Archive for the ‘mentors’ Category

I have failed young African-American girls.

I take no solace in the knowledge that I am not alone in doing so.

You see, I, like most of America have focused my attention on Black boys and young men. And while that is a worthy goal, I think it has been at the expense of our girls.

For the last two years I have primarily focused my attention on the afterschool academy I started for boys. True, this year we started one for girls, too. But I poured most of my attention into saving the boys, as I’ve done for years. I saw this as a life or death mission, particularly for the African-American and Latino boys in the group.

I might be about to spout some heresy here but I think we need to refocus our attention. For most of my adult life we have talked about the need for our young black boys to have black adult male mentors to replace the fathers they don’t have in their lives. We have put so much attention and resources into saving black boys.

But what about the girls?

You’d think as an African-American woman I’d have done better.

I’ve sat fuming as the President, the Attorney General and politicians, scholars and others described the obstacles facing African-American boys and men and each time I whisper to myself, what about African-American women? What about the girls?

I’ve listened to leaders and “experts” talk about the need to save black boys from the school to prison pipeline and I whisper to myself, what about our girls?

When the President announced his new Task Force Brother’s Keeper, I’d had enough.

In announcing his new initiative the President, in February, talked about visiting a program, Becoming A Man (BAM), and of sharing stories with the young men in the program about struggling to do the right thing.

“And when it was my turn, I explained to them that when I was their age I was a lot like them.  I didn’t have a dad in the house.  And I was angry about it, even though I didn’t necessarily realize it at the time.  I made bad choices.  I got high without always thinking about the harm that it could do.  I didn’t always take school as seriously as I should have.  I made excuses.  Sometimes I sold myself short.”

So I’m thinking, as I have a thousand other times, what about the girls? What about those little girls who don’t have a father in the house? Don’t they get angry and act out in inappropriate ways? I’ve long been of the belief that not having a father in the home has a negative effect on daughters, too. I’m not a psychologist and only an armchair sociologist but it stands to reason that if we believe that children need two parents in a household, both children need both parents. If there are going to be problems because a father is absent, both children are going to have problems because that parent is absent. I see African-American girls making bad choices and struggling with making the right choices in school. I see black girls selling themselves short and getting into fights with other girls and flat-out trying to knock out boys who have angered them.

Barack Obama’s own words would seem to support the understanding that girls are just as vulnerable as boys. The emphases are mine, from the same press conference:

“If you’re African-American, there’s about a one in two chance you grow up without a father in your house — one in two. If you’re Latino, you have about a one in four chance.  We know that boys who grow up without a father are more likely to be poor, more likely to underperform in school.”

He says “African-American” and “Latino” without specific reference to gender. But as is typical when anyone speaks of African-Americans “African-American” equates to men and boys and women and girls are left out of the conversation. While the President translates this as a boys’ issue that one in two chance has to apply to girls too doesn’t it? Aren’t they also more likely to be poor if their brothers are poor or are all African-American boys only children?

It has been my experience that little girls have unique relationships with their fathers just as boys have with their mothers. Ever heard of “Daddy’s Little Girl”? Fathers spoil little girls in ways mothers don’t. Believe me, I’ve been there. My daughters enjoyed and continue to enjoy a unique relationship with their father just as I had and have with my son.

Yet we continue to act as if only boys are affected by living in single-parent households.

When girls don’t have those relationships with their fathers, they can spend a lifetime looking for it, and in inappropriate ways such as through sexual relationships. Some of those relationships lead to early pregnancies and perpetuate the cycle of early pregnancies and single parent households. Paul Raeburn, in his new book “Do Fathers Matter? What Science Is Telling Us About the Parent We’ve Overlooked” examines the scientific basis for the importance of fathers in the home. While I disagree that our society has “overlooked” fathers, I can agree with his premise that we have stereotyped their role.

African-American girls deserve to be part of the national conversation and to share resources aimed at helping Black children.

