(Special to The Root) — Imagine that you walk into the newborn-nursery ward at an American hospital and you see 100 babies in their bassinets. You are then informed that 33 of these babies will spend time in jail or prison.
This is the reality today for African-American males born in our country. As a black husband, father and physician, I am sick of it.
So I asked the board of the private health foundation I lead for a three-month leave to investigate why opportunity and wellness elude so many of our black, Latino and Asian Pacific Islander sons. Their shades of brown may be different, but many of them face the same challenges: growing up fatherless, dropping out of school, going to jail or getting killed.
I interviewed 60 mostly black and brown leaders around our nation. I met with people ranging from Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund, to Cornel West, noted theologian and activist, to Jerry Tello, co-founder of the National Compadres Network. I listened to civil rights leaders, community organizers, elected officials and many young black and brown men.
I simply wanted to know what could and must be done.
I found substantial contention among fellow black men about the origins of this crisis. A faith leader commented that we are now “coping with the 16th generation of America’s racism,” and he identified that legacy as the culprit. However, the leader of a Brooklyn, N.Y., nonprofit said, “The victimization mentality is killing us … This is all about the parents.”
The stakes couldn’t be higher. Seventy percent of Californians under the age of 25 (pdf) are people of color. Our state’s future is inextricably bound to theirs. We won’t succeed without them. Yet too many of our sons and brothers are in crisis. They suffer from violence in their homes or communities. They drop out of school or are pushed out as schools overemphasize suspensions or expulsions as punishments.
After conducting the interviews and reflecting on them, I thought back to my early training as a pediatrician. I was taught to watch for signs of child abuse or neglect, for suspicious injuries, bruises and cigarette burns. These things sound an alarm. Investigations begin. Protections are put in place.
We need a similar early-warning system to sound the alarm on the less visible wounds afflicting boys of color. We know the signs. Any child is raising his hand for help if he is off track in these areas: