Time to rally on behalf of black youths

April 06, 2006|By RODNEY D. FOXWORTH JR.

As thousands of Latinos have organized and united with their non-Latino allies against legislation construed as anti-immigrant, I am reminded of the recent protests and rallies in Baltimore concerning the inequitable state of public school education - and the low rates of attendance for these demonstrations.

The Rev. J. L. Carter, the African-American leader of Ark Church in Baltimore who took to the streets alongside 500 others to protest proposed immigration reform, claims that he is willing to be jailed for assisting illegal immigrants.

While I admire Mr. Carter's commitment to fighting social injustice, I wondered whether his efforts and energies might be better used elsewhere. More to the point, I wonder how many of us - or how few - might be willing to be jailed on behalf of black, underprivileged youths if it meant ensuring them any semblance of a sustainable future.

A sustainable future is ever elusive for far too many of the nation's youths, particularly underprivileged, urban black males. While we can certainly continue to ignore this reality, it is also true that the plight of black urban youths has never been made more obvious.

My suspicions have been confirmed by Black Males Left Behind and Reconnecting Disadvantaged Young Men, two recent publications of the Urban Institute.

Of course, these academic findings merely state the obvious - that is, that young African-Americans are - to put it mildly - in very bad shape.

But the statistics articulate the dire situation quite forcefully. From 1979 to 2001, the workforce participation of black males ages 16 to 24 with a high school education or less fell by nearly 13 percent; of black men ages 16 to 24 who are out of school, only 50 percent are working. This does not include those black males in prison, where, by age 34, about 30 percent of black males will have spent time. At any given moment, about 33 percent of black males are confined to a cell or on parole or probation.

We have yet to respond with a massive organizing effort comparable to that of the recent campaigns of the immigrant communities and their supporters.

My aunt, the mother of two black girls and a black boy, says these figures are depressing - this from a woman who has worked over a decade with the Baltimore criminal courts, where the lives of young black men are derailed daily.

In Baltimore, some things are even worse than the national average.

The percentage of black males who have failed to graduate from high school has been as high as 76 percent in recent years; the figure is "only" 50 percent among black males living in inner cities nationwide. Only 50 percent of Baltimore-area youths without a high school diploma are able to find work. Nearly half of Maryland's youths who are neither working nor in school live in the Baltimore metropolitan area. Nationwide, black teen unemployment is 28.4 percent - nearly twice the overall teen unemployment rate.

What, then, prevents Baltimoreans from storming the streets? Does the prospect of a sacrificed generation of young people elicit so little anger or sympathy?

True, protest for protest's sake is often meaningless. But even the disorganized, violent rioting of France's young people and Arab and African populations has brought international attention to a long-ignored problem, as Baltimore's pervasive problems remain invisible - or visible and ignored.

The most pressing problem, of course, is the continued plight of our youths. Failing schools produce ill-prepared and unprepared young adults who are immersed in a city saturated by crime, violence, poverty and disease. The problem is cyclical, and our cause now is to align our interests with those of the young student protesters whose demands are quite simple: an equitable education, a future with hopes of promise and a supportive community.

If we fail to meet their demands now, every one of us will suffer for the foreseeable future.

Rodney D. Foxworth Jr., a 2002 graduate of Baltimore City College, attends the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and is the associate editor of LiP magazine. His e-mail is foxrod1@umbc.edu.

Thomas Sowell's column will return next week.

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