The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore is the common book for Pierce College this year. On Feb. 12, the common book committee and the Office of Student Life hosted a common book panel on African-American males and student success.
Dr. Dexter Gordon, moderator of the panel, is a professor of communications, chair of the African-American studies program and co-chair and founder of the Race and Pedagogy Initiative at Puget Sound University. He began the discussion by sharing a history of education for African-American males that incorporated audience participation through poll questions.
The facts he shared enlightened listeners on the problems of education for African-American males. For example, one in three of these males will end up serving time in prison during their lifetime, and have a greater chance of being suspended or expelled while in school.
“I say to you race, poverty and education are the predictors of who will go to prison in the United States, so for the mere fact that you are here working on educating yourself means you are preparing yourself for success,” Gordon said. “What can prepare you for success in our nation this time? None of us can say, but we can say education provides you the best opportunity for success.”
Shortly after, the panel was introduced. Each of the five African American men shared their background that allowed them to understand the problems of poverty, discrimination and education that African American men deal with.
Jessie Blaines, Keith Blocker, Tom Hilyard, Jonathon Johnson and Dewon Tarpley were each enthusiastic to answer questions. While the men have diverse backgrounds, they seemed to agree on the answers to each question.
The first question posed involved the ideas of individual determination and systematic influences that Moore discusses in his book. The panelists were told that a person’s success is often attributed to his or her personal drive and not outside factors. So, in their opinion, what’s the relationship between individual determination and the structural system that make up U.S. education?
Each man agreed that these two systems were interdependent. While a person’s individual drive is what pushes that individual, the social situations and environments they’re in have a huge impact, especially in education. The panel said the way society treats young African- American men is not completely fair, and as a result, many feel anger toward a society they feel doesn’t want them to succeed.
Many don’t feel the need to go to school.
The men also felt that in order to make the system better, young adults need guidance and mentorship.
“We can tell you as African-Americans the watching is ubiquitous. It’s everywhere, and when you feel that sense of watching, that system does something to your expectations, your outlook and your feeling of possibility,” Hilyard said. “I say that to talk about the systematic impact on what are your futuristic outcomes, but you also have an opportunity to overcome those and be an exception to what the system expects.”
The next question was whether it wasn’t the environment a person is put in that influences an individual’s choices, but the people around them.
As a group, the panel said that individuals are more likely to succeed if surrounded by successful people.
“We have to, as a community of adults, create the environments that will breed success,” Blocker said.
The men agreed there needs to be a good form of leadership present to help young African-American males.
“Expectations are derived from those around you. You can only take success of what you can achieve from what is around you,” Blaines said. “It is so important to have mentors, and those around you who have been through what you have.”
Gordon asked the panel about family and community, and what the significance of their influence in the success in African-American males is. He asked, what should be their relationship to public institutes such as Pierce College?
Every member concurred that the influence of a family and community is extremely important.
Families are the first group that has an effect on the values young men will develop and use in life.
However, they said that before full reliance on family, the passed-down dysfunctions must be fixed that has been passed down from the history of slavery and discrimination.
For those who don’t have a family due to circumstances, the panel agreed that the educational environment should be a place to grow and develop.
The final question asked about how to improve the retention of black males in higher education institutes.
They agreed on a few major ways to improve retention.
“The words that stand out to me that all the panelists spoke about were engagement, expectation and community,” Tarpley said. “Create an environment that is engaging, create a collective learning community where there is some identification, some connection, and expect the best. Expect success, expect leadership, push for this, push for the individuals to be their best, and you will get exactly what you expect. So, as a community, as a collective, this is what will manifest. For me, the community must be involved in the process, and be working with the schools. It’s a collective process that must be done together.”
After this, the panel answered questions from the audience about judgment, the difference in race and class and how to change the current status and how society educates young African American men.
Johnson explained that for society to work fluidly, it must first treat each sector equally, and this will begin the change for African American men.
The discussion ended with the reiterating of certain history, and giving the audience a call to action.
“I encourage you educators, students and faculty members,” Gordon said. “All our students need are opportunities. Whether they are black or white or Native American or Asian, all they need are opportunities, and the infrastructure in which to build for themselves an education and a future.”
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