By NICK CHILES
I have been writing about black males for most of the past two decades, but I’ve never been as excited about a journalistic endeavor as my cover story in the latest issue of Ebony magazine, entitled “Saving Our Sons.”
As an education reporter in New York City in the 1990s, the educational plight of black boys was a topic that hung over my head like a storm cloud—and became an even more acute interest when I had a little black male of my own at home. More recently as an author who has written books with high-achieving black men such as Kirk Franklin, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, NBA veteran Etan Thomas and civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton (coming out in the fall), I find myself returning again and again to the struggles of black males to find a measure of success in a society that seems threatened by their very existence.
So when the venerable Ebony magazine asked me to write the first three parts of a four-part series the magazine wanted to do on The State of Black Boys in America, I was elated about the chance to explore a subject that has fascinated me for years. The first installment in the series is on newsstands now, with the front page headline blaring “Saving Our Sons” across a lovely photo of the gorgeous Jill Scott holding her adorable little son, Jett. The subhead says, “What Black America Must Do about Education, Poverty and Violence.”
Though I’ve written plenty of words about black males over the years, this assignment gave me a rare opportunity to delve deeply into the issue, burrowing far below the surface to explore the reams of research out there. This first installment splashes across seven pages of Ebony’s May 2013 issue, providing a fascinating and compelling look at all the factors currently impeding black boys.
As I interviewed many experts, read through stacks of reports and talked to numerous educators and academicians, there were two things that continued to surprise me:
* There is an incredible amount of research and writing on the plight of black males that has been done over the past 30 years, with some very smart people offering compelling solutions and theories about the problems of black males;
* To a remarkable degree, the thing that most plagues black boys comes down to a single word: Love.
“Not getting it, not knowing how to ask for it, presenting a pose to the world that makes it appear as if they don’t need it or want it, making the world afraid to give it. It all comes down to love,” I wrote in the magazine. “Our boys suffer in silence, unable to get the thing they most want and need.”
“Without love, they more easily succumb to the destructive forces that swirl around them—bad schools, poor parenting, the lure of the violent streets, the corrosive desperation of poverty and the danger and hopelessness of too many Black communities.”
In preparing the first piece—which is an overview that looks at the issues of education, family, socioeconomic factors and criminal justice—I was struck by how little of the ground-breaking research that’s going on in think tanks and ivory towers about raising and educating black boys has made its way into the living rooms and kitchens of the black community. The work of Northwestern University professor and developmental psychologist Jelani Mandara is a prime example. Mandara is one of the nation’s foremost experts on black boys and has been studying the parenting styles that work best in the raising of black boys and the styles that seem to be least effective. What he has found is that the method that works best—something he calls “authoritative parenting”—is the method practiced the least in the black community. Authoritative parents are more responsive to their children, show them more warmth and affection, have high expectations for them, push them to be intellectually and emotionally mature, and give their kids psychological autonomy, which means letting them make decisions for themselves and encouraging them to offer opinions.
In his research, Mandara found that just 6 percent of black parents were authoritative, with a majority falling into the permissive and neglectful categories. Mandara actually holds workshops to teach single black mothers—the predominant parenting situation in the black community—to be more authoritative, but says it doesn’t come naturally because of childrearing myths and traditions in the black community.
“What we have is a fear of being permissive, which makes us tend to be authoritarian, which has some value but also a lot of negatives,” Mandara says in my Ebony piece. “I try to teach them to be responsive, to get them to smile at their kids, give them praise and hugs, be friendly but still maintain the discipline and demandingness, be aware of their emotional state and communicate with them. It’s all of the stuff we have seen white mothers doing on TV and we say, ‘That’s just white people.’ No, that’s critical for every kid.”
There’s a ton of other observations, tips, research findings and solutions offered in this first installment and that will be forthcoming throughout the series. The second installment, which will be on newsstands in early May, focuses on Mental Health and Family issues impeding the development of black boys. The third piece in the package, which will come out in June, delves into problems and solutions in the Education system.
I’m having a great time writing these stories and I believe readers will find many revelations and solutions that can immediately be put to use with the black boys in your house and in your life. Please get out to your local newsstand and pick up a copy (if you’re not already a subscriber). It’s the one with Jill and Jett smiling back at you.
1. An Exclusive Interview with NBA Veteran Etan Thomas About His New Book “Fatherhood”
2. Kirk Franklin’s The Blueprint
3. With Catastrophe Looming, Lets Hand African American Boys a Book
4. Good Week for Black Boys—Thanks to Work of Shawn Dove and a White Billionaire
Nick Chiles is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and a New York Times bestselling author of 12 books, including the upcoming "The Rejected Stone: Al Sharpton and the Path To American Leadership," which he co-authored with Al Sharpton.