Baker Funeral Home
Black Men Face 'National Scandal'
The program Don't Fall Down in the Hood helps young black men learn from others mistakes.
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Posted by Dave
Rap News Network
4/11/2006 1:09:31 PM

At Baker Funeral Home, Andre Chin, case manager for Don’t Fall Down in the Hood, lifts a sheet to view a body in the morgue. Watching are program participants (from left) Chris Reed, Dereek Leavingston, Lamar Johnson. Charlene Wilson is afraid for young black men.

The South Philadelphia funeral director has buried many of them. She’s watched their mothers cry. “I’d like to see you guys live, but some of you won’t make it,” Wilson recently told a group of mostly black teenage boys — first-time offenders in a court-sanctioned program called Don’t Fall Down in the Hood.

“I’m just tired of burying young boys,” she continued. “I need you all to make a conscious decision that you’re going to live.”

For certain, hundreds of thousands of young black men are advancing through high school and college and into the middle class, but there is growing concern that far too many others are dropping out of school, going to jail — and killing each other on urban streets.

Some speak of a spiraling crisis in which growing numbers of young boys are raised in fatherless homes, without other positive male role models, then fall prey to a street culture in which quick cash and hip clothes are valued over good grades and careers.

“It is a national social problem that we’re under-preparing our black boys for life,” said Archye Leacock, executive director of the Institute for the Development of African American Youth in Philadelphia, which runs five non-profits, including Don’t Fall Down in the Hood.

“I have 16- and 17-year-old boys whose best activity is sex; they already have children; they can’t read. What’s going on is a national scandal.”

Talk of young black men in crisis has been going on for years. It prompted the Million Man March a decade ago. But an uptick in urban homicides after many years of decline and the sudden national exposure of New Orleans’ underbelly of poverty have helped prompt a new wave of books, academic conferences and national reports.

Hurricane Katrina “raised the whole issue of poverty,” said Ronald Walters, professor at the University of Maryland and director of the African-American Leadership Institute, “and key aspects of it had to do with the black male.”

In many arenas, young black men are being left behind:

* Only 9 percent of black eighth grade boys scored at grade level or better in reading, according to the nation’s report card, compared with 33 percent of white boys.

* Although growing numbers of black men go to college, only 35 percent graduate, compared with 46 percent of black women and 62 percent of all white students. The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education blamed financial problems as well as “wholly inadequate academic credentials, ambition, and study habits.”

* Among black 16- to 19-year olds who are no longer in school and are from low-income homes, only 29 percent had jobs in 2004, according to the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University. For comparable whites, employment was 47 percent.

* In 2003, one in every 20 black men was incarcerated in state or federal prisons — six times the rate of white men.

* In Philadelphia, black males ages 15 to 29 made up 4 percent of the city’s population last year, but 50 percent of all shooting victims.

Some criticize the federal government for inadequate school funding and immigration and trade policies that have taken away many entry-level jobs once filled by blacks. Tougher federal sentencing guidelines in the mid-1980's contributed to a quadrupling of the number of black male prisoners to 586,300 in 2003 — about the population of Boston.

“That’s a big part of the problem — the crimi

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