The economic downturn has an unprecedented number of Americans agreeing that too many of us are unemployed and underemployed. As the numbers of unemployed rise, one population segment is more at risk than others: African-American males. As 2009 ended, the unemployment rate for black men was a staggering 17 percent, which is almost double the 9.5 percent rate for white males.
National statistics show that fewer than 41 percent of black males graduate from high school, and fewer than 4 percent attend college. Low education has a proven effect on the likelihood that individuals, particularly males, will be arrested and/or jailed. African-Americans comprise 27 percent of Georgia’s population, but they are 68 percent of the state prison population. Conversely, high school and college graduates are more likely to occupy their time with career-track employment and positive community contributions.
Often referred to as “the most progressive city in the South,” Atlanta is known for diversity, its role in the civil rights movement, and for the largest consortium of historically black colleges and universities in the country. But for all of its progressiveness, fewer than 21 percent of our African-American male high school students go on to college.
While pundits and intellectuals debate the causes of this crisis, I submit that the entire community must actively come together to support and provide opportunities for African-American men. It is impossible for Atlanta to sustain its reputation as a global leader if all of her citizens are not provided the opportunity to earn a living wage. The strength of Atlanta rests in citizens whose education and skills make them productive and competitive.
Atlanta Technical College recognizes the role that we must play in strengthening our economy by recruiting, retaining and graduating African-American men. In February 2009, we launched the Atlanta Technical College Institute for Males, or AIM, designed to advance positive educational outcomes for African-American men. We have set robust goals for this program, and we are in pursuit of solid partnerships to address this crisis. We are working with community, business and elected leaders to increase African-American educational success and to implement mentoring and career counseling for African-American young men in metro Atlanta high schools.
In addition to AIM, Atlanta Technical College’s Georgia Fatherhood Program is working to provide a support network for African-American men and other students hardest hit economically. The program provides educational and financial counseling and job placement assistance for noncustodial parents with court-ordered child support. Providing mostly African-American fathers with the tools and resources to obtain gainful employment creates opportunities to support the well-being of their children and contribute to the economy.
There are many students who are becoming who they were meant to be because of the support of these programs and others like them, but there is much more to be done. Therefore, we consistently seek innovative, progressive initiatives that will enable all students to be leaders in the community. Civil rights attorney Charles H. Houston wrote, “Without education, there is no hope for our people and without hope, our future is lost.” I am convinced that the “people” includes all of the people. Those who are out of sight because of lack of access to educational resources and services cannot be out of mind.
Alvetta Peterman Thomas is the president of Atlanta Technical College, which is having a summit today on African- American male education with Fulton County.
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