The realities facing young men and boys of color (YMBOC) are real. The institutions that have been designed truly does create environments that are indicative of impartiality and equity—which directly contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline in America. But, the question at the center of the debate around racial equity and impartiality is quite fascinating: If we cannot change the systems, how do we change the current perceptions? It is important to note that if you change how young men and boys of color (YMBOC) perceive themselves then the systems will operate in a place of ineffectiveness—in that, these individual perceptions will propagate into positive actions.
Removing Barriers and Creating Unlimited Opportunities
There exists an old idiom that has been echoed in many circles around this country: What are we going to do to save Young Black Men and Boys of Color (YMBOC)? If it was as easy as it was to type those words, I contend that such conversations would not even be necessary. But, I understand that to even consider such a notion is delving in the realm of obscurity. I think it would be appropriate to proclaim that the challenges that lie ahead are those that will be defining moments in the history of this country. It begs to reason the simple notion: What will we do? Hence, how will we respond?
When such queries are posed, I imagine this idea of hopelessness permeating in the minds of so many. I can hear individuals saying with disgust: what do you do and how do you respond? There have been so many that have come before us who have fought this fight. How do we really judge their success? Do we equate their success to the laws that have been passed by Congress and decisions that have been rendered by the highest court of the land as progression? Or, do we try and determine some common ground in the small successes that have been made around this country? On the other hand, you will have individuals that will assert that despite the laws and Supreme Court decisions, the plight of young black men and boys (YMBOC) are still strenuous and insurmountable. These individuals will say that in areas like the Mississippi Delta, where poverty is ubiquitous, young men and boys (YMBOC) are being lost on the highways from school to prison. They aren’t engaged properly by those who have been entrusted to lead them and provide life’s direction. When they read the newspapers and watch the news on television—what do they see; what do they hear; and how do they feel? It is my distinct pleasure to inform you of that: They feel like the world doesn’t have room for their dreams and their aspirations; they hear that they are hopeless and detrimental to society; and ultimately, they feel disengaged and alienated. I believe that is wholly unacceptable and truly unfair to live in such state.
Nevertheless, the Sunflower County Systems Change Collaborative is designed to engage systems (school, juvenile justice, and media) that perpetuate the current narrative of young men and boys of color (YMBOC). When this project was undertaken in August of 2015, our goal was to engage these three systems in evidence-based practices that would alter the narrative of young men and boys of color (YMBOC) in Sunflower County. In altering the narrative, it would be to simply change: what young men see, what they feel, what they hear, how they think, how they engage one another; and ultimately, how they see themselves in the world. When we speak of changing the current rhetoric that surrounds young men and boys of color (YMBOC), I contend that projects of this nature have the potential to incrementally change the trajectory of how the world see young black men and boys of color (YMBOC)—and that alone provides solace to me in my efforts on this project.