“… We have just one world
But we live in different ones.”
That song lyric, a snippet from the Dire Straits hit Brothers in Arms, surely wasn’t written with a college campus in mind. But the sentiment fits. Many of today’s students—most notably, African-American males—can feel isolated or out of place. Although they share a physical space with their white, generally more privileged peers, they don’t share the same experience.
In fact, statistics show that, for far too many young black men, the college experience is marked by struggle.
According to the most recent Census figures, more than 45 percent of white Americans between ages 25 and 64 hold at least a two-year college degree. Among African-Americans, that figure is far lower, just 28.7 percent. Looking at success rates among those seeking bachelor’s degrees, Department of Education statistics show that the nationwide six-year graduation rate for black students is 42 percent—20 percentage points below the 62 percent rate among whites. And among black males, that rate is lower still: just 35 percent.
The barriers facing African-American males are nothing new. In fact, for decades, educators and advocacy groups have called for concerted action to reduce inequality and increase educational attainment among black males.
Organizations and individuals all over the nation are working diligently to address this vital issue, including the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance (established in 2014 by President Obama), the Executives’ Alliance to Expand Opportunities for Boys and Men of Color (a coalition of leaders in philanthropy, also established in 2014) and the Student African American Brotherhood (SAAB), founded in 1990 by Tyrone Bledsoe, then at Georgia Southwestern State University. Bledsoe now serves as executive director of SAAB’s national headquarters, and SAAB has grown to encompass more than 250 chapters on college campuses and in middle and high schools in 40 states.
These and other organizations—and the work they do—are immensely important. In fact, they’re bending the arc of our nation’s future because they’re changing the game for thousands of young men. By turning low expectations into high achievement, they’re helping write the individual success stories that this nation sorely needs.
This issue of Lumina Foundation Focus looks closely at a few of those real-life success stories. For example, you’ll read about:
- Evan Snelling, a high school basketball star who saw his Division I dreams shattered by injury, and then rebounded to find an even more satisfying role as a mentor to other young black males at Georgia Highlands College.
- Kevin Lee, a 22-year-old who’s compiled a stellar academic record at Paul Quinn College in Dallas—and earned national accolades for his entrepreneurial skills—despite the fact that he’s homeless.
- Terrance Range—who, in his teens and early 20s was an admittedly unfocused student interested only in “wildin’ out”—but is now a dedicated scholar, a second-year doctoral student at Michigan State University with plans to become a college president.
In addition to these profiles, Focus offers several extra features, including audio clips and links to current research on the effective strategies to increase attainment among African-American males. There’s also a special feature on a fourth exemplary student, a special-education major at Ohio State University named CJ Hardy.
All of this material offers compelling evidence to counteract the unwarranted negative stereotypes that plague young American men of color. Certainly, there is much work to be done to close the achievement gap between black males and other, more privileged student populations. But the young men featured here are proof that this work is more than merely worthwhile, it’s absolutely critical.
If we fail in that work—if we don’t bring those separate worlds together, doing all we can to help young black men reach their full potential—we will not only cheat them as individuals, we will diminish ourselves and our nation.
We at Lumina Foundation are firm in our commitment to help these students—and all students—succeed in postsecondary education. It’s my hope that, by sharing the stories of these exemplary students, we can inspire you to join us in that vital effort.
Jamie P. Merisotis
President and CEO