Youth Crusader Examines the “Modern Black Male Issue”

Torrence Brannon-reese, director for Foundation for Arts, Mentoring, Leadership and Innovation (FAMLI, Inc.), is making a difference in the lives of Los Angeles-area youths.

This is one in a two-part series

Black Boy & Native Son, (Richard Wright) Invisible Man, (Ralph Ellison) The Autobiography of Malcolm X, (Alex Haley/Malcolm X) Pimp, the story of my life, (Iceburg Slim, aka, Robert Beck) Manchild In the Promised Land (Claude Brown), Soul On Ice (Eldridge Cleaver) Soledad Brother (George Jackson) Things Fall Apart (Chinua Achebe) Black Skin, White Mask (Frantz Fanon), Here I Stand (Paul Robeson) and so many more.

 All of these books were written by and about the Black Male experience and provide a myriad of solutions to the perplexing challenges concerning Black male youth today.

A report “A Call for Change”, released November 9, 2010 by the Council of the Great City Schools, an advocacy group for urban public schools, states that only 12 percent of Black fourth grade boys are proficient in reading, 12 percent of Black eighth grade boys are proficient in math, Black boys dropout of high school at nearly twice the rate of white boys, while Black men represent only 5 percent of college students nationwide.

The statistics are daunting; still, I am encouraged and optimistic, primarily because I am confident that the problem can be solved. There are proven solutions to this issue.   

For the past 20 years, I have been involved in the education and cultural, emotional and spiritual development of Black male youth. When I entered this field, the major challenge was and remains, how do we help young African American male youth navigate their lives?

Volumes of books have been written on the topic. Discussion forums and educational conferences have been held, and movies and documentaries have been produced. Yet, we seem to have made little progress in this area. Why?

 What is it about the Young Black Male that continues to perplex us? Why are young brothers still lagging behind everyone else in our society? 

I never knew my father. However, during the turbulent years of the 1960’s and 70s in the southern soul city called, New Orleans, my mother, Gwendolyn, a single, Black female, raised me and my three brothers, Derrick, Troy and Sean, by herself.

Through her heroic example of consistency, courage, intelligence and determination, she can now look at all four of her son’s with pride. All of us have at least a four-year college education. All of us have been written about in newspapers, magazines and books. We all take good care of our children.

 None of us are on drugs, smoke cigarettes or weed, drink excessively or are in prison. Although my eldest brother did do some time in his youth, he has been straight for the past 27 years, and has attained a master’s degree in social work.

Together, we have defied the stereotype so often associated with single Black women and their boys. How did she/we do it?

Through her own, simplistic example, my mother taught us the value of real world education. At the age of 48, she went back to school and got her bachelor’s degree in social work.  Growing up, there was no shortage of books in our home, and she set the example as she was always reading, and encouraged us to do the same.

She took us on trips to public libraries and bought us books, took us out to nice hotels and restaurants, she taught us social etiquette. At the age of 16, my mother she got me a summer job that changed the course of my life.

In our presence, she never made excuses or felt sorry for herself. She was (and still is) strong and resilient. So, as cliché as it sounds, it starts in the home. My message to Black mothers is to stay strong, take care of yourselves, eat healthy, educate yourselves and never give up on your children; although you may have to let go a little.

 Sometimes this means giving them over to the father (if he’s functional) or a male relative who is a good role model. This is actually in line with an African tradition, where men raise boys into manhood.

Once a manchild reaches the age of 14 and 15, the single female parent must change her mode of communication, resist the temptation to shout him down; which promotes in the mind of the child, the idea that his mother is punking him. Do not treat a 15-year old teenager like you’d treat an 8-year old child.

Our young men are searching for love, understanding and attention; they crave organization, discipline, and order; we must provide these things. If we expect them to respect education, we must be the models.

We must reflect in our actions and behavior what it is we are asking of them. We must have books and works of art in our homes that reflect our values and heritage. As it relates to our personal lives, we must be honest with our children. 

Maintenance of a certain ethical and moral standard (not necessarily religion) will inspire positive behavior in our youth. This is critical. So be very selective and careful whom you bring home to meet your children.

Torrence Brannon-reese,

Founding Director, Foundation for Arts, Mentoring, Leadership and Innovation.

Torrence Brannon-reese is a single father raising two of his four children. He lives in Los Angeles, California and may be reached at, 323. 864.2656 and www.famliafterschoolorg

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