A #THROWBACK BLOG (JULY 2013) By Kenneth Braswell
This week I was struck by a line I saw in an article entitled, “Rigorous Schools Put College Dreams Into Practice,” in the New York Times by Kyle Spencer. The article explored the hopes and dreams of a young African American male growing up in Newark, New Jersey. In a line describing his parents, the author said, “…and father, who does odd jobs to make ends meet…” That line quickly brought up some thoughts for me in relation to current and historical realities around employment for Black Men.
Growing up in Crown Heights I was raised to understand that every man had a way of making money when legitimate employment wasn’t available. Everybody from the guy who sold dresses in the trunk of his car; to my mom that tried her hand at selling everything; including Avon, Tupperware, Copperware, Amway and card parties on Friday nights. You see, it was part of the normal landscape of my Brooklyn life. Before lottery offered the opportunity of a Dollar and a Dream, one could play numbers with the local dude who had the ability to keep hundreds of numbers in his head without ever writing them down.
It was the way of life and not much has change; the “hustle” is alive and well in communities across this country where families and individuals are being crushed under unbearable unemployment numbers. According to Dr. Ronald Mincy of Columbia University he states “high unemployment rates together with low labor force participation means that a very high percentage of black male dropouts are not working. The percentage of this group that was either unemployed or not in the labor force reached 72 percent in 2004, up from 65 percent from just four years earlier.” Mincy’s work is a backdrop in communities where poor education, violence, single parent births and a host of others social ills are out of control. Understandably so, having black boys pull up their pants is not enough as CNN’s Don Lemon suggests without also addressing the issues created by the intentional environment which continues to shape their behaviors.
Certainly one could subscribe to the notions that behavior is a matter of choice and one might be expected to just “do right.” However, whenever survival is at stake, that same individual might choose to do what’s right for his/her needs at the moment without ever considering its long term implications or consequences. That is a reality in every hood I know. I’m also clear that obtaining my successes, having a good job, living in a better community, and me being able to give my children what I did not have hasn’t changed the reality for those who live on the same block, I used to.
Recently at an annual retreat at the Muhammad Ali Center, Travian Shorters from BMe (http://bmecommunity.org) challenged leaders from around the country working for the advancement of Black Men and Boys to stop talking about our conditions from a deficit position. For instance, If I’m going to quote to you the numbers of boys out of work; I should also be able to talk about the fact that according to the census, African Americans create businesses at three times the rate of others in this country and that there are over 110,000 black millionaires in America.
He suggests that there is more to learn from those who are doing it right; than those that are doing it wrong. Further; everybody who is doing it wrong; aren’t always aware they are doing it wrong and often times don’t know how to do it right or possibly doing it wrong because “right” isn’t an available option.
Most Black folks I know have been told, including me to have a plan “b.;” something to fall back on. The reason; “just in case.” Well that was great advice when you had a plan “a,” but when you don’t have the first plan, it’s hard to think about the back-up. Thus the hustle and odd end job becomes a primary means of income for many black men and especially young black men.
As we labor through the challenge of waiting for the economy to improve for black men and those in poverty; new and innovative ways of cultivating and structuralizing the fierce ingenuity of entrepreneurship for these men must be developed.
Throughout my years of working with men; rarely have I encountered one that doesn’t want to work and earn money. He quite often just wants to do it with success and dignity. So, while working the hustle or catching an odd end job or two it not the permanent solution; let’s figure out how to cultivate skills, provide information and assist these men with resources, so they can turn that raw and undeveloped talent into something that can provide for their primarily needs and create a brother; A JOB!