A century ago W. E. B. Du Bois proposed a leadership rôle for African Americans with special skills, resources and influence. He believed that these fortunate few were obligated by heritage and humanity to be guides and sentinels for the black masses. He described this elite group as the “Talented Tenth” and exhorted its members to use their social, economic and political leverage for group advancement in a society that didn’t always differentiate between African Americans.
The “Talented Tenth” has expanded significantly since Du Bois’ time, but so have the remaining nine-tenths. In a country where black individualism is not universally acknowledged, the fate of the “Talented Tenth” is bound to that of the black masses.
By any measure college graduates and undergraduates are (or should be) part of the “Talented Tenth” and, in the spirit of Du Bois’ vision, should acknowledge his century-old challenge. What are the options? If these blessed few and others with similar skills won’t lift the fallen standard, who will?
Our national urgency was revealed in a Pew Report last summer from which we learned that in 2008 only 47 percent of black males in the public schools of our country graduated. The figure was 28 percent for New York City and Philadelphia and only 27 percent for Detroit. Given our technologically advanced society, there is little gainful employment for high school drop-outs; hence, staggering numbers of the black drop-outs will run afoul of the law. Today there are millions of African American males who are either incarcerated or otherwise ensnared in the criminal justice system.
If the unsuccessful experiences of black males in the public schools are not reconfigured and redirected, those experiences will be little more than conduits to houses of correction where many are housed, but few are corrected. Frankly, far too many high school drop-outs who enter the correctional system begin serving a life sentence on an installment plan.
What about a GED [certificate] as part of parole? What about adjusting the laws to grant employment to convicts who’ve served their time and come well-recommended? What about the return of the right to vote to those who have paid their debt to society?
“The lamb and the lion in us are asleep in the same stall, Respectively waiting for the meek or the mighty to call.”