to suppress their attitude.

They don’t.

I get that it’s important to give black youths the advice they need to be able to live to fight another day, as Guns and others are doing. But we cannot forget the importance of fighting conditions, such as Florida’s “Stand your ground” law, that feed the idea that whites like Dunn can get away with fatally shooting a black youth like Jordan because he and his friends didn’t comply with their request.

We cannot forget, because something is horribly wrong when, more than a half-century after legal segregation ended, when we have a black man sitting in the Oval Office, Jim Crow-era instructions are being revived to protect black youths. These instructions have little to do with young black people being respectful to white strangers and everything to do with them being submissive to whites—with black youths giving white strangers permission to cling to fears about blackness by not being so, well, black.

And when we make black youths solely responsible for not frightening white people with their music or their style of dress or their swagger, we absolve white people of their responsibility to unlearn the stereotypes that are scaring them.

We cannot forget—because if we do, the next thing you know, we’ll be telling our kids to give up the sidewalk to white people.



More on the Increasing Philanthropic Support for Black Men and Boys

I came across an interesting discussion about the increasing investment by philanthropy in supports for African American men and boys.  It's about an hour-long, and includes a number of major foundation program officers.  It sheds at least a little light on how they are thinking about the work of supporting African American men and boys.

[Video Description]  A panel of thought leaders and Bay Area foundation representatives review funding trends through the lens of two recent research studies on philanthropic investments in support of black males. The panelists shared current strategies and lessons learned from portfolios dedicated to serving black men and boys. In addition, this moderated panel included a discussion of the recently launched Leadership and Sustainability Institute for Black Male Achievement, an innovative initiative designed to build the capacity of practitioners and funders working in this field.

Along with the video below, you should also check out a related report I recall from 2012, Philanthropic Support for Black Men and Boys, produced by The Open Society Foundations and the Foundation Center.  Among the key findings from the 40-page report:

  • Foundation funding explicitly designated to benefit black men and boys held steady in recent years, rising modestly from $22 million in 2008 to nearly $29 million in 2010.
  • Education was the top priority of grants explicitly in support of black males, receiving 40 percent of grant dollars.
  • Most foundation dollars explicitly targeting black men and boys provided program support (87 percent).
  • Recipient organizations in the South received the largest share (32 percent) of foundation dollars explicitly intended to benefit black males. the Northeast received 30 percent of funding.


Black Fathers: Bombshell Family Secret Leads Photographer on Unexpected Journey

I just came across this powerful 5-minute video on the profound beauty and integrity of Black fathers.  Within several minutes, and stemming from his own very personal story of discovery, photographer Zun Lee offers an insightful perspective on the profound tragedy and pathology that characterizes the misrepresentation of Black / African life in the American psyche, especially the role and presence of African American fathers.

The idea of African American fathers, in many ways, is an oxymoron within the popular American imagination, courtesy of this nation's history of racism and oppression directed at African (-American) people.  Any casual examination of popular media forms reveals a distorted and extremely problematic idea of African American male absence and/or irresponsibility.  This short video challenges that pathological and widely accepted - yet false - narrative.

You have to watch this, and share it with others.  I see myself, my family, and the many other powerful examples of African American fathers I've known and observed, reflected in this emotionally moving and reflective clip.

Many thanks to brother Kenneth Braswell for passing this along via twitter, and brother Zun Lee for taking the time to share some of his journey in this form.

From the Video:

I had a lot of assumptions about what it meant to be a good father. And a lot of these assumptions were shattered just by being in the presence of these fathers.

For me it was an eye opener to see how many fathers take their responsibility seriously, that go about their business very quietly, doing something everyday to be there for the kids.  A lot of them have very difficult situations, yet they still find a way to make fatherhood work for them.

And you see it in the eyes of the partners, you see it in the eyes of the kids. These men were contrary to the stereotype, very demonstrative with their feelings, and very forthcoming with a lot of love and affection.

And that's something that was very difficult for me to be around, to witness, because it brought up a lot of emotions from the things I never experienced as a child.


For me, initially, this project was about exploring the feelings of anger and hurt and resentment that I had towards the dad that I had never known. But witnessing so many Black fathers that are trying to be the best father that they can be… they are not absent, they are not irresponsible. It really led me to a path of forgiveness and redemption because each of the fathers that I worked with and that I photographed, could have been my father. And just forgiving myself even for hanging onto the resentment for so long. I think this project more than anything else helped me on that path.


Description of this Video Project:

In this episode of The Weekly Flickr, we profile street photographer Zun Lee. A family secret inspires him to pick up his camera and confront stereotypes of African-American fatherhood. Zun embeds himself in the lives of black fathers who are trying to be as involved in their children's lives as possible. It's a journey he hopes will lead him to a path of forgiveness and redemption.