Plight of the black male

July 09, 1993

The black male may be the most endangered species in

Maryland.

His life expectancy is five years less than that of white males. He is seven times more likely than a white man to be a homicide victim. He is more likely than a black female to drop out of school, to be unemployed and to suffer mental and physical illness. He is, in the words of Baltimore Del. Elijah E. Cummings, "dying physically, emotionally and spiritually."

Yet human "environmentalists" have paid little systematic attention to this threatened species. We have created "systems" -- social services, criminal justice, education, health-care -- to train, rehabilitate, educate and care for these boys and men, but none can brag about great success, and there is not enough coordination among the systems.

Delegate Cummings recognized these trends long ago and asked Gov. William Donald Schaefer to appoint a Commission on Black Males. That panel reported to the governor Tuesday, giving him a "snapshot" of the black male in Maryland and a passel of recommendations, some general, some specific, some calling for changes in behavior, some for spending more money.

The report makes clear that the transition from legal, or de jure, segregation to voluntary, or de facto, segregation has had a weakening effect on black institutions such as the church, the segregated school, banks and insurance companies. "The loss of these counteracting institutions has left the African-American male population to secure and stabilize its identity alone amidst a society that still practices both overt and subtle racism."

A sampling of the report's recommendations: End the practice of "academic tracking" in schools; expand education in jails and prisons; direct more resources to the fight against AIDS; change the state general scholarship program to base more awards on financial need; revamp the state school-aid formula so that young African-Americans have an equal chance at quality education, and improve job-training for blacks.

The order is so daunting that filling it would be a miracle. But the release of the commission report is a reminder that the attempt must be made. As Delegate Cummings points out, black males comprise one-ninth of Maryland's population. If this part of the body is ailing, then the whole body is sick.

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