– Photo Joelle Inge-Messerschmidt/www.photographybyjoelle.com African-American girls deserve to be part of the national conversation and to share resources aimed at helping Black children.

Raeburn discards the stereotype of father as “moral guardian, symbol of masculinity for his sons, or harsh disciplinarian,” roles we continue to believe he plays, particularly in black communities. Instead, he embraces a scientific argument for fathers who play many more roles – including genetic ones – “companions, care providers, spouses, protectors, models, moral guides, teachers and, of course, breadwinners” and more. Among the unexplained genetic roles they play, Raeburn says, is in their absence girls seem to enter puberty earlier, which once again leads to that issue of possible early, unintended pregnancies.

We use statistics to bring attention to the plight of black boys when the same numbers ought to have us howling about black girls. The federal government issues statements about inequalities in suspension rates and test scores for and of black students and we act like black girls, as a group, don’t get suspended and aren’t struggling in school even when the numbers say otherwise.

A 2011-12 study shows African-American girls may not be suspended as often as African-American boys but they are being suspended more frequently than everybody else! The gender breakdown shows that nationally, 12 percent  of black girls received at least one-in-school suspension, whereas the rate for white girls is 2 percent , and for white boys it is 6 percent .

…. Overall, black boys are more likely to be suspended than any group, at 20 percent .  The survey looked at 7.5 million black schoolchildren, 24 million white schoolchildren and about 11.5 million Hispanic schoolchildren across the country. Across all 50 states, black girls outpace their counterparts in suspensions.[1]

Right here I would like to introduce some statistics about African-American girls’ specific performance on achievement tests or their academic performance in general but after virtually two days of research I can’t seem to find the statistics that address girls, which signifies another issue. Why are statistics about black girls and women so hard to come by. The best I can do is refer to an article bemoaning the results of African-American boys on national math and reading tests, known as the National Assessment for Educational Progress, which are given to students in fourth and eighth grades, most recently in 2009:

The analysis of results on the national tests found that math scores in 2009 for black boys were not much different than those for black girls in Grades 4 and 8, but black boys lagged behind Hispanics of both sexes, and they fell behind white boys by at least 30 points, a gap sometimes interpreted as three academic grades.[2]

The 2010 report, “A Call for Change” found 12 percent of black fourth-grade boys were proficient in reading, compared with 38 percent  of white boys, and only 12 percent  of black eighth-grade boys were proficient in math, compared with 44 percent  of white boys.

So, back to President Obama:

“As a black student, you are far less likely than a white student to be able to read proficiently by the time you are in 4th grade.  By the time you reach high school, you’re far more likely to have been suspended or expelled.  There’s a higher chance you end up in the criminal justice system, and a far higher chance that you are the victim of a violent crime.  Fewer young black and Latino men participate in the labor force compared to young white men.  And all of this translates into higher unemployment rates and poverty rates as adults.

“And the worst part is we’ve become numb to these statistics.  We’re not surprised by them.  We take them as the norm.  We just assume this is an inevitable part of American life, instead of the outrage that it is.  (Applause.)  That’s how we think about it.  It’s like a cultural backdrop for us — in movies and television.  We just assume, of course, it’s going to be like that.  But these statistics should break our hearts.  And they should compel us to act.”

–          President Barack Obama, February 27, 2014

Is it any less outrageous when the statistics apply to girls? It took me years of psychotherapy to understand that a person’s bad experience is not invalidated because another person has a worse one. Yes, fewer African-American girls than boys end up in the prison system but is that to be the only measure? And fewer is relative. Fewer women end up in the prison system than men period. That’s the nature of the beast. Fewer African-American women end up in the criminal justice system than African-American men but they do end up there. And the consequences can be catastrophic to those women, to their families, to the African-American community and the United States . The more appropriate comparison would be between other groups of women not men.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, at mid year 2010, the incarceration rate for women was 126 per 100,000 population. The rate for non-Hispanic white women was 91, for non-Hispanic black women the rate was 260, and for Hispanic women the rate was 133.[3]

