Roland Martin, Dr. Ronald Mason Jr., President of Southern University and Jonathan Sprinkles, author and motivational Speaker discuss the role of black men in the black community and how their absence is affecting families.
MR. MARTIN (VOICEOVER): And one of those issues of importance was addressed on day one. Where have all the young, Black men gone?
DR. RONALD MASON, JR.: You know, if we’re going to talk about saving Black men, I think we really need to understand what we’re up against. And what we’re up against is what Thomas Jefferson referred to as the “wolf.” He said, ‘We have a wolf by the ear. We can’t hold onto him, but we can’t safely turn him loose because, on the one scale we have justice; but on the other, we have self-preservation.’ So, the Founding Fathers made a conscious decision to create a system of slavery because they needed free labor to build a country. They put justice aside in order to do that.
Slavery went away. It was replaced by a system that was designed specifically to drive Black men into prison so they could rent them out to the plantations and the mines, and that was called “Jim Crow.” So, that business model is etched into the American psyche and the American way of doing business so that now in Louisiana, for example, 74 percent of the people in prison are Black, and over 90 percent of them are men. And it’s not because men are genetically – Black men are genetically predisposed to make bad choices. It’s because America is designed to do exactly what it is doing, which is drive Black men into prison, and which used to be a system of control and exploitation has now morphed into a system of control and elimination.
MR. ROLAND MARTIN: We – we can talk all day about “systems” and “prison-industrial complex” and all those different things along those lines, but my perspective is – is very simple, and that is I know what the forces are outside my house. So, if I am properly preparing that son inside of my house, it doesn’t matter what they are throwing outside of that house. And so we – we tend – on this conversation, we tend to want to walk it where – where we start with F. We start with N. We start with P. I[’ve] got to deal with A. I[’ve] got to deal with what is happening when that child is in the womb and then what happens when that child comes out of the womb and then what happens when it comes to the decisions that we are making. We can talk about young, Black men. Somebody is having these children. Somebody is birthing these children. Somebody is dealing with how you’re raising these children, and so I can’t talk about some “system” unless I talk about the most basic, fundamental system, and that is dealing with family.
A few years ago, I wrote a blog on Essence.com where I said, “No pastor should have a baby dedication until they have made an effort to talk to the mama and the daddy. All these sisters lost they mind! “You keepin’ Jesus from the baby!” “Why are you doin’ that?”
I said, “I ain’t keepin’ Jesus from the baby. I’m trying to make sure Rick, J.J., Jimmy, Lester is involved in their life.
DR. MASON: Which is true. But for a man to be seen, he has to be there. And the fact is that our men are being eliminated. And they’re not present and available in the numbers that they would be, but for the effects of what I call “the wolf.” Now, you know, the – the wolf has profound implications. I mean you take the men out of the equation. You destroy the family. You defroy [sic – phonetic] – destroy the neighborhood. You destroy the community that people live in, and then it gets worse and worse with each generation because — you’re exactly right – the positive examples that young boys and young men need – and they get a lot of them. There[’re] a lot of us out here. Sh- — hell. Or, not “hell,” but I mean I – I feel –
MR. MARTIN: Naw, go ahead and say, “hell”!
DR. MASON: — well, I – you know, I – I run a univer- — a university, and I feel like I’m father to thousands of young, Black men all the time.
OFF CAMERA: What percentage –
DR. MASON: But I –
OFF CAMERA: Of the young men –
DR. MASON: — also know –
OFF CAMERA: in your university –
DR. MASON: — well, it’s –
OFF CAMERA: — would you guess –
DR. MASON: — 70 percent women and 30 percent men, and that’s – that’s probably a – a generous percentage. And, you know, you – you see it happening systematically – you know, starting from the day that young boy is born until the day they end up in prison.
How many of you all out there just wish that there were more good Black men available?
[SHOT OF AUDIENCE WITH SEVERAL HANDS RAISED.]
