A Jan. 16 panel discussion in commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King at Hope Tabernacle Community Church in Forest Park turned into a lively discussion on the state of black men in America. | Michael Romain
Saturday, January 16, 2016 || By Michael Romain
More than 100 people from across the western suburbs and Chicago gathered at Hope Tabernacle Community Church in Forest Park on Jan. 16 to reflect on the legacy of civil rights icon Martin Luther King, Jr., whose birthday was the previous day.
Bishop Reginald Saffo, pastor of United Faith Missionary Baptist Church and president of United Faith Christian Institute and Bible College in Maywood, hosted the event. He said he wanted to highlight the multidimensional aspects of King’s message.
“I believe that it is essential to show that there was another aspect to Dr. King,” he said. “He was an academic and a preacher as well, but he had a whole lot to say. We wanted to capture his emphasis on education and policy-making.”
But what was partly a commemoration of a glorious past was also a candid discussion on the present state of African-American males — those human beings who have acquired an almost unicorn-like mythology in the American public’s imagination and not in the least because they are, like that made-up creature, the products of other people’s fictions. And that could be, in part, due to their absence.
“For every 100 black women not in jail, there are only 83 black men,” notes a 2015 New York Times article. “The remaining men – 1.5 million of them – are, in a sense, missing.”
Among cities, Ferguson, Missouri has the largest gap between black women and black men. In Ferguson, there are 40 “missing black men for every 100 black women.”
The gap, the Times claims, is largely due to early deaths and prison. Futhermore, the gap “barely exists among whites.” There is only one missing white man for every 100 white women.
At the Jan. 16 event, however, a panel of actual black men — representing both themselves and the millions who are, for all intents and purposes, voiceless — pushed back against what might be considered to be the myth of their total absence.
Dr. Dennis Deer, a psychologist and president of Deer Rehabilitation Services, Inc., said on the West Side of Chicago, where he lives, there are ample mentoring programs.
“There are some black men who are grabbing young, black brothers and pulling them forward,” Deer said. “It happens every single week, or two or three times a week. Young brothers, some of them fathers already, are being taught how to take care of their children, because some of them are fathers already. We just gave a young man clothing for his two-month baby, because he didn’t have any clothes. This stuff is really happening in the community.”
Jesse “FX” Ingram, a retired Maywood Police officer and security administrator at Proviso East High School, said he’s a constant presence in the hallways.
“I talk to children in the school everyday,” the 63-year-old said. “I’m in the hallway everyday. I’m 63 and God blessed me to still be moving. I engage them. We have to be responsive to children. We have to keep talking to them and giving them information when we talk to them. We can’t be afraid of them.”
Proviso East Principal Dr. Patrick Hardy related his own experience of ‘being present.’ His mentee, he said, was not at the event, because the young man was busy with his preparation for law school at the University of Missouri. For black men, absence doesn’t always mean prison or early death, Hardy indicated.
“There are programs that are going on,” said Maywood Police Chief Valdimir Talley, who was in the audience. “In fact, the reason why I was delayed was beause I was at a mentoring program hosted by Rep. [Emanuel “Chris”] Welch.”
But audience members didn’t steer around the brutal reality they said is nonetheless prevalent in many black communities.
Mike Burries, an audience member who fielded a question to Hardy and his co-panelists, was blunt about what he considers to be the fragmented nature of many community programs and services designed to address the myriad problems with black youth.
“I realize there are a lot of people in our community who are doing a lot of stuff,” he said. “There’s a lot of stuff being done, but I’m going to keep it real with you. The reason we’re here is because nothing is being accomplished. And the reason nothing is being accomplished is because we know where we’re at, but we don’t know where we’ll be. What are we doing to bring us together so we can stop talking about what black boys are not doing and what kids in school aren’t doing?”
Talley reinforced Burries’s critique, noting that he’d like to see more coordination among various services and organizations.
“There are a lot of programs, but I wish that we, as African-Americans, would coordinate more,” he said.
Barbara Cole, the founder of Maywood Youth Mentoring, agreed and recommended a series of action steps, such as putting together a sign-in sheet with contacts of people who would be willing to volunteer with local youth.
“The problem is bigger than all of us and nobody’s single program is going to solve it,” she said.
“The biggest need that I see with the 1,870 students that i get to work with everyday doesn’t involve anyone in this room unless you’re one of my parents and that is the lack of parents,” Hardy said.
“I don’t know how to solve that. I don’t agree with the idea that it takes a village to raise a child,” he said. “The Bible says children obey your parents. When I call home, I need a parent to answer the phone.”
“Nobody has all the answers, but if we come together collectively, we can probably … get some things done,” said Mark Jones, one of the panelists, who echoed some of Cole’s recommendations.
Some of the panelists’ closing comments began coalescing around King’s message of love and justice.
“None of you truly believe until you wish upon your brother what you wish upon yourself,” Ingram said, quoting a religious proverb.
Alexis Spearman, a student at Walther Christian Academy and one of the event’s panelists, quoted King directly.
“We will not be satisifed until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream,” she said. VFP