ERIC Identifier: ED341887
Publication Date: 1991-12-31
Author: Lee, Courtland C.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Counseling and Personnel Services Ann Arbor MI.
Empowering Young Black Males. ERIC Digest.
Young Black males in contemporary American society face major challenges to
their development and well-being. Social and economic indicators of Black male
development provide a profile of an individual whose quality of life is in
serious jeopardy. Significantly, the literature in recent years has referred to
the young Black male as an endangered species (Gibbs, 1988). From an early age,
it has become increasingly apparent that Black males are confronted with a
series of obstacles in their attempts to attain academic, career and
THE BLACK MALE IN AMERICA'S SCHOOLS
Black male youth face
formidable challenges to their educational development. Statistics on
educational attainment would suggest that many Black youth are at-risk in the
nation's schools. However, a closer examination of the data indicates that Black
males are at greatest risk. According to Reed (1988):
The overall mean achievement scores for Black male students are below those of
other groups in the basic subject areas.
Black males are much more likely to be placed in classes for the educable
mentally retarded and for students with learning disabilities than in gifted and
Black males are far more likely to be placed in general education and vocational
high school curricular tracks than in an academic track.
Black males are suspended from school more frequently and for longer periods of
time than other student groups.
Black females complete high school at higher rates than Black males.
Such data are compounded by the fact that Black males are frequently the
victims of negative attitudes and lowered expectations from teachers,
counselors, and administrators. Educators may expect to encounter academic and
social problems from Black males, which often leads to a self-fulfilling
prophecy (Washington & Lee, 1982).
Frustration, underachievement or ultimate failure, therefore, often comprise
the contemporary educational reality for scores of Black male youth. It is
evident that Black males from kindergarten through high school tend to
experience significant alienation from America's schools. The consequences of
this are major limitations on socioeconomic mobility, ultimately leading to high
rates of unemployment, crime, and incarceration for massive numbers of young
PSYCHOSOCIAL DEVELOPMENT OF YOUNG BLACK MALES
such as Erikson (1950) have suggested that major aspects of human development
unfold in a series of life stages. As individuals progress through the life
stages, they must achieve a series of developmental tasks. The achievement of
these tasks at one stage of life influences success with tasks in succeeding
When considering the psychosocial development of young Black males, it is
important to note that social, cultural and economic forces throughout American
history have combined to keep Black males from assuming traditional masculine
roles (Staples, 1982). The historical persistence of these forces and limited
access to masculine status have generally resulted in significant social
disadvantage for Black males. In many cases, this disadvantage has prevented
them from mastering crucial developmental tasks in childhood and adolescence,
which in turn negatively influences their academic, career, and social success
in later stages of life.
AFRICAN AMERICAN CULTURE: ITS IMPORTANCE TO BLACK MALE
Empowerment interventions for young Black males must take into
account African/African American culture and its crucial role in fostering
socialization. An examination of core Black culture (i.e., those attitudes,
values and behaviors which have developed in homogeneous Black communities where
rudimentary Afrocentric ways have been preserved in relatively large measure),
will reveal that many Black boys are socialized within a cultural tradition that
places a high premium on group-centered cooperation and fosters development
through cognitive, affective, and behavioral expressiveness (Nobles, 1980;
Pasteur & Toldson, 1982).
The cultural dimensions of Black male socialization can often be seen in peer
group interactions among boys. Within these groups young boys often develop
unique and expressive styles of behavior sometimes referred to as "cool pose"
(Majors, 1986). "Cool pose" has a significant relationship with optimal mental
health and well-being for young Black males. Observing Black male youth, the
dimensions associated with "cool pose" are readily apparent in such phenomena as
the expressiveness of rap music or athletic prowess.
EMPOWERMENT INTERVENTIONS: GUIDELINES FOR ACTION
academic and social challenges which confront Black male youth in the school
setting suggest a pressing need for programmed intervention on the part of
educators. Counselors committed to the cause of Black male empowerment can play
an active role in promoting developmental initiatives at both the elementary and
secondary level. Such initiatives must focus on helping Black male youth develop
attitudes, behaviors, and values necessary to function at optimal levels at
school and in the world. Young Black males need specific guidance to master
Such guidance might be provided through culture-specific developmental group
counseling experiences in the elementary or secondary school setting. These
empowerment experiences should develop the attitudes and skills necessary for
academic achievement, foster positive and responsible behavior, provide
opportunities to critically analyze the image of Black men, expose participants
to Black male role models, and develop a sense of cultural and historical pride
in the accomplishments of Black men.
Four general guidelines are suggested for the development of any school-based
Empowerment strategies should be developmental in nature. Far too often, the
only guidance young Black males receive comes after they have committed an
offense against the social order. Generally the goal of such guidance is not
development, but rather punishment. Concerned counselors should act in a
proactive manner to help empower Black male youth to meet challenges that often
lead to problems in school and beyond.
