By Reginald Williams
“Who else’s son has to die before we see the urgency in the Black and Brown male agenda?”
That was the question posed by Martina Van Norden, a mother of two Black sons and passionate educator to a generation of Black and Brown boys.
Van Norden is a social entrepreneur whose aim is to close the opportunity gap by bringing resources to underprivileged and under-resourced communities of color.
A staunch advocate for boys of color, Van Norden’s vision is clear.
“I want Black and Brown boys to have a safe space to be free. I want these marginalized boys to have a space where they can speak, be affirmed, and have their purpose revealed,” she said.
David Miller, M.Ed. and author of Dare to Be King: What If the Prince Lives? and A Survival Workbook for African-American Males, confused by the collective apathy towards Black boys, was reduced to tears by Van Norden’s passionate cry.
“It is perplexing the lack of sensitivity, urgency, and collective movement around the violent deaths of Black men in America,” expressed Miller, a Baltimore native. “If White men were dying at similar rates, the National Guard would mobilize, and responses from state and local governments would be swift and calculated. When Black men die, we have press conferences and vigils!”
Based on empirical evidence, Van Norden’s question, spurred by the recent deaths of two cousins killed by Black boys, is a question that demands the community and civic leaders’ attention.
Research reveals that before experiencing premature death, many boys of color die emotionally. Systemic structures that marginalize everything about who they are and the endless microaggressions that behave no different than chronic diseases serve as the culprit for their social dysfunction.
Social and mental health crises incarcerate Black and Brown boys and men.
Black children are arrested, charged, convicted, and sentenced harsher than their white counterparts. White boys are four times less likely than Black boys to be detained or committed to juvenile facilities. Homicide is the leading cause of death for boys of color. And from a mental health perspective, boys of color typically do not seek help.
Although Black girls have more frequent suicide ideations, Black boys commit suicide at a rate of almost four times of girls. According to the American Psychological Association, 26.4 percent of Black and Hispanic men ages 18 to 44 who experienced daily feelings of anxiety or depression were likely to have used mental health services, compared with 45.4 percent of non-Hispanic White men with the same feelings. And when boys and men of color seek services too often, they don’t feel heard.
Jason McIntosh, who initially pushed back against therapy, never felt heard in his sessions. Before finding a therapist with a therapeutic approach, McIntosh had three therapists. Two of the mental health professionals he came into contact with were white, and one was Black.
“I felt like they didn’t understand me talking from a Black man’s view. I often felt worse after talking to them,” said McIntosh.
He felt no different when seen by the Black therapist.
Support is difficult for Black boys to get in many venues, including school.
The main purpose of American schools, according to the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), “is to provide for the fullest possible development of each learner for living morally, creatively and productively in a democratic society.” Unfortunately, ASCD’s belief does not align with the data regarding the development of Black boys. Per Education Week, nationally recognized as a source of news, information, and analysis on K-12 education, Black boys are:
- More likely to be relegated to special education
- Black boys are more likely to attend schools that do not possess the proper resources to teach them
- Punishment for Black boys is harsher than for any other population
- Black boys do not read at an adequate reading level
Those dynamics, which too often serve as the precursor to death and incarceration for boys of color, circle back to Van Norden’s question.
Van Norden said the search for sustainable support systems for boys of color is often greeted by persistent pushback and community and civic apathy. This negligence, in conjunction with the death of her cousins, pulls on her heart.
“This morning, I cried out a mother’s cry—the one that makes the Lord move. To be passionate about advancing the Black male agenda is to be saddened so deep that you have to retreat into the recesses of your heart to revisit the undeniable joy of loving what God created that boy to be,” said Van Norden.
The report, “Black Males, Trauma, and Mental Health Service Use: A Systematic Review,” reveals that “56 to 74 percent of Black males exposed to traumatic events may have an unmet need for mental health services. Future research examining the relationship between trauma and mental health service use for Black men and factors that moderate and/or mediate this relationship is warranted.”
Reginald Williams is the author of “A Marginalized Voice: Devalued, Dismissed, Disenfranchised & Demonized.” Please email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit amarginalizedvoice.com for more information.