The dehumanization of African American children has long been an issue in our country. The similarities between stories like Emmett Till’s and Trayvon Martin’s illustrate that racism in America is still alive and well.
How can we uplift young African American children when the world is constantly trying to knock them down?
This was a topic discussed at the ‘Are You My Brother’s Keeper? A Discussion on Fatherhood and Mentorship’ panel at Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network Convention.
The panel featured a host of distinguished African American men, including A.J. Calloway, TV Personality & Philanthropist, Reverend Phil Craig, Queens, NY Chapter President, National Action Network, Rob Hill Sr., Amazon Best Selling Author & Motivational Speaker, Marlon Marshall, Special Assistant to the President; Principal Deputy Director of Public Engagement, The White House, Tracy Martin, Father of Trayvon Martin; Founder, The Trayvon Martin Foundation, Jonathan Mason Sr., International President, Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, Co-CEO, Elite Voices & Associate Professor of Education at Teachers College, Columbia University, Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, Professor of Sociology, Georgetown University, ad Frederick Williams, Adjunct Professor, San Antonio College and Executive Editor, Prosperity Publications.
The session started with a conversation about what can be done at a policy level to aide in overcoming the issue.
“There’s also a bigger problem which isn’t reducible simply to public policy and that is the world just doesn’t love Black men and we’ve got to start there. It especially doesn’t love Black boys, so much so that we don’t even allow them to be Black boys,” said Hill. “We can make good individual choices but we need responsible policy that is not undergirded by White supremacy, which is the elephant in the room.”
Marshall, who works closely with President Barack Obama shared how programs throughout the country are effectively making a difference.
“There are many programs throughout this country that are reaching out to young black men, and taking those young black men and putting them on a specific pathway. The thing that is important to the President is evidence-based. We have some data behind these programs we know what’s working, that’s why we’re doing a big interagency push on our end,” Marshall said.
Dyson dissected the concept of Black masculinity: “I think Black masculinity is the womb of so much that is productive and edifying in America that is unacknowledged. There’s a lot of demonization and stigma associated with Black masculine identity. Everyone wants to be like we are, they just don’t want to be us,” he said.
The panelists also spoke on the Trayvon Martin case. His father, Tracy Martin, shared his thoughts on the justice system and stressed the importance of having the conversation about race in America with young black children at a young age.
“The system wasn’t designed to protect us, the system was designed to fail us,” said Martin. “I honestly believe that this country was built on the backs of African-American men, and we as African-American men need to stand up and claim our rights in this country. We need to take back our communities starting with our young kids.”
Calloway shared that one of the roots of the problem is the lack of love expressed within the Black community which leads to the feeling of dehumanization. He talked about an initiative that he’s launching called the ‘I Am Human’ campaign which is designed to uplift and inspire those who feel less than human.
“We are humans, but we forgot how to act and treat each other humanely, and I feel that our young Black boys don’t feel like they’re human. They don’t feel loved. They don’t have men to say, ‘I love you,'” Calloway said. “I’ve met many young men that have never had another Black man look them in the face and say ‘I love you.'”
Hill spoke about his coming of age experience as a young Black man in America. He explained how it’s essential for the older generation to openly embrace the younger generation. “When I was growing up the only thing I wanted was presence. All I wanted was for a Black man who looked like me to come say ‘you can do more,’” he said. “Young men like me, we experience too much and we develop too late.”