By Dr. Randy B. Nelson
Have you ever noticed the intense passion and commitment exhibited by many when it comes to saving endangered animals or protesting against the killing or maltreatment of animals? Don’t get me wrong, I am a bonafide animal lover. But, as I reflect on the condition of Black men and boys in America, one would be hard pressed to find a more endangered species. Black males typically rank at the top of most negative social, financial, health, and educational indicators known to man. Since I am a Floridian, I will use my home state to make the argument for the inclusion of Black males on the endangered species list.
According to the Schott 50 State Report on Public Education and Black Males 2012, Florida’s graduation rate for Black males was approximately 47%. Only six other states reported a lower graduation rate. If less than half of the Black males eligible to graduate from high school are in fact graduating, what outcome should we expect for the 53% that did not graduate? Although Black males represent less than 9% of Florida’s population, they comprise 47% of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice and 46% of the Department of Corrections incarcerated populations. Criminologists have long since recognized the correlation between lower educational attainment levels and the likelihood of incarceration.
While these sobering statistics may justify the need to include Black males on the endangered species list, it doesn’t answer the question as to how to remove them. When animals are placed on the endangered species list, specific restrictions, policies and laws are enacted to prevent further population decline or extinction. This has not been the case for Black males. I would argue the same level of sustained commitment is needed to change the plight of the Black male.
At the urging of the Florida Caucus of Black State Legislators, the 2013 Florida legislature approved and Governor Rick Scott signed a state budget containing a small down payment towards changing the trajectory of Black males in Florida. The funding of the Situational Environment Circumstances (SEC) mentoring model served notice that Florida’s consistently low graduation rates and high incarceration rates for Black males are unacceptable and unsustainable. It is also denotes a recognition that an effective educational system at the front-end could reduce the nearly $3 billion tax payer funded budgets of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice and Department Corrections. As previously noted, Black males comprise nearly 50% of each of these agencies incarcerated population.
The University of Florida, College of Education, has partnered with Florida’s Historical Black Colleges and Universities throughout the state to implement the SEC mentoring model and conduct cutting-edge research on effective Black male engagement strategies. Partnering institutions include Edward Waters College (Duval County), Bethune Cookman University (Volusia County), Florida A & M University (Leon County) and Florida Memorial University (Miami-Dade County). Select students from these institutions will mentor minority male elementary age students attending low performing schools. The mentors and mentees will share similar family, socioeconomic, community and educational backgrounds. This allow mentors to provide their mentees with real life examples of educational achievement and the tools needed to overcome social and educational obstacles encountered along the way.
I fully recognize that no single initiative or program will immediately resolve the issues and problems that have negatively impacted Black males for generations. However, our collective failure as a community, state and nation to address the systemic threats to the survival of an irreplaceable segment of the human race is and should be unacceptable the greatest nation in the world.
Randy B. Nelson, Ph.D., founded 21st Century Research and Evaluations, Inc. in 1997. 21st Century was created with the vision of finding solutions for today’s societal problems, particularly those affecting disadvantaged communities. Dr. Nelson earned his B.A. degree in Sociology from Eckerd College, a M.S. degree in Criminology with emphasis on Corrections Administration from the University of South Florida, and a Ph.D. in Criminology and Criminal Justice from Florida State University. Dr. Nelson has served as an adjunct professor/instructor at Florida State University, Florida A & M University and Tallahassee Community College. He stays on the cutting edge of research and evaluation techniques.