Empowerment strategies should provide for competent adult Black male leaders.
This is important for two reasons. First, only a Black man can teach a Black boy
how to be a man. By virtue of attaining adult status as Black and male, he alone
has the gender and cultural perspective to accurately address the developmental
challenges facing Black boys. While Black women and individuals of both sexes
from other ethnic backgrounds can play a significant role in helping to empower
young Black males, it is only a Black man who can model the attitudes and
behaviors of successful Black manhood. Second, there is a paucity of Black male
educators in American schools. It is not unusual for a Black boy to go through
an entire school career and have little or no interaction with a Black male
teacher, counselor, or administrator. When necessary, therefore, efforts should
be made to actively recruit, train, and support competent Black men who can
serve as leaders or role models in empowerment interventions.
Empowerment strategies should incorporate African/African American culture.
Counselors should find ways to incorporate African American (Black) cultural
dimensions into the empowerment process for young Black males. Culture-specific
approaches to counseling intervention transform basic aspects of Black life,
generally ignored or perceived as negative in the traditional educational
framework, into positive developmental experiences. For example, Black art forms
(e.g., music, poetry) and culture-specific curriculum materials might be
incorporated into empowerment interventions as counseling or educational aids.
Empowerment strategies should include some type of "Rites-of-Passage"
ceremony. Unlike the traditions of African culture where great significance was
attached to the transition from boyhood to manhood, there is little ceremony in
Black American culture for the formal acknowledgement of life transitions for
young boys. It is important, therefore, that at the completion of any
empowerment experience for Black boys there is some ceremonial acknowledgement
of their accomplishment. Parents and men from the community should be encouraged
to participate in such "rites-of-passage" ceremonies.
EDUCATIONAL ADVOCACY FOR BLACK MALE STUDENTS
mentioned, the academic and social problems confronting Black male students are
often exacerbated by the attitudes and practices of educators, which often
suggest a lack of sensitivity or understanding of Black culture and the dynamics
of male development. Counselors committed to Black male empowerment, therefore,
may need to assume the role of educational advocate. Educational advocacy
involves consultation activities initiated by counselors to help their fellow
educators better understand the dynamics of male development from a Black
perspective and make the teaching-learning process more relevant to Black male
The following are guidelines for such consultation activities:
Educator attitudes and behavior. It is an educator's unalterable
responsibility to challenge and to change any attitudes or behaviors which may
be detrimental to the welfare of Black male students. Educational advocates,
therefore, should help school personnel: (1) examine the incidence of discipline
in the classroom to ensure that Black males are not receiving a disproportionate
share of reprimands or negative feedback; (2) delineate and challenge
stereotypes they may have acquired about Black boys and their expectations of
them; and (3) develop an understanding of gender and cultural diversity.
Curriculum content and methods. Optimal learning occurs when a Black male
perceives that he and his unique view of the world is appreciated. Educational
advocates, therefore, should help school personnel: (1) find ways to integrate
the accomplishments of Black men into the existing curriculum structure, and (2)
continuously examine the curriculum to ensure that Black males are included in
primary and nonstereotyped roles.
Ensuring role model presence. In addition to increasing the number of Black
male educators, strategies must be aimed at compensating for role model absence
in the school setting. Educational advocates, therefore, should help school
personnel: (1) find ways to ensure the inclusion of Black males in classroom
activities as tutors, educational assistants, storytellers, "room fathers," and
field trip escorts; (2) find ways to encourage the participation of Black males
in Parent-Teacher Associations and other school organizations; and (3)
acknowledge the importance of non-educational personnel (e.g., Black male
custodians and lunchroom staff) as valid mentors/role models and find ways to
use them in the educational process wherever possible.
Erikson, E. (1950). Childhood and society. New
York: W. W. Norton & Co., Inc.
Gibbs, J. T. (1988). Young Black males in America: Endangered, embittered,
and embattled. In J. T. Gibbs (Ed.), Young, Black and male in America: An
endangered species (pp. 1-36). Dover, MA: Auburn House Publishing Co.
Majors, R. (1986). Cool pose: The proud signature of Black survival. Changing
Men: Issues in Gender and Politics, 17, 56.
Nobles, W. W. (1980). The psychology of Black Americans: An historical
perspective. In R. L. Jones (Ed.), Black psychology (2nd Ed.). New York: Harper
Pasteur, A. B., & Toldson, I. L. (1982). Roots of soul: The psychology of
Black expressiveness. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.
Reed, R. J. (1988). Education and achievement of young Black males. In J. T.
Gibbs (Ed.), Young, Black and male in America: An endangered species (pp.
37-96). Dover, MA: Auburn House Publishing Co.
Staples, R. (1982). Black masculinity. San Francisco: Black Scholar Press.
Washington, V., & Lee, C. C. (1982). Teaching and counseling Black males
in grades K to 8. Journal of the National Association of Black Social Workers,