The perils and plight of young Black men and obstacles to their success and very existence are not new stories. A January study showed almost half of Black males in America are arrested by age 23 and by age 18 about one-third of Black males had been arrested. Another recent study found racism, anti-Black male attitudes and stress experienced by Black men leads to shorter lives and more vulnerability to diseases that cut our time short on this earth.
Brushes with and blows from the criminal justice system and psychological and emotional scars have an impact and are often the first steps down a road littered with the broken bodies, hearts and minds of young men and children and loved ones left in the wake of tragedy.
The ages 18-23 are years that should be associated with college and opportunities that develop and shape youngsters into the men they will be. A Chicago-based program is doing just that on the South Side of the city, taking young men in high school and putting them on the path to college, expanded opportunity, leadership development–and manhood.
“We want to give them tools to be able to successfully combat the barriers that may hinder them from succeeding academically,” said Rodney M. Gore, executive director of the Kappa Leadership Institute and the Kappa League, in a video describing the program and its mission. So alongside free ACT Prep classes, lessons in public speaking and live, positive Black men are lessons about responsibility, family, community, accountability, hard work, discipline, success–and giving back to those who will come behind you.
The institute helps negate the stereotype that Black men don’t care about the future or their children and young Black men don’t want to do and be better. League volunteers and staff commit to mentoring young men who face often-bleak realities, but who are determined to change reality. One young man shared how his mother was his rock and his father comes and goes. A League alum shared how coming back to Chicago from college, he learned three or four friends from high school had been killed.
The future of Black men and boys isn’t going to be charted by others; we need to do it for ourselves. The bond young men share with one another and older men who teach and train them can never be underestimated. It offers a vision for the future, wisdom to think about the consequences of actions, and a refuge when the world seems to be collapsing on you or out to get you.
The program has had a 100 percent college participation rate since 2005 and links to scholarships, college tours, study abroad programs and includes basics like proper dress and proper conduct. Together these things promote a sense of pride, a common bond and a positive group identity. In a world where the Black male image is trashed daily and racial profiling comes with everything from walking to shopping, our young men need to be guided aright.
No one can guide them better than men who have walked the path, seen the pitfalls and want to shepherd others through these danger zones. Leadership isn’t just a Forbes 500 job or a place on a corporate board; it is acting as an example and forging the way for others. We need leadership today and if we don’t provide it ourselves, we have no future. The problem with the Kappa League Institute and other programs like it? They aren’t enough and they aren’t big enough. We need to support and grow self-help efforts like this. Saving ourselves and our young people is the ultimate achievement if we want a future. For more information on how to help visit kappaleaguechicago.org, or call (312) 275-5722. The institute is just kicking off its 2014 program and could use support.
(Final Call editor-in-chief Richard B. Muhammad can be reached at [email protected] You can also follow him on Facebook and @RMfinalcall on Twitter.)