While the atmosphere outside at Malcolm X College’s 24-hour Registration Block Party Saturday was festive, black men both young and old were getting down to business of empowering themselves during an afternoon workshop taking place inside.
The four-hour workshop on black male image targeted youth aged 8 through 16. There were nearly three dozen young men in attendance to hear community leaders and male students from Howard University, who spoke about the importance of realizing their potential.
“I have attended events geared toward creating positive black male images and empowering black men, however, they generally featured older gentlemen,” said Kevin Booth, a senior in advertising at Howard University. “That is fine, but we felt that as student speakers, our words would have more resonance because the young people in the audience can relate to us. We’re closer in age and we kind of have an idea of what their desires, dreams and plans are.”
The program was a collaboration between the Monarch Awards Foundation of Xi Omega Chapter, Alpha Kappa Sorority and Howard University.
“This event allows us to speak to these young men about curing our social ills and becoming more involved with controlling our images,” said event host and reigning Mr. Howard University Jamel Franklin. “If you don’t see strong black males who take care of their families, who have ivy league educations, [and] who raise their kids, you feel that you can not aspire to do those things.”
Mr. Howard University is a title given to the university alumnus who best represents the university in terms of academic excellence, community outreach and resource support, said Franklin.
The Howard University men shared the podium with other speakers, including Gregory Jackson who spoke about violence in the black community.
Jackson shared the story of his brother, who was the victim of a stabbing. Jackson said his initial reaction was to retaliate. Jackson said he realized that retaliation in the form of service as a mentor for youth similar to the ones involved with his brother’s crime would be his best response.
“Manhood is about knowing how to pick your battles, and how to know when to act,” he said. “I knew that if I responded with force, my mother would not only have a son in critical condition but also one that was incarcerated.”
Community activist Wasi Young spoke at length about the change in ideology within the black community in the last generation.
“Twenty years ago, when faced with a struggle for our liberty and racial identity, we felt we could win the struggle with force,” Young said. “We learned soon enough, though, that they had better weapons and better manpower. We realized that the real battle was a mental one. One that could only be won through education and self-awareness coming from having a clear vision about what it truly means to be a black man.”
Young talked about the lack a familiarity to black culture among today’s youth. He set up a slide show on a projector screen showing elements that encompass African-American culture.
“If you don’t know your culture and feel that all you can do is rap or play basketball, then you’re going to have an identity problem,” he said. “Manhood is about knowing your past, present and future so you can become better men.”