Educating Our Young Men – Reflections on “Men of Color & Education” Forum
On March 2nd, Teach for America hosted an electrifying event entitled “Men of Color and Education: a Discussion on the Pursuit of Excellence.” Avery Fisher Hall at the Lincoln Center will never be the same. The audience had come fully prepared to be a part of this dialogue on educating our young African American and Latino men. From the panelists on stage to the people sitting in the last row, everyone was completely engaged – the energy was just amazing! Teach for America is to be applauded for all their hard work and for bringing these issues to the fore.
One of the things that struck and impressed me about the night came from Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. He quickly made the point that as men of color, African American and Latino males are facing these issues together. Too often, we treat the difficulties facing African American males and Latino males as separate problems. As Diaz put it, “we are one family.” If we’re really going to overcome them, we have to face them together.
Each of the panelists brought a different style and perspective to the hardships facing our young men of color. Doctors Pedro Noguera and Marc Lamont Hill both discussed the need to engage young men in their own education. Eric Snow talked about the need for strong family involvement. Common brought it home with the story of his own upbringing and his mother’s involvement with his education. John Legend advocated well for having good teachers in every classroom in every school across the nation.
As the founding principal of The Eagle Academy for Young Men and president of The Eagle Academy Foundation, it seemed to me that the different perspectives also reflected the complexity of educating our boys. There is no simple answer. There is no easy fix. So often our programs address one issue; either academics, violence, or family.
The problem of our young men of color falling behind their peers isn’t just a problem of academics. Addressing violence and lack of family involvement isn’t going to help our young men if the programs aren’t in place at the schools. At Eagle Academy, we have made a point of addressing the whole child. That has meant having an extended school day, expecting parent participation, partnering our young men with mentors, and making sure that they are involved with the community to help them achieve success.
The questions and topics raised in the panel and by the audience are issues that affect all men of color, regardless of race. Its important we continue the dialogue started on March 2nd, reflecting on how dynamic and diverse this issue of educating our young men is.