By James Ewers
I am black in America so the recent two-part series produced by CNN entitled “Black in America” did appeal to me. This special program to my mind was not only for black people but for white people as well. For whatever judgment you rendered about the series let us give both CNN reporter Soledad O’Brien credit for undertaking this project. It was two years in the making and was well worth watching. It validated some of my thinking and gave me further insight into some other areas that were eye opening. I remember a few years ago when some said that Bill Cosby was exposing our “dirty laundry” in public when he talked about the issue of self-responsibility in the African American community. Some thought that he was too candid and much too skeptical. Well if Bill Cosby exposed our dirty laundry, then CNN wasn’t far behind.
One of the more compelling topics broached on the series was HIV/AIDS. While watching the snippets was painful, the information needed to get out there so that people would know. HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death among young women in the black community. According to the report, one in 20 people in Washington, D.C., are infected with HIV/AIDS. Wherever you are and if you are black, you ought to pay serious attention to this statistic. The takeaway from these statistics is that we as African Americans must make better choices and decisions. HIV/AIDS education must begin, I believe, at the elementary school level. While some may think otherwise, I think to talk about this dreaded disease at the middle school level may be too late. There are a lot of conversations that we have with our children around the dinner table and this must be one of them. In order for our present generation to survive and future generations to thrive, we must become much more proactive about this issue.
T.D. Jakes, a prominent African American minister, in essence said that black churches have a responsibility in this area. This responsibility just didn’t happen as it has been our responsibility all along; we have just ignored it, thinking that it might go away. Many in the black community think that sermons on Sunday and education programs during the week will help. As for our black community in Middletown what church will begin a ministry that will target HIV/AIDS?
“Black in America” started off on Wednesday showing related black families going to their family reunion in Atlanta, Georgia. The strength and resoluteness of the black family cannot be overlooked or minimized. I spoke with a good friend of mine recently who also had his family reunion in Georgia. I could see the pride on his face as he brought me a souvenir. The black family is steadfast and unmovable because it is our bedrock and the centerpiece of our entire experience. Black folks have long understood that, when all else fails, we still have our families. Dollar bills will come and go but our families will remain strong and consistent. I thought the segment on the family reunion was good, as you could see the connectivity between generations.
One aspect that could have been talked about more was the increase in the number of African Americans who are graduating from colleges across the country. Highlighted in the piece was the fact that more African American women are graduating from college than men. The ongoing challenge that has existed over a period of many years now is how to get more African American males in college and to graduate them. The road to college is filled with potholes called jail, drugs, and poor choices for many black males. I believe strongly that education must be valued in our black households. If it is valued, then in the end it doesn’t matter as much if your parents went to college. All that matters is that they see the importance of getting a college education. I found it a bit amusing on one level that a high school counselor on the special told the African American boy at the time that he should not consider college. Does that still happen today in 2008?
African Americans make up 13 percent of the population yet represent 49 percent of the homicides. This statistic is just horrific. There is no other way to say it. Presidential candidate, Barack Obama, in a recent talk at the NAACP Convention in Cincinnati spoke of personal responsibility and accountability in the black community. If we want to see change, then we must be the change and not wait for it. If we don’t begin it, then who; if not now, when? We, as African American parents and love providers, must provide our children at an early age with a set of instructions that will ward off poor choices and their consequences. Poor decision making results in no dreams of success and generally low expectations. We must teach our children that good things happen when you work hard and treat all people with dignity and respect. Unfortunately, big clothes don’t mean big dreams. We can, we must, and we will do better. We have no choice!
I would hope that mentoring groups and churches would invest in a copy of this series as it can be instructive. There is much to talk about as our future can be bright if we want it to be. The terms and conditions of our future are up to us. While the circumstances are dire in some cases, we have the brainpower to make a difference in the future. Despair must be replaced with hope, and protraction must be replaced with interaction. African Americans who have achieved have a moral obligation to help others who have not been as fortunate. We cannot think that, because we have a bigger house or a bigger car, we have arrived. It is only when we enrich the lives of others that our own lives will be enriched.
While the CNN special pointed out some of our challenges, it also showed that we have much to be proud of in the black community. As one of my colleagues has said, we have gone from picking cotton to picking presidents. Maybe our dirty laundry was exposed, but we have a chance to clean it up!
Dr. Ewers is the associate dean for student affairs and director of community partnerships at Miami University Middletown in Ohio. He is the author of Perspectives From Where I Sit: Essays on Education, Parenting and Teen Issues.