Historical Role Models for Today's Black Males

Report Civil Society

Historical Role Models for Today's Black Males

September 14, 1991 10 min read Download Report
Lon G.
Senior Fellow and Director of Government Finance Programs

(Archived document, may contain errors)

Historical Role Models for Today's Black Males

By Jeffrey Harris

really do not take time to label myself as a follower of an ideologyand all that stuff. I just go out and try to do what I believe is right and to develop as a good person. And that is what I try to inspire young people to do as well-to become good people and to do things that they know will not only help themsel v es, but also their environment. I also want to tha nk The Heritage Founda- tion for inviting me -here. I am. delighted to speak on the last day of the month that commemorates Black History. In honor of Black History Month I have chosen to lecture on histo r ical role models, speaking to today's black males. Too little is asked of the black male. He must set high standards for himself. In this lecture I examine some of the problems that plague black males, and offer some solutions. I am the executive director of the organization Commitment to the Longevity and Improvement of Male Blacks, CLIMB, Incorporated. Its purpose is to develop self-determination, self-transcen- dence, self-direction, and self-esteem in black, adolescent males. The organization uses inst r uc- tional workshops to develop these characteristics. CLIMB offers instruction in writing, drama, lit- erature, and counselling. The organization will expand to enable participants to learn business skills as well. With the help of historical black role m odels, I will share attitudes that will deliver the black male from his bondage. I should emphasize that it is his own bondage. I believe that at this particu- lar time many black males are their own worst enemies. The words thatI chose from these histori - cal individuals I hope will imbue within and influence the black males to step up in life and accept the challenge to achieve and prosper in this land of opportunity. All the historical black figures I will discuss have achieved in America, despite adver s ities and despite bitterness, because they wanted a better life. Moreover, their achievements came because of their own initiative and perse- verance, not because of affirmative action or government relief programs. Reading and Morality. Black American ma l es must be taught values that will enhance their ability for individual development, for individual development will provide the strength that they need to survive in a fast-paced world. Through individual development, the black male can stand strong agai n . Furthermore, he can strengthen his family, his community, his race, and his country. Reading and morality are two essentials for individual development. These must be inculcated as virtues during the early stages of life. Social and psychological resear c h have found that the most crucial years for human development are the beginning years. One reason black males lack indi- vidual development is that they do not read for enrichment. Historical black role model Frederick Douglass stated: "When you are work ing with your hands they grow larger. Ile same is true for your heads. Seek to acquire knowledge as well as property."i Positive black males in the family,

I JeremiahWilson Moses, The Golden Age ofBiackNadonalUm 1805-1925 (Hamden, Conn: Archon Books, 1978), p. 26.

J effrey Harris is the Founder/President of CLIMB (Commitment to the Longevity and Improvement of Male Blacks), New York City. He spoke at The Heritage Foundation on February 28, 1991, as part of a lecture series observing Black History Month. ISS N 0272-1155.0 1991 by The Heritage Foundation.

