How do you reach the mind of a troubled young black man?
I found myself asking that question after a phone call from a relative back home. Some of my younger male cousins are in trouble with the law — again — and I keep asking myself what could I have done better to help them chose a different path in life, how do I reach them now and how can I help steer them back to a lifestyle of righteous choices and good decision making?
Maybe two months back, John McNeer, a pillar of the Newton community for more than five decades, gave me a book as a gift. The book was titled “Letters to a Black Boy,” by Bob Teague, a former New York Times writer and former New York TV news reporter.
In the book, Bob would randomly write letters to his infant son Adam aka the Adam Smasher. Bob shared everything with his son, from drinking too much, his first sexual experiences on up to his thoughts as a successful black man on race relations in the 1960s.
To say that I love this book would be an understatement. This book is filled with so much wisdom, raw storytelling and riveting encounters that you can’t help but feel like you’ve known Bob your whole life reading it.
He wrote this book not for it to eventually become a bestseller — it didn’t, to the best of my knowledge — but as a way for his son to get to know him, learn about the challenges he would have to face as a black man in America and to help give his son guidance.
Quite frankly, I wish I had thought of doing this with my little cousins, I’m 27, two are 19, one is 17. I’ve faced most of the same temptations, environmental obstacles and the decision over whether to embrace the seductiveness of the “street life” or being a “square” and focusing on education and working for what you want.
I chose the latter, with no regrets.
For years, I’ve always tried to set a good example for them to follow. Unfortunately, not everyone in their lives has set the best example for them and I can see the boys leaning more towards those teachings than the ones I tried to provide.
I honestly wish Bob Teague were alive today, I would try to reach out for him for advice on this matter, because, sad to say, this isn’t just a problem I’m dealing with, it’s a problem going on with a lot of young black men today.
According to the Black Star Project, an organization dedicated to lowering the academic achievement gap for blacks and Latinos in America, almost 1.5 million black men, out of a total voting pool of 10.4 million, have lost their voting rights due to felony convictions. The U.S. Justice Department, as of 2009, showed that black men make up almost 40 percent of U.S. prison population.
In addition, the Schott Foundation for Public Education indicated in its 2012 “The Urgency of Now” report, using figures most recently from the 2009-10 school year, only 52 percent of black male students graduate from high school.
It’s hard to admit, but my little cousins, like so many other troubled black youth, are on the path to increasing those statistics and not lowering them.
I honestly don’t know how to begin helping our black youth find the right way, but I think a passage from “Letter of a Black Boy” that I highlighted can provide the basics for the guidance we need to provide to the youth:
“By then she had taught me what I still regard as the most important lesson a black boy has to learn. She convinced me that life was much larger than the limits imposed on us for the color of our skins; that I must keep in mind that my world is bigger than the boundaries of the ghetto…
“That it is a world of different pains and pleasures, beauty and ugliness, victories and defeats that all men everywhere come to know. She taught me to dream beyond my blackness.”
Senior staff writer Ty Rushing may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 426, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.