By ETIENNE R. LEGRAND
I’m reminded during this time of year of the some 3,000 children who lost a parent in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The stories of the challenges and unimaginable loss these children faced, in particular the boys who are coming of age as young men without their father’s guidance. This reminds me of the many African-American males whose lives are similarly affected by the absence of fathers in their lives. While the causes for the absences are remarkably different, the impact on their sons’ lives is no less devastating.
Terrorism prematurely stole fathers from a group of boys in one instance, while failed drug policies, early parenthood and a disproportionate poverty rate are the culprits in another instance—continuously stealing fathers from African-American boys to a devastating consequence for them, their families and the nation.
While nothing can replace a father, the devastation of the “father-gap” on boys resulting from the 9-11 attacks is seemingly lessened through the support of family members, extended family members, mentors, therapists and special camps that collaborate to fill gaps created by the tragic deaths of their fathers. I have read and heard stories of boys who are inspired to achieve great things by the memories of the fathers they may not have known at all or whose images are beginning to fade.
By contrast, the devastation of the “father-gap” on African-American boys from failed drug policies, early parenthood and poverty is not as easily contained or averted, despite the many programs and people of goodwill in communities across America who are stepping up to fill these gaps. Perhaps, the complex circumstances that lead to their absences creates more stress on an already fragile family unit, produces a bigger demand for surrogate fathers, stand-ins and mentors than the available supply, and reveals gaps in the infrastructure of programs assembled to mitigate the effects of absent fathers.
According to a College Board report, 54 percent of African-American boys are growing up in female-headed households and attend schools in which, on average, 80 percent of teachers are female. By default, these environments often cater to female learning styles. Research further finds this absence of fathers and father figures leads African-American boys to search for respect outside of educational institutions – away from the very solution that can have the biggest and most profound impact on