How many of you know the likelihood of a black man becoming a small business owner or an entrepreneur? What percentage of black men have a high school diploma or equivalent? Do you know a black male veteran?
I'll bet most of you don't know that the percentage of black male business owners is twice the national average, or that 85% of black men have a high school diploma or equivalent, or that they are more likely to join the military than any other racial group.
Unfortunately, our media does not accurately reflect the reality of black American men. If the questions were, what's the high school dropout rate among black males, or what's the percentage of incarceration among black males, you could probably give a close-to-accurate number. Because it's what you've heard or seen through various media platforms.
Reach: 40 Black Men Speak on Living, Leading & Succeeding is an honest and real collection of stories by black men doing positive things to uplift their communities. On May 7th, the Reginald F. Lewis Museum in Baltimore City hosted a presentation and panel discussion about the book with former NAACP leader, Ben Jealous. The civic leader expanded on various myths about black men and how we can slash the acceptance of such widespread fables.
Who Can They Look To?
Mr. Jealous opened the talk with a brief history of his childhood in West Baltimore. He mentions how the selfless acts of many people, including his mother and grandmother, helped keep the NAACP running. Simple things like cooking and babysitting essentially provided the adhesive to the organization, although, these individuals never held official titles. He says they "believed in the mission."
Jealous had the opportunity to meet many prominent black men as a youth. His grandfather, who worked has a dishwasher for the B&O railroad company, later became a probation officer and ran a bar in the basement of his home. Often judges, lawyers, and community leaders would pass through the home to frequent the establishment. "I had different men I could be like," Jealous says.
Today, most young black males are unexposed to influential men who they may look up to or aspire to be. Jealous shared words of wisdom he received as a young man from one of his mentors: "Children will grow up to be what they see. They will never be what they don't know or don't see."
Telling the Stories
Men often shy away from sharing their personal stories in written form. Reach was written not only for exploding stereotypes about black men. It was produced to give black boys a variety of men from which they can receive inspiration. The contributors range from performing artists to scientists. Black parents in previous generations typically gave their boys one example of a man they could view as a role model whether it was an athlete, national activist, or local leader. Black boys were not always given a range of opportunities to reach their full potential. The book also aims to reassure readers the power of stories, the power of words. They are tools that can change lives.
Changing Definitions, Changing Conversations
Myths regarding black men stem from not only our media but the context in which black men are discussed. Power can flow both ways. The words we use identify black men and the stories we tell define black men in the larger, national context.
How would you define an entrepreneur? Does this person have a lot of fancy assets, like a large home, luxury car, and designer clothes? Are they well-known outside of their communities? More importantly, what's their mission? Unfortunately, we do not apply the title entrepreneur to black men when they are helping their communities in unconventional ways. If we work toward redefining our beliefs about success and ownership, we will learn that successful black men are in fact not a rare thing; they are ubiquitous. Believe that.