WASHINGTON -- Black community leaders, educators and social-service specialists concluded three days of deliberations on the critical problems of young black American men yesterday after the highest-ranking black in the Bush administration told them that they must take the lead in finding a way out of the crisis.
"Black men -- hard-working, family-oriented men of character -- must be at the forefront of any effort to turn this crisis around," Health and Human Services Secretary Louis W. Sullivan told the conference, which was convened as the 21st Century Commission on African American Males.
But some youths who had been invited to participate as members of a panel in a discussion on "The Young Black Male Perspective" expressed displeasure with what they regarded as their limited role.
"Don't get us wrong," said Delman Coates, a high school student from Richmond, Va. "The conference was a good idea, the dialogue was good. . . . But we just feel that since it was for and about us, we should have been included in more of its activities."
Mr. Coates and Erin Barnes, a student from Nashville, Tenn., said that they also found the commission "one-sided" in the views it represented. Asked who should have been invited to give the commission balance, they suggested Louis T. Farrakhan, head of the Nation of Islam,
and said that the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, who spoke at one session as a last-minute substitute, should have had a full-time role.
One of the results of the youths' displeasure was that about a dozen of them held a conference of their own -- all night Thursday -- in a room of the hotel where the 21st Century Commission was meeting.
"We talked a lot about our personal feelings . . .," Mr. Coates said. "We were getting out of our system a lot of anger."
And they organized themselves into their own informal commission.
Ofield Dukes, director of media relations for the 21st Century Commission, said the conference was designed for "policy-makers, decision-makers and program operators."
But he described the youths' dissatisfaction as "understandable." Noting that the commission plans to have regional meetings, Mr. Dukes said, "There's going to be a time and place for their involvement."
Dr. Sullivan, a physician, said that America's black men are suffering from "a malady of the soul," the symptoms of which were "violence, ill health and self-destructive behavior." But he said his "prognosis" was "optimistic."
"His problems are serious, but the underlying condition is treatable," Dr. Sullivan said. "My prescription is the transformation of a culture of violence into a culture of character, by expanding economic opportunities and by strengthening families and communities."