whether immediate or extended members, should make a point of encouraging good reading hab- its in younger black males. And black males must be taught that morals are to be practiced and not just understood . At home, members of black families should encourage spiritual reading that can reinforce the moral values taught. The Holy Bible is the best spiritual reading available. Young black males can read it as a reinforcement and enrichment of morals already t a ught. Reading abil- ity and morality are common achievements, but are rare among many black American males. Un- fortunately, black American males have moved away from the spiritual emphasis that has been a tradition in and stronghold of their families for centuries. This must be rediscovered, or the black male will not survive. Historical black role models Malcolm X and Benjamin Banneker became national figures dur- ing their time. Both men elevated themselves by individual development. They developed posi t ive initiative and discipline for independent study. These characteristics are lacking in black males. Yet, by family inculcation during the early years of black males, this can change. For black Ameri- can adolescent males, Malcolm X is an inspiration. H o wever, they have misinterpreted his mes- sage. Malcolm's policy was that individual development was essential for the black male's stabil- ity and progress in America. He disagreed with able black Americans, especially males-the tradi- tional family leade r s -who chose government-dependency over self-dependency. Benjamin Banneker's curiosity in the 1800s led to his individual development. Banneker be- came a self-made astronomer, surveyor, and mathematician. Through self-development, Banneker showed that th e re was a place in America for the black American other than in slavery. Banneker constructed the first American-made clock. He was responsible for the geographical design of America's Capitol here in D.C. And it was his almanac that the most prudent man a l luded to. Both Malcolm and Banneker were able to uplift themselves by reading avidly and having high moral standards. Black males must follow suit if they wish to uplift themselves. Four Responsibiflties. Black males must put responsibility as a priority o n their agenda. They must recognize where their responsibilities stand. There are four essential responsibilities that black males must address: 1) self, 2) family, 3) community, and 4) race. Self: Black males are becoming self-destructive. Shelby Steele s tates: "There are more black males of college age in prison than in collep.',2 A black male in America has one chance in thirty of being murfered. Ninety-four percent of the violent crimes against blacks were committed by other blacks. These are just some of the horrors that black males have itifficted upon themselves. Many black males will argue that the remote cause of these vices is institutionalized racism. Well, I disagree. I dare to argue and question. If you cornered a rat, would it scramble out of t hat comer and seek safety, or commit suicide? Fandly: Half of all black family households are female headed. Malcolm said: "ro be a father you must take care of your children. To be a husband u must take care of your wife, be a man. To be a man you must t a ke on a man's responsibility.' Black males' failure to fulfill family re- sponsibilities have changed the complexion of black male and female relationships. Black females are becoming independent of their mates. This makes black males insecure and uncomfo rtable in the relationship. But they must accept this. They must accept black females as equal partners and

2 ShelbySteele, TookerT. Washington Was Right,"New Reform (Fall 1990) p. 23. 3 Joseph Perkins, ed., A Conservative Agendafor Black Americans. (Washington, D.C.: The Heritage Foundation, 1985), p. 32. 4 "Autobiography of Malcolm X," Videocassette.


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they must allow them independence if they wish to sustain the black family. It is the black male's call to preserve the black family. Black males are responsible for many of the vices occurring in the black community. They are responsible for the drug tra f fic, homicides, and robberies. To counter these vices influential blacks in the community need to fight for community action. They must spearhead community preven- tion organizations and take back their streets. Black males must become responsible for the i r race. Their responsibility is to preserve their heri- tage and be progressive. They cannot accomplish this by participating in the vices that have plagued them. Historical role model George Washington Carver exemplifies race responsibility. BookerT. Was h ington wrote Carver, "Carver, you are needed desperately by your race at Tuskegee." Carver responded, "I am coming." Carver's decision was made despite his knowing that lesser conditions awaited him at Tuskegee. Carver by doing agricultural research at Tu skegee advanced his race and the world.

Commitment to Education. Black males failing to progress through the educational system is not because of the curriculum of white America. Negative environments and parental non-involve- ment are two of the negative attributes. Parents must invest in the children's education and they must commit themselves to their children's academic achievement. Negative environments are the prejudices against black males. Black males must be exposed to good study habits, and not d r ug use and drug selling. Black males need parents who will monitor their education. Shelby Steele stated: "Black parents must demand that their children work extremely hard in school. They must make sure that their children are well-loved, challenged and r ewarded for learning. Historical role model Marcus Garvey regarded education as the highest priority and the vehicle for progress. This must be reinforced by black parents and encouraged in black males during early childhood. For years, black parents' non - involvement has been one major hindrance to the education of black males. Black males' failure to progress in the educational system is not because there are few black male educators or that there are too many uncaring white educators teaching in black sc h ools. Shelby states: "Resources for school do not follow color. They follow activism and ef- fcm."6 Decentralized public school policy seems immineriL The system demands parents' input and parents' participation in the decision-making process. Thus, witho u t black parents' involve- ment and competency, education in the black community and for blacks will be doomed. Frank Mickens, principal of Boys and Girls High School in New York City, stated, "Staff com- mitment and dedication and parent development are t h e key." They are the key elements to a suc- cessful educational program. Boys and Girls High School is located in New York City's Bedford- Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. It has a 98 percent black student population, 2 percent Hispanic. Drug use and sales are a way of life for black males in Bedford-Stuyvesant. Five years ago Mickens became principal. At that time, the school was considered lawless and listed among the worst schools in the New York City area. Today the school is a model for schools through o ut the nation. Mickens says he commits fourteen to fifteen hours a day, six days a week, to do his job. One of his commitments is to fight against the teenage ghetto look. Large, gold jewelry dangling from earlobes and around necks was banned. Expensive a nd stylish coats were also banned when he learned that a city female student was shot because she did not want to relinquish her coat. Mickens then regulated a dress code for boys to enhance their self-esteem. His "dress for success"

