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Editorial: All children need black male role models

September 16, 2018

White children need black male role models, too.

Where do white children get exposure to black men? At school? Not likely, since there is a shortage of black teachers. Federal data show that more than 80 percent of teachers across the nation are white, while fewer than 7 percent are black. In many cases, their “interaction” with black males is through sports, entertainment and service industries, and oftentimes, negative media portrayals.

That leads to the question, “When do white children have an opportunity to see black men as role models?” With limited exposure to successful black men, what outcomes are we fostering across society?

As a black man, I personally understand the importance of black children having positive black male role models. As a community leader, I work to provide youth with role models who can teach them the necessary skills to become positive contributors to society. People assume that my work is geared specifically toward black youth. However, this misconception reveals a shortcoming in the thought process of many adults.

In 2013, I founded Orange Arrow, a nonprofit that coaches student-athletes to aim for success off the field. The first year, about 96 percent of the students in our program were black. In conversations with funders and business professionals, it became clear that Orange Arrow would have a significantly greater chance of continuing to receive funding if we catered to black children who are deemed “disadvantaged.” Similarly, many schools welcomed our programming for the life skills we teach but also for the desire to have more black male role models for black youth.

However, one of my goals was always to build cross-cultural relationships through our programming, similar to what you see in team locker rooms, so I worked diligently to serve a more diverse group of students. Today, our student racial breakdown is 59 percent black, 32 percent white, 7 percent biracial, 1 percent Latino and 1 percent Native American. We still have work to do, but I am proud of our progress, and in doing this work, I have realized more and more that white children need black male role models as much as, if not more than, black children.

Some of the white male youth in our program spoke to me about this.

“I never used to hang out with (black men) until I met you and Coach Ra Ra. I now think that it’s normal for black men and white men to come together and be friends.”

“I thought all black people were the same.”

“You are all nice men ... it opened my eyes.”

White males are underexposed to the reality that black men hold positions of authority just like white men, make jokes and have a good time like white men, and ensure the well-being of their families like white men. Black men are just as multidimensional as white men.

Imagine if these youth became white men whose first up-close-and-personal experience with a black man was as colleagues with differing perspectives around a boardroom table. What if it was as a black family moved into their neighborhood? What if it was as police officer and citizen?

As a community, we must do more to provide positive black male role models for all children. That way, we can have greater understanding of and appreciation for each other.

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