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Educating Black Boys

A "Walking the Talk" conversation with the former president of Morehouse College on the role of HBCUs and how schools can better support and prepare black boys

November 2, 2017

Every year, far too many African American boys fail to graduate from high school and attend a competitive four-year college. What's standing in their way?

In the second episode of Walking the Talk, we explore obstacles on the road to college, and other issues affecting student equity, in a conversation with John Silvanus Wilson, the former president of Morehouse College and former executive director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities, a position to which he was appointed by President Barack Obama. Walking the Talk, hosted by HGSE’s Domonic Rollins, is a series of video conversations streamed live on Facebook, exploring challenging questions around diversity, inclusion, and identity as they are lived and expressed in the real world. See the first installment in the series.

Here, we excerpt the audio of Rollins and Wilson’s live conversation; you can read our summary of the conversation, and the takeaways, below.

How fear can impact diversity, prejudice, and achievement:

In the current climate, you have people who feel excluded and wrong, says Wilson. And the problem in most cases is fear. Hurt people are fearful that they’re going to be hurt again, so as a defense mechanism, they hurt other people in order to keep themselves walled off. And working with African American males in a variety of contexts, the barrier in most minds and hearts and spirits of young men was fear. If you could get to that fear, help them identify it, and work through it, then you could position them with a different posture in the world.

Fear is a seriously complicating factor, for not just African American males, but all people, and it’s at the root of those who have issues with diversity. They fear the other.

The critical importance of educating black males in the US:

Every year in this country, there are roughly 320,000 African American boys starting ninth grade, Wilson notes. And every year there are roughly 160,000 finishing 12th grade. So we lose half between ninth and 12th grade. Of the 160,000 who finish 12th grade in this country, only 50,000 attend a four-year college, and only 8,000 attend moderately competitive places. Going from 320,000 to 8,000 who have the best chance of being ready for this economy, ready for this economy — that defines the crisis right there.

We have to solve that crisis. We have to do other things that’ll intervene and change those numbers dramatically, because I do think it is a national crisis.

Helping universities and industries to become more inclusive:

We have a human capital problem in this country, says Wilson. We don’t have time for hate. To make America competitive in the world, number one in the world, the most educated and the most prepared, we have to be about the business of enhancing our human capital. A lot of that can only happen if we get rid of the differences and prejudices and focus on the business of creating a better country.

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