Can African-American boys and men be saved or are they destined to remain on the endangered species list? That was the premise of a Friday morning Congressional Black Caucus Foundation forum titled Saving Our Sons.
Hosted by Florida Rep. Frederica Wilson, the event featured experts and activists, including Tracy Martin, father of slain teenager Trayvon Martin.
"The most important thing we can do is empower men and boys to save themselves. Stop talking about them and start lifting up their voices so that they can take action for themselves," said Joshua Dubois, founder of Values Partnership and former head of the White House Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. "The reality is when I look at young Black men, I don't see kids that are defined by their crises. I see kids who are defined by hope and opportunity."
Dubois said that one of the most important and practical ways to uplift them is to ensure that they have access to a quality and affordable college education.
Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project, also believes that education is key to a young man's success. But, she added, it is critical that they be engaged in the process.
"There are things they should be doing in school that go above and beyond," she said, including making friends with a teacher.
With so many school systems putting more emphasis on how well their students perform on standardized tests, kids spend too much time memorizing instead of developing their comprehension and thinking skills.
"Being able to slow down and have a conversation with an adult to get an understanding about what they're supposed to be learning is important," Dianis said.
Exposing them to the possibility of what can be is also a critical step, she said.
"If you live in the hood, you don't know that you can be a CEO of Six Flags America or Coca-Cola and what it means to do that," she said. "So we have to give exposure and opportunities to young men.
Phillip Agnew, executive director of the activist group Dream Defenders, would like to see African-American communities embrace their young men.
"I believe you've got to meet them where they are, speak to them in a language that resonates with them and we've got to figure out a way to have a community effort around that. It can't be one or two people," he said. "It has to be an entire community ready to train and develop young people."
African-American kids need to understand that they represent the future and recognize their value, Tracy Martin told BET.com.
"We as a community have to come together and show our children that we appreciate them and that they really do mean something to us," he said.
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(Photo: Getty Images)