Enhancing the Cultural Identity of Early Adolescent Male African Americans

Article excerpt

Research suggests that African American males are at higher risk for dropping out of school, engaging in criminal activity, being a perpetrator or victim of a violent crime, and being incarcerated than their European American peers. Gill (1991) reported that the Center for the Study of Social Policy predicted that 70 percent of working-age African American men will be jailed, dead, alcoholic or hooked on drugs by the year 2000, that the Department of Justice reported that one out of four African American men was in jail or under court supervision, and that there were more African American men in their 20s under court control than there are African American men enrolled in college. Gill cites The Institute for the Advanced Study of Black Life report to remind us that one in every three African American men, ages 20 to 24, is a potential homicide victim.These are only a few of the horrific statistics about African American men in this society, yet they represent problems of monumental proportions.

There are several theories that serve to explain the etiology of this problem.The first theory is that African Americans are targeted for genocide by a genetically inferior yet oppressive dominant culture (Welsing, 1991). A second suggests that these statistics result from the failure of main stream educational systems to effectively work with the needs of AfricanAmerican males (Ladson-Billings,1994).A third is that African Americans doubt their own ability to achieve in U.S. society (Fordham,1988; Fordham & Ogbu,1986).

It is important for school counselors to be sensitive to the members of the African American community that share Welsing's perspective and be prepared to discuss the use of that interpretation to explain student achievement. It is equally important that counselors work to help educational systems become more responsive to the needs of African American students and to work directly with the students to help remove internal obstacles to academic accomplishment.

The purpose of this paper is to describe a school-based, Africentric program designed to prepare African American males to take full advantage of the educational opportunities available to them within the current educational system.We will discuss the program's theoretical premises and share a report on its effectiveness. Finally we will discuss the importance of this type of group in addressing the needs of African American males.

CULTURAL ISSUES

Issacs and Duffus (1992) found that many ethnic minority students do not value and do not attain academic achievement and attainment. When the first author asked a handful of African American middle-school students about their attitudes toward academic achievement, their responses were "It's not for me,""the teachers go too fast," and "they don't talk about what I know." One reason there is a lack of value placed on academic achievement and attainment in African American male students is that the Eurocentric curriculum used in most public schools favors students who process information in a logical, sequential, linear, and/or judgmental fashion. Studies indicate, however, that most nonwhite students learn and process information in an abstract, nonsequential, nonlinear style (Thompson, 1992). Additionally,, African American male adolescents' lack of interest in school can be attributed in part to the absence of African history and culture in formal education materials and lessons (Hillard, 1989).African American students do not see themselves in either the content or process of U.S. schools and feel, therefore, that school is not for them. The result of this experience is a significant reduction in academic aspirations and performance.

Traditionally, African American underachievers have been encouraged to learn how to negotiate the Eurocentric school culture in order to succeed (Ladson-Billings, 1994). This approach does not help the student resolve the cultural dilemma that may lead to underachievement in the first place. …