Education, mentoring key to Black males success

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In the most recent election, job growth and unemployment were hot-button topics used by both parties to discredit their opponents. While many Americans continue to protest America’s high unemployment rate, the current crisis pales in comparison to statistics in the Black community where 53 percent of African-American males are unemployed.

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BLACK MEN AND BOYS COVENANT—Black men and boys from across the city gather in the Pitt Student Union. (Photo by J.L. Martello)

However, the unemployment crisis for Black males isn’t anything new. More than thirty years ago, Jawanza Kunjufu, Ph.D., an author and guest lecturer, began trying to break what he sees as a self-perpetuating cycle of failure for African-American males. On Nov. 17, thousands of lectures and more than 30 books later, Kunjufu brought his crusade to Pittsburgh.

“Their major concern is while the country has an unemployment rate of 9.6 percent, in the African-American community it’s 16, but there’s a study that says for African-American men it’s 53 percent,” Kunjufu said. “So the big question I was brought in to address was how do we reduce unemployment for African-American males and African-American male teenagers.”

At the lecture in the University of Pittsburgh Student Union, Kunjufu presented his marching orders for improving the lives of African-American males. The event sponsored by 100 Black Men, the National Black MBA Association Pittsburgh Chapter, Pitt’s School of Social Work Center on Race and Social Problems and the Heinz Endowments brought together African-American males and youth from across the city.

At the top of Kunjufu’s list of priorities was the need for African-Americans to own their own businesses and invest in other Black businesses. He said the solution to Black unemployment was as simple as African-Americans spending 10 percent of their earnings at Black businesses.

“It doesn’t appear anytime soon, that the government is going to reduce this acute Black unemployment crisis,” Kunjufu said. “African-Americans are not poor. Last year, African-Americans earned $836 billion. The question is what percent did they spend with other African-American businesses and the answer was 3 percent. If African-Americans would spend their money with Black businesses we could eliminate the unemployment problem.”

As an educational consultant, Kunjufu has traveled around the country trying to improve education for African-American youth. His company African American Images provides an Africentric multicultural curriculum that can be used by educators and parents to teach children about positive aspects of their cultural heritage.

“Only 12 percent of African-American males are proficient in reading,” Kunjufu said. “It’s very difficult to secure employment without a high school diploma and it’s very difficult to earn a high school diploma if you’re not literate.”

Kunjufu expressed support of single-gender education, a point especially relevant in Pittsburgh where Westinghouse High School will soon be reconfigured into two single-gender academies. Despite backlash from feminist groups in Pittsburgh, he said feminist groups around the country are in favor of single-gender education because studies have shown female students thrive in these environments.

Kunjufu is a strong advocate of introducing young Black males to positive African-American male role models. He applauded the Pittsburgh men for their mentoring program.

“Only 28 percent of African-American children have their fathers in homes. It’s important that African-American males not only have their fathers in the home, but African-American teachers in the classroom. Most African-American male adolescents cannot name five African-American males with a B.A., M.A. or Ph.D,” Kunjufu said. “At some point at 12 or 13 you start to think, in order for me to be a man it’s not based on academics, it’s based on athletics or how well I do in the streets. The reason you don’t see the same problems with women is they have mothers; they have female teachers.”

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