Exceptional, But Not Exceptions
Posted March 27, 2006 10:21 pm (about 5000 days ago)
The other night I tuned into “Street Soldiers,” a weekly radio show on KMEL, an urban radio station in California’s Bay area. The show serves as a forum for the community to discuss various social issues. The topic of this week was a recent report on the dire situation of Black males in the United States. As the following statistics show, it’s a grim scene….more than 50% of inner-city Black males drop out of high school…72% of these dropouts don’t have jobs…60% of those who dropped out had spent time in prison.
I don’t think that anyone can dispute that there are some major issues that need to be addressed, even before this study came out. Ironically, as the show wore on, my thoughts turned to the fact that many of my role models and influences have been Black males.
In college, professors such as Michael Eric Dyson and Robin D.G. Kelley were key influences on why I chose to be a high school teacher. I started my college career studying to be an engineer and was in a program run by men such as Derrick Scott. On the entertainment side, filmmakers such as Spike Lee and hip-hop artists such as Chuck D, KRS-One, Paris, King Sun, Wise Intelligent, and Rakim challenged me to think and act and led me to read about figures such as Malcolm X, Ivan Van Sertima, Marcus Garvey, and Gordon Parks. I don’t think that I would’ve made it past my freshman year without the sounds of Bob Marley.
During this same period I was able to sit in on presentations by the likes of activists Dhoruba Bin Wahad, scholar Paul Lee, and had several conversations with the former Black Panther and political prisoner Ahmad Rahman. I was forced to confront my issues of homophobia by dealing with gay Black men and attended tutoring sessions held by Omega Psi Phi. My intro to Islam came from an African-American lens.
But even outside of college, the list went on and on…the head football coach of my junior high football team…my memories of marches in Montgomery, Alabama, where I used to live... producer DJ Marquis in Detroit…Mike Banks and Cornelius Harris of Underground Resistance…my friends’ fathers, and yes, many of my friends themselves…
Since moving to the Bay I’ve connected with men such as author Adisa Banjoko, MC/activist Boots Riley and his father Walter, and President of the Hip Hop Congress Shamako Noble. At a personal level, my boys Matt and Ernie are second to one when it comes to having good friends. After listening to “Street Soldiers” I headed over to the Lucre Lounge in Berkeley for their Chicago step night, which is always filled with intelligent, accomplished Black men.
I can’t even keep track of all the positive Black men who’ve shaped my life. While I have always been exposed to the more street-oriented guys, I’ve always had a good balance.
Mind you, I’ve lived in cities and suburbs as diverse as Detroit, East St. Louis, Montgomery, Riverside, and Oakland. Thus, it’s not like I lived in gated communities filled with Buppies. Yet even when I was younger I realized how fortunate I was to have been relatively insulated. As a non-Black male I was shielded from many of society’s pressures put on my African-American peers. For a variety of reasons, I was exposed to positive men, including those my own age.
Of course, none of this negates the fact that there is systemic oppression of Black males in this country and discussion should continue about the reasons and solutions to this issue. As a resident and educator in Oakland with roots in the aforementioned cities I see this on a daily basis. At this juncture, however, I merely felt the need to recognize some of the positive, successful Black men I know. Don’t let the hype fool ya’!
*Note: All of the pro-immigration rallies are another situation that I've been following of course, but I didn't have time to write some deep thoughts as I did above. Ironically, it's because I was with students at a MECHA conference and at some other related events!