DR. MASON: How many of you just wish there were more numbers of Black men? I mean, you know, we are no better or worse than any other people. The problem is we just have less of us – less of us to spread around.
MR. MARTIN: But where – but – but don’t – but when do we start, though? See, I get –
DR. MASON: We start – we do –
MR. MARTIN: — it’s less –
DR. MASON: — all – everything you’re saying. Everything you’re saying we should do, but the – the – what I’m working on is a way to make more Black men available through the education system and through historically Black universities and by creating more Black teachers to put into Black schools –
MR. MARTIN: But here’s the fundamental problem, Doc.
DR. MASON: — yeah?
MR. MARTIN: You have 35 young, Black men graduating in Detroit – 25 percent in Detroit, 40 percent in Chicago. When you have those rates, they not even gettin’ to you. So, what I’m saying is we[’ve] got to deal with it from kindergarten, second grade, fourth grade –
DR. MASON: But, see, the thing is –
MR. MARTIN: — because when you[’re] in college, you[’re] not going to see them unless we confront them between 0 to 18.
MR. JONATHAN SPRINKLES: This is why you have a diversity on the panel. I don’t believe there’s one right answer. We all obviously have –
MR. SPRINKLES: — our strong beliefs.
I can tell you – maybe it’s just because this is what I do as a motivational speaker. I always come back to the individual, because – I had this dialogue just ye- — I believe it was yesterday, when the gentleman picked me up from the airport. He asked me what I was here for, and I told him this panel, and he said, “That’s great.” He started driving real fast, as a matter of fact. [Chuckles.] He got really excited. He said, “Look. I have a nine-year-old son here in New Orleans because” – “and” – “and he’s in public” – ’scuse me – “in private school because the public school system is awful here in New Orleans.” That’s his words – not mine.
And so he said – he said, “Look. You know, the” – “it’s a-” – “it’s like all-out war here, because the kids aren’t graduating. They’re not doin’ this,” to Dr. Mason’s point – all the stuff that we talked about. But he said, “You know, what I have to do, though, is I always take my son plus one. If I take my son to the ballgame” –
MR. MARTIN: There ya go.
MR. SPRINKLES: — “it’s my son plus one. If I take my son to church, it’s my son plus one.”
MR. SPRINKLES: So, I understand that the wolf is out there, and he’s howling and biting and doing all those things. But just take one more. We don’t have enough of us to go around for all of us to say, “That’s somebody else’s problem.”
MR. MARTIN: We often talk about this in the third person: “We gotta help these young bruthas out here.”
And so, typically, I’ll say, “Okay. When is the last time you had that real conversation in your own family?”
OFF CAMERA: That’s right!
MR. MARTIN: Because if you really want to be honest, you go to Big Mama’s house, yo’ daddy’s house for Sunday dinner and – let’s be honest – most of us say, “I don’t want no static. I don’t want no drama. I don’t want people in my business. I’m not gettin’ in their business,” and you watchin’ yo’ nephew, who’s a fool, and you sittin’ there goin’, “That’s a damn shame.”
MR. MARTIN: They failin’ in school, and this is what we do. We say, “I don’t wanna say nothin’. I just wanna have a peaceful time and go back home.”
OFF CAMERA: Well, if the –
MR. MARTIN: So, we contribute to the problem when we’re unwilling to challenge even our own family members. But if you say nothing – don’t assume somebody else is going to do it. That’s why I say you start with your family, ’cause we could talk all day about somebody else’s kid, but if you’re unwilling to check your nephew, or your sister or your brother, you not gon’ check a neighbor. So, you have to start just where you are, right in front of you, right in front of your doorstep. ’Cause if y’all some Bible-believin’ people, go to Nehemiah, chapter 2, when they rebuilt the Wall of Jerusalem. They said – they said, “Let” – “Let us rebuild.” But the most important thing Nehemiah said [was], ‘Rebuild a portion of the wall just in front of yo’ house.’ You do your part, do your part, your part, [and] the wall gets rebuilt.