Do Real Men Share? HAAMI and African-American Male Mentorship

By Dr. Gregory Washington

Group of HAAMI students at a monthly HAAMI Session.
Group of HAAMI students at a monthly HAAMI session.

The opportunities are great for African-American men on campus.  The challenge for many of us whether student or faculty is to take advantage of the paths trudged by our ancestors and elders. We need direction but we sometimes we don’t have it, recognize it, or accept it from other men who look like us. I have had the privilege to mentor African-American male professionals and students for several years now and I frequently reflect on the lessons I have learned. I want to believe and sometimes get feedback related to how my sharing has benefited others, but I am increasingly aware of the value I get by staying connected to other men. The United States can be a cruel and harsh place for black males without guidance. I was fortunate to have my father available to guide me for over fifty years of my life and still at times I went crazy left instead of right.

Dr. Washington speaks to a mentors of the HAAMI Program.
Dr. Washington speaks to a mentors of the HAAMI program.

There are unwritten rules that African-American boys and men learn and use as they move through the world.   Successful African-American men understand the rules of the game as they relate to interacting with those different from them, and many of them understand the rules of ‘the streets’ are equally, and in some cases, more important. Teaching these rules to boys and young men of color can be a valuable part of helping them and ourselves avoid the traps this society has set for us and supports critical understanding of the masculine and nurturing components of ourselves.  Yes, there are traps from the Old and New Jim Crow laws in place and whether they are inadequate schools, selling the easy package, or the omnipresent get rich without work message in the media. It is important to realize successful African-American males have learned to operate in the society of the United States by strategically maximizing the resources available to them and carefully choosing ways to challenge the racism and inequity found in social institutions. These resources include relationships with successful African-American males.

Ed Harper, Hooks Institute Board Member and HAAMI mentor, speaking with a HAAMI student at the 2015 HAAMI reception.
Ed Harper, Hooks Institute Board Member and HAAMI mentor, speaking with a HAAMI student at the 2015 HAAMI reception.

Safe places and networks where men can be honest are rare. We need more men and boys sharing nurturing places where conscious African-American men, who understand history, culture, politics, and the economics of exploitation, can be real.  Part of the challenge includes the fact that men typically consider sharing feelings feminine in part because it emphasizes self-awareness and vulnerabilities. Some men see it as a sign of weakness to share emotions, particularly men of color from urban neighborhoods.  We are frequently taught that sharing feelings, fears and insecurities can make us vulnerable to harm but exploring emotions, coping skills and vulnerabilities are frequently important tasks that promote our growth. Let me be clear, real men connect and share. We have successes and challenges to share, join the real men at HAAMI.

Dr. Gregory Washington Bio

Dr. Gregory WashingtonGregory Washington, LCSW, Ph. D is the Program Coordinator of the Hooks Institute  African American Male Initiative (HAAMI) and an Associate Professor in the Department of Social Work at the University of Memphis. He is also Director of the Center for the Advancement and Youth Development (CAYD) and Co-Director of the Mid-South Institute for Family and Community Empowerment. Dr. Washington is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. He works as a community clinical practitioner and has practiced as an individual, family and group therapist in Illinois, Georgia, Arkansas and Tennessee. His research interests include culturally-centered empowerment methods and the risk and protective factors associated with youth development. A major goal of his work is to identify and promote the use of innovative culturally-centered group interventions that reduce risk for disparities in behavioral health and incarceration outcomes among young people of color.

The Hooks Institute’s blog is intended to create a space for discussions on contemporary and historical civil rights issues. The opinions expressed by Hooks Institute contributors are the opinions of the contributors themselves, and they do not necessarily reflect the position of the Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change or The University of Memphis.

Why HAAMI Matters

By Dr. Elena Delavega                                                                                                    September 9, 2015

I once had a friend from Ghana tell me that he did not know he was black until he came to the United States. That statement overwhelmed me. It makes me wonder what we are telling our black youth.  It makes me wonder about the messages we are sending about their value as human beings. It speaks to the exclusion to which we relegate our African American population in this country.

According to data from the 2014 Census, Memphis is ranked #1 in poverty among cities with over 1,000,000 residents. However, poverty does not affect everyone in Memphis equally. The differences between African American poverty and White poverty in Memphis are striking. Many of the people living in poverty are African Americans under the age of 18 (43.2%). African Americans under the age of eighteen are three times more likely to live inpoverty than non-Hispanic Whites of the same age.  Moreover, since 2009, poverty rates among non-Hispanic Whites in Memphis have steadily declined, while poverty rates for minorities have increased at the same time.

While poverty is hard on all children, it is harsher on teenagers who are keenly aware of their situation. African American teens have a rough time in this city, with 42% of African Americans between the ages of 12 and 17 living in poverty in Memphis through no fault of their own.

HIAAM logo FNL 2015

Young African American males, in particular are hit by the double scourge of poverty and unemployment. Unemployment rates are almost three times as high for African Americans (13.8%) as for whites (5.9%); in the case of African Americans (both sexes) between the ages of 16 and 19, the unemployment rate is almost 50%. This is not because they are not capable. In Memphis, 35% of African Americans have a high school diploma as their highest educational attainment, more than the general population (29%).

Sadly, high school completion does not necessarily translate into college degrees for this population. Only 14% of the African American population in Memphis have bachelor degrees or higher (the rate among the general population is 24%). I am immediately confronted with the toll of poverty and exclusion on educational attainment. I have met many wonderful African American men and women. They are intelligent, quick, witty, wonderful in every way. The young men participating in the Hooks African American Male Initiative (HAAMI) are delightful in every way; brilliant and hardworking young men, whose GPA averages are better than the average for the entire University of Memphis. Why is it, then that degree attainment among African Americans in Memphis is so low? I cannot help but think there are some exclusionary forces at work.

We cannot become the city of the 21st century that we want to become when we are leaving so many of our residents behind. Given that the city of Memphis has an African American population that is almost 60%, African American poverty and exclusion is a huge concern for Memphis. We cannot continue the systematic exclusion of such a large percent of our population and expect sustainable economic development for our region. Unless we work together to include this very excluded portion of our population, Memphis cannot succeed as a city.

Hooks HAAMI Staff
Hooks Institute HAAMI staff. (Left to Right) Tim Rose, Daphene McFerren, Dr. Elena Delavega, Dr. Gregory Washington.

When poverty rates decline for whites but not for African Americans, when Black unemployment is twice to three times that of White unemployment, when African Americans are graduating from high school but not completing college at the same rate as Whites, I have to wonder, what kinds of opportunities are we providing for our African American males? Are we really providing opportunities?

How unwise of us, how wasteful, to not take advantage of all our resources, of our strong, smart, wonderful young black men. What an absolute travesty and nonsense not to insure that our African American males have every single opportunity for success. Every single one.

Education is the engine of our economy, and mentoring is a crucial element. We are here today to begin the work to reverse the trend with HAAMI.