More Mentors Needed for Black Community

I can’t quite come to terms with a New York Times story this week by Binyamin Applebaum that establishes that the lot of African Americans has not improved under America’s first black president.

The story in the NY Times’ Upshot Section about how black jobless rates remain high despite an economy on the rebound, informs that the unemployment rate for black workers in America “remains 1.3 percentage points higher than on the eve of the recession in December 2007, while for white workers it is 0.5 points higher.”

To add insult to injury the story says this trend for blacks is a typical pattern in recession and recovery simply because among other reasons “the résumés of black workers, on average, are less competitive. For example, they are less likely to have a college education. And …black men in particular are more likely to have been convicted of a crime.”

One day after reading this story I received a distressing e-mail detailing inner city challenges facing some New York City Schools because of crime.

In the email titled -“ NYC Kids Speak: We Feel Like Prisoners in Our Own Schools,” the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) details how “New York City kids, especially kids of color and kids with special needs, feel in a school system that has more police in it than almost every major city in the country, including Boston and Detroit.”

The section of that NYCLU e-mail that really resonated well with me read: “If children are our hope for the future, changing school climate must be our priority.” And as history has proven that’s where the hard work really needs to start.

In addition, the Feds need to plough more funds into grassroot initiatives that uplift and enhance self esteem among kids of color. Last year, President Obama played an important role through the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence. I am proud of the role my niece and her husband (both doctorate education experts ) played in that conference held at Morehouse College in Atlanta.

To drastically improve the lot of disillusioned young African American men who are more likely to end up in jail than in college, there also needs to be an aggressive program to seek mentors for them.

I remember the personal sense of accomplishment I felt a few years ago when I organized an all-day campus tour of Sacramento State University for about 15 African American high school students including my son. That day positively changed the trajectory of those kids. Today about ninety percent of those kids have either graduated from the University or are getting ready to graduate from a four year college program.

There is nothing more rewarding than working to boost the morale and confidence of young people, especially African American youth whose self-esteem has been impacted for centuries by a system that would rather incarcerate them than focus on solutions for their needs.

In the more than 20 years I was in America I had several opportunities to do this; including organizing the campus tour of Sacramento State University for African American high school students eligible for college; providing perspectives on the African culture through speaking engagements at churches, schools and cultural celebrations like Kwanzaa, and speaking regularly at the Booker T. Washington Revisited Career Conference at the Solano Community College as well as providing resources during career conferences organized by the Dixon Unified School District.

Young African-American men are endangered species as we have seen in recent shooting incidents. And nothing should be spared by the Obama administration to turn this tide around, as I am sure this was in the subconscious of many African Americans when they voted for him.


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Ben Edokpayi

Ben Edokpayi is a strategic communications consultant with more than 25 years experience in the USA and Nigeria. His most recent corporate assignment was as Media Relations Officer with the California State Compensation Insurance Fund.

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