By Mervin A. Bourne, Jr.
I read an article in the New York Times this morning entitled, “1.5 Million Missing Black Men.” (Wolfers, Leonhardt, Quealy) The article echoed themes that I have watched play out in living color for the last decade of my life, in courtrooms and communities in Newark, NJ, and in courtrooms and communities throughout Washington, D.C. Even before that, I watched them play out in the communities of Baltimore, Maryland, where I lived while attending my amazing alma mater Morgan State University. It echoed themes I’ve seen unfold in my own life, as I became “the man of the house” around age 11 or 12. It echoed themes that have bothered me, saddened me and disappointed me, as solutions to the million problems that comprise this epidemic swirled around in my head, but never lined up, like trying to drive straight through a course of bumper cars.
The end result has always been easy to see – or has it? The loss of The Missing from our communities – American communities, has led to results that differ greatly depending on who you ask. One might say the ultimate result has been an increased criminal element. Others might say, the destruction of the Black family unit. Whatever the ultimate result, as Peniel E. Joseph pointed out in his commentary in theroot.com, the solutions are usually omitted from the discussion. Whether due to utter disinterest or sheer perplexity, even our most trusted policy makers have not been able to come up with apt solutions to reverse the trend and end the phenomenon of The Missing. And those who have not yet realized that the plight of the people most immediately impacted by this phenomenon causes the entire human community to suffer immensely, whether they acknowledge it or not, are very mistaken.
So in order to alleviate the bumper car effect of solutions racing through my head, I decided to delve into one deep ocean of a problem/situation/quandry – single motherhood. Why them? Why them? Why them? Why not (fill in the blank)? Because right now, in the present, in this very moment, you have our boys – who will become the next generation of men – in the palm of your hand. If they were in the hands of their deceased fathers, we could look to them. If they were in the hands of their incarcerated fathers, we could look to them. But since, according to the New York Times, 1.5 million black men are missing from everyday life due to death or incarceration, in the meantime, we look to you.
I’ve seen and heard to much, listened too attentively, and care too much, to offer empty intellectual condemnation, as it has become so convenient and even perhaps trendy to do when it comes to single mothers. If the goal is meaningful progress, there is no room for condemnation, but room must be made for recognition that the status quo is not working, and room must be made for change. What can be done in the here and now that is within your control? That is the question everyone should ask.
What is the status quo? Men see the act of impregnating women as a testament to their manhood. Women see bearing a man’s child as a symbol of acceptance and somehow, as a claim of right to that man. Boys see no options for their futures outside of their communities, and expect nothing great of themselves. Girls believe that their biggest achievement in life will be to bear children, and be loved by some boy or man, somewhere. Mothers raising their sons alone either do not expect them to rise above their situations and become great men, or they have no idea how to raise them into the men they want them to become. Society receives young boys and men into the criminal justice system with a dual obligation of protecting society, while attempting to deal justly with the alleged lawbreakers caught in it. Young men have divorced the act of creating life from the responsibilities of nurturing and developing the lives they are creating. Girls and women, who inevitably bear the primary responsibility for every child they bear, do not have the foresight to realize that their lives will be forever changed – and not in an easier way – by their decisions to continue to have more and more children before they have established themselves enough to be phenomenal mothers. Men and women have forsaken the values that our ancestors lived, struggled and died to protect and pass on – pride, hope, strength, courage, resilience, innovation, optimism, love, compassion, responsibility, scholarship, achievement, self-determination, self-reliance, and community.
We have forgotten, or have not been taught that society does not owe us the wants and desires of our hearts, and very few are standing in line to indulge the stories of our trials and tribulations, as legitimate as they may be. The world can and often is a very cold place. That is the status quo. Of course nothing is absolute, and there are exceptions to every rule. But anyone who is in the trenches knows this to be true. The social workers, elementary school teachers, law enforcement officers who are actually in and off the communities they police, the parents of our young children, and the children themselves, know these things to be true. Until we can accept what is, we cannot adequately address why those things are, and what can be done to change them. I endeavor to do my part to reverse the status quo – not contribute to creating the next generation of The Missing for the next New York Times piece to cover. @mervinbourne