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Black Male Achievers Need Support, Too



TORONTO — For all the troublesome statistics that we hear about how young Black men are not faring that well in our society, it’s critically important that we also consider other narratives.

Black men are not monolithic.

And while it’s true that many face insurmountable obstacles — not just in the United States but here in Canada where Black males continue to lag far behind their White counterparts in school — it’s also important to note that many Black men are also doing exceptionally well.

Sadly, we rarely hear about their stories.

They’re not broadcasted on the nightly news or splashed across the front pages of the daily newspapers.  These young Black men are earning top GPA’s at some of the nation’s most competitive colleges and universities.

And yet, despite their overall success — they too need the support and encouragement if they are to graduate from college, further their education and continue on to lead productive lives.

While so much of our resources have gone toward helping young Black men stuck at the lower rung of society, I worry that not enough is being done to nourish and mentor young Black men who are exceeding despite the odds.

“They don’t need the help,” is what folks often quip when these young men are mentioned in conversation. “They’re doing just fine.”

But that’s not entirely true, as I learned first-hand from listening to William A. Keyes, IV, founder and president of The Institute for Responsible Citizenship, a Washington, D.C. based non-profit that brings some of the nation’s “best and brightest” young Black males to Washington, D.C. for two summers for a rigorous experience.

Over the course of the summer, these youngsters meet and engage with prominent movers and shakers, take courses, and complete an internship.

“We are trying to do everything we can to help these young men be extraordinarily successful,” said Keyes, who keynoted the 6th annual International Colloquium on Black Males in Education here in Toronto. “I make no apologies for working with this group. I’m not saying we’ve got to walk away from other kids, but the most talented young African-American men are often ignored.”

Keyes’ comments struck a chord, especially among many of the undergraduates in the audience who are performing well at institutions like The Ohio State, University of Wisconsin-Madison and New York University.

“I take young men who have talent and ability and I wrap my arms of love and support around them, and I ask them what they want to do and how can I help them get there,” said Keyes, who has the daunting task of selecting just 12 young Black males from the more than 600 applicants who apply to his program every year.

His program isn’t about nurturing the egos of already smart young Black men. Keyes is on a mission to help to produce the next generation of leaders who will carry forth a mantle for responsible citizenry.

“How smart you are in math is less important to me than how decent you are to those you encounter,” he said, adding that he tells the young men that they can have influence for good no matter what career they ultimately choose.

By most accounts, Keyes is on to something. His numbers are impressive.

More than 208 Black males have gone through his program and come from Ivy League, small liberal arts colleges, large state institutions and historically Black colleges and universities.

Among his group of students, two have been Rhodes scholars, two have been Fulbright, two have been Truman Scholars, four have gone on to earn the Ph.D., 11 are currently enrolled in doctoral programs, six graduated from Harvard, two graduated from law school and the list goes on and on.

Let’s be honest: these young Black men operate on the margins of society. They are invisible to most despite their remarkable accomplishments.

While finding scholarly solutions to the growing disparity in the educational systems that Black men across the globe face is important, it is equally important to highlight innovative programs and best practices that support young Black men who are succeeding.

For all those looking for programs to model, Keyes Institute ought to be replicated across the globe.

Certainly, we can advocate and fight for struggling Black male students even as we continue to mentor and guide those who are doing well. We don’t have to choose one group over the other.

Jamal Eric Watson is the executive editor of Diverse: Issues In Higher Education. You can reach him at jwatson1@diverseeducation and follow him on Twitter @jamalericwatson

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