Among female prisoners in 2012, black women ages 18 to 19 were 3 times more likely to be imprisoned than white women. Hispanic women in this age group had imprisonment rates nearly twice those of white women. Black and white female imprisonment rates were closest among prisoners ages 25 to 39, when black women were less than twice as likely as white women to be imprisoned.[4]

According to a 2012 report from The Sentencing Project there were more than 205,000 women in jails and prisons. As of 2010, more than one million women were under the supervision of the criminal justice system, meaning that if they were not incarcerated they were on probation or parole. The lifetime likelihood of imprisonment for women is 1 in 56; however, the chance of a woman being sent to prison varies by race. As of 2001, the lifetime likelihood of imprisonment was:

  • 1 in 19 for black women
  • 1 in 45 for Hispanic women
  • 1 in 118 for white women

In 2010, black women were incarcerated at nearly three times the rate of white women (133 versus 47 per 100,000). Hispanic women were incarcerated at 1.6 times the rate of white women (77 versus 47 per 100,000).

Here’s the kicker, once again using statistics provided by the Sentencing Project. Women in state prisons are more likely to have minor children than are men (62 percent versus 51 percent).

  •  64 percent of mothers in state prisons lived with their children before they were sent to prison compared to 47 percent of fathers.
  • Mothers in prison are more likely than are fathers to have children living with grandparents (45 percent versus 13 percent), other relatives (23 percent versus 5 percent ), or in foster care (11 percent  versus 2 percent ).
  • One in 25 women in state prisons and one in 33 in federal prisons are pregnant when admitted to prison.
  • The majority of children born to incarcerated mothers are immediately separated from their mothers.

Who is advocating for the motherless child?

Perhaps if we want to solve the problems of African-American boys we should start with ensuring that African-American girls get the same amount of attention as black boys. If single African-American women aren’t suitable parents for African-American boys, perhaps we should take better steps to make sure that African-American girls don’t become the single parents of those boys.

I could go on. African-American women experience great levels of domestic and sexual violence. African-American women suffer unemployment woes just as do African-American men. In fact, according to Black Enterprise in May 2014:

Black unemployment dropped from 12.4 percent to 11.6 percent, but is more than double the rate for white people (at 5.3 percent). Black women ages 20 and older trail close behind their male counterparts (at 10.4 percent compared with 10.8 percent.) In March, the gap was a bit wider, with the jobless rate for black women at 11 percent (compared with 12.1 percent for black men). The unemployment rate for black teenagers of both sexes is also at an alarming number at 38.6 percent (reflecting a rise from March and a large gap when compared with white counterparts, whose rate is 15.9, a drop from the previous month).[5]

To sum all of this up, life for black girls and women, to borrow a line from my favorite Langston Hughes poem “Mother to Son”, “ain’t been no crystal stair.”

A Forbes article quotes Dr. Charlotte Pierce-Baker, the author of “Surviving the Silence: Black Women’s Stories of Rape,” as saying:

“We are taught that we are first Black, then women. Our families have taught us this, and society in its harsh racial lessons reinforces it.  Black women have survived by keeping quiet not solely out of shame, but out of a need to preserve the race and its image.  In our attempts to preserve racial pride, we Black women have sacrificed our own souls.”[6]

While Pierce-Baker is specifically referring to sexual assault, what she says applies equally to every facet of the trials of African-American women.

It is time to reclaim our souls and the souls of our little girls, not in place of our boys and men but beside them.

