A program just for us: a Black employment and leadership program
As Black men, we have been trying to survive and to improve conditions for ourselves, our families and our communities. But oppression has had a devastating effect on us. To heal — indeed, to survive in the future — we will have to develop and run programs that speak to our needs and interests as family men, workers, and leaders in and outside our communities.
Opinion: What will it take for Black men to heal?
The following are recommendations for a program that can provide a good start in helping Black men to heal themselves and better prepare themselves to assist our families and community. They include three working principles and four pillars, with one pillar (the counselor component) containing three components and four cautions.
1) Know that oppression against us and the adverse effects it has had on us is nothing new. Our own people and organizations have documented centuries of discrimination, humiliation, and general oppression against Black men.
2) The motives of your oppressor may not be your own. Let’s face it: White America is now reaping the unenviable benefits of putting us in an apartheid-like existence up to the middle 1960s, giving us poor education, beatings and killings in the ’60s and ’70s, and a phony drug war from the 1980s until this day.
Instead of helping us to get treatment, education and a decent job, they imprisoned us, usually for nonviolent drug offenses. Now that the cost of keeping us and our Latino brothers in prison has gotten too high, they suddenly want to help us to heal. Sure.
3) Let no one do for you what you can do for yourselves. No one knows our history, culture and experiences better than we. Therefore, as Black men, we have the knowledge and responsibility to heal ourselves.
This program would combine employment and leadership training. The curriculum would address the basics of leadership as well as train men for specific trades. Besides job training, it would include presentations and workshops on leadership, AIDS, domestic and community violence.
The program would rest on the following four pillars:
1) It would be a program based in an African American community, run by African American men, utilizing African American trainers, therapists and counselors.
2) It would be a program that utilizes African-centered values, principles, customs and spirituality throughout its programming.
3) It would have an employment component that would focus not just on living-wage jobs, but, as much as possible, on jobs that likely would not be shipped overseas.
4) It would include a counseling program to provide support for staff as well as participants.
Three elements, four cautions
The counseling pillar would contain three elements: case management, advocacy and mentorship. A certified therapist and at least two culturally sensitive and socially conscious social workers or certified counselors would provide professional case management.
Counselors would assist participants with advocacy, especially in dealing with bureaucratic red tape of city or state government. They would be counselor/advocates. As counselor/advocates, they would be willing and able to do what many participants do not do, or have tried to do but became frustrated and failed: Confront a bureaucratic, racist and sexist system.
Counselors would set up a mentoring base and speakers’ bureau so that successful Black men and women could assist Black men not only to gain and maintain employment, but to deal with the inevitable problems of being Black, poor and male in a society that hates Black males more than anyone else.
Caution 1: If counselors are not willing to professionally but doggedly advocate for Black men, they shouldn’t be hired.
Caution 2: If a therapist is not willing to support the advocacy of his counselors, he or she shouldn’t be hired.
Caution 3: If a director is not willing to support the therapist, counselors, and the advocacy element of the counseling component, he or she should not be hired.
Caution 4: Make sure there is sufficient funding in the budget for this pillar. If the program does not budget for a professional yet culturally sensitive counseling component, the program will have no long-term success. We could argue that, due to the effects of generations of poverty and oppression on Black men, this may be the most important component of the entire program.
What it is
We know other elements need to be considered for this program to be comprehensive and successful. But a program that rests on these four pillars and three elements would contain the basic building blocks for a long-term successful employment and leadership program for Black men.
There is nothing more healing than self-actualization — doing for self. The question for our White friends and potential allies is: Besides financial and moral support, do you support us enough to stop trying to exploit our problems by getting grants for yourself and your agency and leave us alone to take care of our own problems?
The question for us as Black men is: Are we ready to do what no one else can do for us — liberate ourselves?
Next week: We begin a discussion on the two types of poverty and how they are connected to the violence of Black men.
Mac Walton welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.