As I mentioned last night on the Bev Smith Show, saving the black male in America is one of the most critical problems being faced by our community today. Over the last 30 years, black males have been subject to mass incarceration (mostly due to drug felonies after the Reagan Administration opened the door for the crack cocaine epidemic), subject to massive handgun violence (as guns followed the flow of drugs), and poor educational systems (we know how bad inner city schools are in America). As a result, many of these men are poorly equipped to become good husbands and fathers later in life, leading to the suffering of an entire community. The majority of black homes are fatherless, and our boys are bombarded with media that tells them to emulate the behavior of self-destructive hip-hop stars, or to toss away educational opportunities in exchange for an athletic lottery ticket. Something needs to be done.
Dr. Tyrone Bledsoe and his organization are working to solve these problems. Fighting for the black male is not popular in a society that is designed to destroy us. But even if society wants to see us dead and gone, that gives us no excuse to endorse the idea of killing ourselves and each other. It is for his outstanding work in the black community that Dr. Bledsoe is today’s Dr. Boyce Spotlight on Your Black World:
1) What is your name and what do you do?
My name is Dr. Tyrone Bledsoe and I serve as the President-CEO of the Student African American Brotherhood (SAAB) National Headquarters located on the campus of the University of Toledo, Toledo, Ohio.
2) What is the purpose of your organization?
SAAB is a culturally sensitive organization with a very unique program model that aims to increase the number of African American and Latino Males who graduate from college by creating a positive peer community at institutions ranging from middle school through college. Since 1990, SAAB has been successfully replicated and grown to more than 200 chapters on campuses throughout the United States, with its National Headquarters housed at the University of Toledo in Toledo, OH. SAAB is recognized as a national leader and comprehensive, evidence-supported movement organized to systemically set the standards for organizational excellence by providing all students in 38 states, an opportunity to learn and to be involved. Chapters may vary in their specific structure and orientation, however, their core focus derives from the data collection and research coordinated by SAAB National Headquarters. Through leadership, mentoring, advocacy and action, SAAB addresses educational barriers for many males of color who are deemed at-risk and ensures that significantly more Black and Latino males graduate from college and go on to become productive young men and contributing citizens.
3) What do you think are some of the most significant problems being faced by black males today?
The issues confronting black males today are many. Simply the achievement of manhood is seen as a victory and major milestone for many black males today given this has been a historical and complex task for Black men in America (Lee 1996). Also, the economic challenges have intensified the problems for black males and have given way to increased poverty, unemployment, lowered life expectancy, and low expectations (Patton 1988). The health problems associated with sexual behavior of our young black males is a significant issue that requires ongoing education. Also, there are increasing numbers of black males under the control of the criminal justice system (i.e., prison, probation, parole, etc.). Moreover, the growing gap between the educational attainment of black men and black women is a serious problem with no clear solution in sight given the many set-backs that can be cited. All and all, Black males face unique challenges that oftentimes compromise their success in school. They are often described using disparaging terms such as lazy, endangered, dangerous and uneducable. The problem is further exacerbated by the internalization of these negative beliefs, which in many cases work to compromise their overall success as young men. Overall, these problems and factors coalesce and offer a profile of young men whose educational and social fate is in serious jeopardy.
4) What is your personal, educational and professional background?
I was born and reared in Grenada, Mississippi and currently reside in Toledo, Ohio. I am a distinguished member of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc and the Rotary Club of Reynolds Corners. I am a very spiritual; thought-provoking, charismatic leader and lecturer, but most importantly, I am the father to one child (a son) 25-year old Tyrone, Jr.
I received my Bachelor of Arts and Master of Education degrees from Mississippi State University, and went on to complete a Ph.D. in Counseling and Student Affairs Administration with an emphasis in Counseling Psychology at the University of Georgia. My academic and professional prowess is underscored by my recognition as Outstanding Doctoral Student in the State of Georgia, and soon thereafter, my honor as Outstanding Doctoral Alumnus by the University of Georgia.
I am a contributing author to the book African American Men in College, and my scholarly contributions have been further solidified through my appearances on several talk shows to include Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr.’s talk show, “Perfect Union”, where I discussed issues pertaining to African American and Latino males.
Further, my expertise was requested for an international research team to address issues affecting men of color in Europe. In 1999, I was invited to serve as guest lecturer at the Oxford University Roundtable Institute in Oxford, England to discuss my work with the latter. I have been highly recognized by several professional associations for my research, publications, presentations, and scholarly work. Because of my many contributions to Student Affairs in higher education, my membership with the American College Personnel Association (ACPA) led to my being distinguished as a Diamond Honoree. The University System of Georgia recently awarded me the “Impact Award” for my contributions to the State of Georgia. My international work has earned notoriety with Ashoka, a global association of the world’s leading social entrepreneurs, which recently selected me as one of the most outstanding social innovators in the world.
5) Do you have any advice for parents and others in the community who wish to have a positive impact on the young men around them?
I believe that successful strategies and initiatives to assist our young black males require involvement of the parents and other community stakeholders. We (as a Village) have to plan and be very systematic in creating awareness, consensus building, and generating participation from all stakeholders in processes of change and transformation. Experience has shown us that by fostering stakeholder partnerships, we can meet the expressed and sometimes “unexpressed” needs of our young people. We have to “Care” and actively show that we care about our young men’s lives and dreams. They (young men) are searching for this support and love and oftentimes find themselves creating it in alternate families (i.e., gangs). Overall, parents and community stakeholders have to be vested in creating a culture that allows young men to share, feel safe, validated and accepted coupled with a spirit of caring. We as parents and community stakeholders have to be effective, consistent and genuine “role models” who model appropriate behaviors for our young men and help them in many cases define “authentic success”.
6) Is there anything else you’d like to share with our Your Black World audience?
I would simply like for the audience to know about the effectiveness of SAAB as a national program initiative we desire to expand and replicate even more around the country. SAAB has attracted extensive national and international attention as an strategically structured, comprehensive prototype for personal and academic enrichment of young males of color ranging from middle school to college. SAAB has been successfully replicated at public/private schools, predominately white institutions (PWIs, historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), middle and high schools, and 2& 4 year colleges. We regularly and consistently provide our members information and referrals on planning for college, financial aid, career and life planning, public service opportunities, academic assistance, counseling services and health-related services. SAAB creates and environment in which every individual member is affirmed and every activity of the organization is humane and inclusive. We believe that Caring as a “value” is the key to creating the ethos within the organization. Our members are cherishing in their independence to flourish within an organization like SAAB that provides and open and relaxed environment for them to grow and in some cases heal.
We distinguish ourselves from other groups such as fraternities in that there is no pledge or intake process, no GPA requirement for general membership (only for the officers/leaders within a chapter), no student membership fee and we are open to all students regardless of circumstances, economics, abilities, or beliefs. We (SAAB) are committed to breaking down barriers that typically separate and generally destroy our young men. We are dedicated to “Saving Lives and Salvaging Dreams”.