These conditions are leading to racial achievement gaps concentrated among males of all races, but especially among African-American males who now earn only one out of two high school diplomas and one out of three college degrees. The lower educational achievement of African-American males results in a tragic cost in unfulfilled potential – the resulting lack of skills leads to lower lifetime earnings, poorer health and higher rates of incarceration.
While the causes of the “father-gap” are strikingly different between the two groups of boys and the prospects for the boys who lost their fathers in the 9-11 attacks may appear brighter by comparison, we cannot give up on African-American males. New initiatives funded by New York’s Mayor Bloomberg and philanthropist and hedge fund billionaire George Soros will certainly lead to more attention and resources directed to this important national challenge. These two men have combined forces to invest in black and Latino males in New York City through mentoring and afterschool programs, among other initiatives. As with all new ideas there is wide criticism about whether the investments are targeted to the best use to achieve success for these boys who are in dire need of our help.
Along with new investments such as these, let’s also look to the 9/11 attacks for possible lessons about how to address the growing problem of African-American boys’ low educational attainment. The act of terrorism solidified the resolve of those concerned about the lives of the children impacted by this tremendous loss 10 years ago – that the attacks and loss of a parent would neither define nor destroy the lives of these children. Perhaps we can similarly resolve that African-American boys’ lives will not be destroyed nor defined by the absence of their fathers, no matter the reason for it and connect our efforts to support them with the need to buttress the families and communities in which they live.
Etienne R. LeGrand is President & Co-Founde of the Atlanta-based W.E. B DuBois Society that offers intensive supplemental educational experiences for youth.