Column: African-American boys can be saved when we use the entire village

Column: African-American boys can be saved when we use the entire village
June 09
07:30 2016

James B. Ewers Jr.

Guest Columnist

African-American boys in America are facing an uphill battle when it comes to success. Traditional institutions and age-old strategies are being stretched in order to find solutions to stop this downward trend of hopelessness and despair.

Why have we found ourselves in this place? What got us here? Opinions come from all walks of life. Many of us would suggest that the lack of a stable family structure has a great bearing on where we are today. Everyone that I knew as a child had a strong home environment.  For example, while our fathers weren’t perfect, they did provide us with the basic necessities such as food, clothing, shelter and guidance. I believe many of my generation took these things for granted in our community.

Just as important was the fact that there were also grandfathers, uncles, and cousins who stepped in and served as father figures.  So these black men were always around, telling us that we could be something in life.

Our entire neighborhood took an interest in our development.  Coming home from school, I can remember being asked how my day was and if I had homework. I both admired and feared the men in my neighborhood.  We all knew that if we stepped out of line that we would be kicked back into line by our elders.  It was useless to say anything to our fathers, grandfathers or other male role models because they wouldn’t side with us as kids.  There was an unwritten rule in black neighborhoods that the men there would take care of us and make sure that we were OK.

Respect was the password in our neighborhoods long before Aretha Franklin sang the song “Respect.”  Saying “yes sir” and taking your hat off when you entered someone’s house or entered a building was just the way it was. There weren’t any questions asked or reasons given for this behavior. Baby boomers, like me, still say “yes sir” and still take our hats off when we enter someone’s home or enter a building.  Good manners had no bearing on your parent’s education or status in the community. What was at play here was instilling in us as black boys a set of rules and regulations that we still carry with us today.

Spirituality was extremely important in black neighborhoods. There was never a question about going to Sunday school and then staying for church and then going back for evening service. Saturday or Sunday was church and that was the way it was.  And when we went to school, we stayed for the entire day until school was out.  Who ever heard of getting kicked out of school for fighting or some other ridiculous act. As black boys, we took school seriously as we knew in the end that it would help us.  It helped also that we had teachers who cared about us and believed that we could achieve.

Now as we are well into another year, the state and welfare of black boys continues to be in peril. While there are some pockets of excellence, there are too many valleys of despair.  A culture of hopelessness and no goals has young black boys in its clutches. Time-honored phrases like “yes sir” and thank you have been replaced by “what’s up” and “whatever.”  Boyish looks and charm have been replaced by acting and looking too old too soon. High expectations have soured into low or no ideals. The concept of “It takes a village to raise a child” has turned into “Make it the best way that you can.”  Instead of lifting up and celebrating black men of prominence, black boys now turn to sports stars and music stars.  Ask a young African-American male today to identify the latest sneakers and they will give you an immediate response. Ask them to identify two Civil Rights heroes besides Dr. King and they will be hard pressed.  There is something drastically wrong with this picture.

Having pride in one’s appearance has gone to wearing clothes that are two, sometimes three, sizes too big for them.  While this is the social malaise black boys find themselves in, we cannot allow this to be the future.  It is my strong feeling that African-Americans have too much history to simply give into this period of despair.

Teddy Pendergrass sang in one of his many hits, “Wake up everybody, no more sleeping in bed, no more backward thinking, time for thinking ahead.” Individuals and groups, both black and white, must decide to be an elixir for this problem.  Any person can mentor a child.  It only takes a willingness to serve.  Teachers, counselors, coaches and administrators must take up the mantle of hope and design programs for black boys at an early age.

Mentoring groups abound that must re-double their efforts to save black boys from themselves. Places of worship must re-direct their efforts toward strengthening black boys and the family structure. For example, instead of adopting a family for a particular holiday, adopt the family for the entire year.  I think the higher calling and more difficult calling is to adopt a family over a period of time.

While partnering activities are on the rise, there ought to be more of them. Schools, cities, social service agencies and places of worship all have the ability to form alliances with each other.  Businesses can also play a major role by sponsoring programs and events.  Our communities grow stronger when all of its parts are viable and valued.

So, watching a generation of African-American boys disappear before our eyes is not an option. Talking about the problem while admirable will not stop the decline. It is the “doing of the talking” that matters.

Turning our backs on it and pretending that it does-n’t exist won’t work either. And lastly, because our families don’t have problems, doesn’t mean that we can’t help as it may not be us today but it may be us tomorrow.

James B. Ewers  Jr. Ed.D. is a former tennis champion at Atkins High School in Winston-Salem and played college tennis at Johnson C Smith University where he was all-conference for four years.

He is the President Emeritus of The Teen Mentoring Committee of Ohio and a retired college administrator.  He can be reached at

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