5 Steele, op. cit., p. 25. 6 Steele, op. cit., p. 24.


code prepares students for corporate America. Students who were once considered "at risle' are now making the honor roll. More than 300 of the 3,000 or more students have an eighty or better average with no failures. T hey are honored at a special "Night of Superstars" dinner and given awards. Black parents in Bedford-Stuyvesant and the teachers support Mickens. As a result, a posi- tive learning environment is created for black males and other students. Accepting Ameri c a. The failure for many black males to live in America and not accept Amer- ica as an opportunity keeps them from progressing. Their belief that justice will never be granted, and their acceptance of confusing dialogue uttered by some contemporary black l e aders will cause them to remain masters of their own slavery. Historical black role model Thomas Fortune stated, "As an American citizen I feel reborn in my nature to share of the fullest measure all that is Amer- ica.',7 This is the attitude that America n black males must adopt. They must begin mining the jew- els of America. But first, black males must recognize America as their home. They must know that what they hate is what their forefathers built. They must admit that their regression and stagnation a re their own prejudices. Garvey stated: "Prejudice is conditional on many reasons, and it is apparent that the black American supplies, consciously or unconsciously, all the reasons by which the world seems to ignore and avoid him. No one cares for a lepe r , for lepers are infectious persons, and all people are afraid of the disease. So, because the Negro keeps himself Roor, helpless, and undemon- strative, it is natural also that no one wants to be for him or with him.';8 Historical role model BookerT. Was h ington was able to mine the jewels offered in America because he was able to ac- cept it as his home. Washington saw America as an opportunity for black Americans. He believed that black Americans had to offer America what it needed. If the American marke t needed skilled men and women with industrial skills, he said, then blacks should develop those skills. Washington's mission when he opened Tuskegee Institute was to teach his fellow black man the skills needed to prosper in America. He did that. As long a s the grass roots black American keeps rejecting America and waits for the ships to take him back to Africa, he will never be able to prosper. His communities win always be blan- keted with decadence, and those who prosper will continue to move out of the m . Joshua Smith, Executive Director of Maxima Corporation, stated: "We [black males] do not see the benefits of hard work." He said that this must be taught for their survival and progress in America. Grass roots black Americans must learn that positive, h a rd work in America reaps positive rewards. If a black male who sells drugs refocuses that energy, dedication, and time he uses in selling drugs to a positive business adventure, he will most likely become a successful businessman. Historical role model La n gston Hughes stated: "This is my land, America. Naturally, I love it. It is home." This is what the grass roots black male must believe before he can rise above poverty. Hughes' short sto- ries convey that there is a place for the black man in America. Bu t only when he asserts his own initiative will he be able to find that place.9


7 John Hope Franidin and August Meier, eds., Black Leaders of the Twentieth Centwy (Chicago: University of Minois Press, 1982),24. 8 Amy Jacques-Garvey. et. Philosophy and O pinions of Marcus Garvey (New York: Atheneum, 1982), p. 22. 9 Rayfbrd W. Logan, ed., What the Negro Wants (New York: Agathon Press, Inc., 1969), p. 69.





Lon G.

Senior Fellow and Director of Government Finance Programs