[1] http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/she-the-people/wp/2014/03/21/study-black-girls-suspended-at-higher-rates-than-most-boys/

[2] http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/09/education/09gap.html?_r=0

[3] – See more at: http://www.drugwarfacts.org/cms/Race_and_Prison#sthash.n74RYjlr.dpuf

[4] – See more at: http://www.drugwarfacts.org/cms/Race_and_Prison#sthash.n74RYjlr.dpuf

[5] http://www.blackenterprise.com/career/report-jobs-added-african-american-unemployment-april/

[6] http://www.forbes.com/sites/shenegotiates/2012/04/25/black-women-sexual-assault-and-the-art-of-resistance/2/

RELATED POSTS

http://www.theroot.com/articles/culture/2014/06/study_eviction_rates_for_black_women_on_par_with_incarcerations_for_black.html

http://www.xojane.com/issues/obama-my-brothers-keeper-focus-on-boys-isnt-the-problem

http://aapf.org/2014/06/woc-letter-mbk/

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/06/22/billie-holiday-barack-obama-and-the-pain-of-black-women.html

http://www.thenation.com/blog/180272/black-women-black-men-scar-conversation-my-brothers-keeper-heats

It’s a nasty world for kids right now.

One in four children are living in poverty. The Republican presidential candidates have taken positions that are pretty much, if you are poor you deserve it. One Republican presidential candidate wants to fire parents, abolish child labor laws and make the children do their jobs. He claims that poor children have no work ethic because the only role models they have who work are those who are doing something that is illegal.

Republican lawmakers are doing everything they can to make it impossible for children to thrive, because they’re making it impossible for their parents to survive. The current attitude is every man for himself; let your neighbor fend for himself.

In 11 Presidential debates, the Republican candidates have put forth the idea that people would rather “redistribute” money from America’s wealthiest people than work, and they act as if these extremely wealthy people became so wealthy by hard work. They act as if these people who are trying to find jobs, or those who are among the working poor could become wealthy if they just worked as hard as the wealthy do.

If only it were that easy.

There are a myriad of reasons that people, that children, become successful or wealthy adults. Some are born to it. Others have been lucky enough to attain it through their hard work, but not everyone who works hard will attain great wealth.

In his book, A Hand to Guide Me: Inspiring Personal Stories, Denzel Washington suggests that the reason the 74 people who share their stories became so successful is because they had some person, some adult, who reached out to guide them in the right direction when they were young.


Among the story contributors are former President Bill Clinton, Choreographer Debbie Allen, Baseball Great Hank Aaron, Boxing Great Muhammad Ali, Actor Jame Farr (MASH) and Retired Juvenile Court Judge and Syndicated Television Personality Glenda Hatchett. There are plenty of businessmen and athletes, and others, all with inspirational stories to share in three or four page blocks, which makes them easy to digest.

An example of the types of stories shared comes from Ron Sargent, Chairman and CEO, Staples, who as a 12-year-old child was asked by a teacher whether he was thinking about going to college. That question inspired him to go to business school. Retired Television Journalist Bernard Shaw was inspired by Edward R. Murrow, whom he never met, but watched on television broadcasts on the news. Walter Cronkite, whom he did meet, became his idol,  mentor, and his friend.

One of my favorites came from legendary basketball coach John Wooden, “No, there is nothing stronger than gentleness after all.” I was also inspired by Muhammad Ali, who was inspired by Nelson Mandela. Ali, seeing that Mandela “radiated love and warmth” when he could have been “resentful or cynical” after being unfairly locked up for much of his life, strengthened Ali’s resolve “for standing up for what is right.”

You might wonder why I’m reviewing a six-year-old book. One, because I just got around to reading it and two, because I believe we could use some inspiration right now. I think we can use some people to look up to, people who encourage you rather than call you poor, lazy and unmotivated.

Besides, these are gems in this book and gems never get old.

I am left wondering who the mentors were for the child versions of the current Republican leadership and those who would be president. Given their utter display of heartlessness, it is hard to believe that any of them had any of the types of role models explored in Washington’s book. Maybe they should read it. It’s probably too late for them but maybe they could learn something about helping someone else.

Buy the book. Or for the price of postage, you can have my copy.

A Hand To Guide Me: Inspiring Personal Stories by Denzel Washington
Legends and Leaders Celebrate The People Who Shaped Their Lives
272 pages
Meredith Books
Des Moines, Iowa
Copyright (c) 2006 by the Boys & Girls Clubs of America

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