This blog (Part 2), is the second installment of the He Said, He Said discussion that we initiated a few months ago. In Part 1 we talked about why the dialogue about the experiences of Black males across the generational divide was important. We covered the first three of what we identified as seven critical themes. The objective was to offer our perspectives on these themes and to unpack how they shaped the contours of our lived experiences, as well as the experiences of other Black males in P-20 education settings. Hence, this blog explores the remaining four themes: Black Masculinity; Resources; Family Influence and Support; and Career and Future Success.
REGAN: Through my lens as a Millennial African-American male, I see masculinity being defined in various ways, which often causes us to not fully understand what it means to be a Black man. All too often this lack of definition leads to a place where we conform to being what the media or world perceives of us. Their perceptions usually casts us as being violent, incompetent, sex-driven creatures who only excel in the areas of athletics and entertainment. These messages are shared with Black males very early on, leaving them with negative images regarding what it means to be a Black man. It was not until I became a student at Prairie View A&M University (PVAMU) that I realized such messages were not reflective of a true Black male identity.
As I became surrounded by powerful Black men who were intelligent and striving to become architects, doctors, educators, engineers and nurses — it was then that I started to realize who we were, who I was and who I had the potential to become. I found this new knowledge to be both confusing and shocking. Why was this my first time realizing how blind I had been to all of these positive Black images and roles? I now started to understand what the media, movies and even childhood books took from me. I realized that our contributions to society are not only through entertainment and sports, we are much greater than what the world wants us to know.
REGAN: Through the lens of an African-American man, I have noticed that family resources play a major role in Black males’ matriculation in college. It is hard to make the best grades when you are in a position in which you have to financially fend for yourself, as well as help out with various financial concerns back at home. These challenges give us a certain drive to better ourselves. However, I have often seen where these resource challenges can negatively affect academic performance. I’ve noticed that working can become the main priority while school can become less of a priority. The classroom loses out and working to help ease financial burdens takes precedent. I have met numerous students who work long hours, and find themselves being too tired and worn out to put their best foot forward academically. We come to college in hope that our institution is going to set us up for the future careers and lives we have dreamed of. A big part of realizing our dreams has to do with how well we do in school. And, how well we do is tied to the resources we are provided.
The definition of resources is very broad, but to sum it up, I have noticed that it is mainly what can be offered for the students to help further advance them in life and on their educational journeys. Resources influence our drive to want more for ourselves, while the lack of resources can discourage this determination and drive.
FRED: Through the lens of an African-American man, I have become keenly aware of the fact that resources come in many different forms. As a faculty member I often talk about capital — both cultural and social. Yet, just as some of my Critical Race Theory scholars have advanced, capital is multifaceted and also comes in the form of aspiration, family and community. I consistently draw on my community and familial capital — being able to periodically leave the academic space and re-calibrate with cousins and friends who could care less about axiology, epistemology, intersectionality and paradigms, but direct their concerns and narratives to those things that are essential to my core — are you “eating right,” working out and attending church? So, when I think about the importance of resources at this point on my personal and professional path, the resources that are most critical are not merely financial, they are also human.
REGAN: Through my lens as a Black male, I see the support of our families are essential to our progress, just as it is in any other aspect of life. I think this support is needed even more when we go off to college because this is such an unfamiliar experience and time in our lives, along with being away from home. As a Black men, we aren’t accustomed to seeing other Black men thrive in these conditions, so we can be left uncertain of how to craft our pathway to success. So, family support bridges some of these gaps and serves as a motivational tool that can help to produce powerful outcomes.
The family for Black males is a source of support, even if they have no idea what these young men are majoring in or selecting as their areas of study. Often, we are the first in our families to go to a university, so they are not really sure of what support or influence is needed; however, they will continue to push us toward greatness — especially by being that encouraging voice when we are struggling. Our families might not understand exactly what it is we’re going through, but they are by our sides through it all. The support, love, encouragement and just knowing they’re expecting and wanting us to be great has been some of the best support I have received. As I have aged and matured, the role that my family has played always remains in the back of my mind, giving me the drive to succeed.
Dr. Fred A. Bonner II
FRED: Through my lens as a Black male, family has always played a key role in my life. From an early age, I learned the importance of education from my grandparents and parents who were lifelong P-12 educators in public schools in Texas. Hearing their stories of determination and tenacity to get an education in the Jim Crow South — of piecing together complete narratives from the missing, obscured and tattered pages of the second-hand textbooks that were passed on from the neighboring White schools. Or, hearing the stories about how the school buses would breeze past them on scorching hot and frigid cold days filled with White children enjoying the scenery as they made their way to school while they endured the harsh realities of the elements during their long walks. What I heard in these poignant stories was not foreboding and sadness, but effervescence, resolve and resilience that was fomented in the safe haven provided by the family. In a very contemporary context, these narratives shared by my family not only serve as a source of inspiration, but also a major source of support in fueling my drive and determination to pursue a formal education.
Career and Future Success
REGAN: As a Black male, I feel as though my career and future success is connected to all of the past themes that I have previously spoken about in this blog. As Black men, we want to insure that we can return to our respective homes and be in a position to serve as providers and assets to our families and communities. Throughout our undergraduate years, this idea of being able to return home as independent young professionals sticks in our minds, and is used as a motivational tool. This can be a driving factor in achieving for the highest academic accomplishments. Being a part of this large PVAMU family for some time now, I have been able to see numerous Black men get internships while still undergrads, and have seen many walk across the stage with job offers to start their careers. I’ve met many entrepreneurs who are doing well for themselves who began their business ventures right here on campus. I’ve realized that college and your future is truly what you make it and want it to be.
FRED: As a Black male, my perspective on career and future success has evolved, as it should, with my maturation process across my personal and professional life. Oddly enough, it was an episode of Oprah Winfrey’s Super Soul Sunday in which she was interviewing Jack Canfield, author of Chicken Soup for the Soul series in that his statement truly captured what my ideological and perspectival framework has been regarding career and future success. In responding to Winfrey’s query about success, Canfield went on to explain how success was less about obtaining accouterments, and more about experiencing joy as you are climbing the career and/or life ladder — ultimately find that when you reach the top, your ladder was leaning against the “right” wall. Canfield’s words solidified for me that my personal approach as well as what I have always tried to impart to my students had been “spot on.” Canfield’s joy I coded as passion — find that dissertation topic, research focus and scholarly agenda that elicits your passion — hence, you will find your joy.
Dr. Fred A. Bonner II is professor and Endowed Chair in Educational Leadership and Counseling at Prairie View A&M University. Regan Johnson is a senior studying human science and nutrition at Prairie View A&M University.