Black and Latinx Male Summit

On August 5-6, 2019, the MACH III Center, along with the Texas Juvenile Crime Prevention Center, hosted area organizations and volunteers at Prairie View A&M University for a Summit on Improving Outcomes of African American and Latinx Males.

The two days of workshops and keynote speakers focused on data that could be used for collaborative long-term solutions for males of color.

Dr. Luis Ponjuan, associate professor at Texas A&M University, said nine out of 10 brown and black boys have not earned a certificate or degree (90 percent of African American males and 88 percent of Latino males). He spoke of an educational system that does not know what to do with this population of students.

“Traditionally, institutions ask if male students of color are ready for college. We must ask if institutions are ready to serve male students of color,” said Ponjuan, who went down a list of visible traits that brown and black male students have stacked against them, including: what they wear, hair styles, teeth, scars, tattoos, language accent and dialect, and possible criminal records.

“Compare that to their invisible traits such as language comprehension, religion, sexual orientation, if they are a father or caregiver, their financial stress, and learning and mental health concerns.

“How are we listening to their needs,” Ponjuan asked those in attendance, including 11 other speakers. “Who drops out? If you had 1,000 men of color enrolled in college for a semester, 600 of them would drop out. We are losing men of color after the first semester. “We can’t have a discussion about degree completion until we have a discussion about semester completion.

“We are looking for data for discussion, not distractions. We will not improve over night and we must embrace a collaborative long-term solution and we must focus on that,” he said.

The first day of the summit focused on learning about various participating programs and community organizations and sharing best practices. The second day consisted of capacity-building trainings on assessment and sustainability.

Speakers from a dozen local organizations shared information about the support they give via mentoring and educational events for male students of color in the Greater Houston area and beyond.

Dr. Fred A. Bonner, executive director of the MACH III Center at PVAMU, who does scholarly research on black male achievement, closed the day with a keynote address. He said society sometimes punishes males of color for their giftedness.

“Some of the most gifted people on the planet are behind bars. In some cases, it was their gifts that got them there,” Bonner said, explaining that some black and brown males take on issues of masculinity in education and will deny their educational brilliance for the sake of appearance.

“It’s called disidentification. Being smart sometimes does not play well on the basketball court,” said Bonner whose research focuses on helping to advance the status of minority populations across P-20 education and workplace contexts.

Ricardo R. Venegas, a transition facilitator at Austin (Texas) Independent School District, said he has worked with this population of males for many years.

“I have seen some of the brightest students in this group (black and Latinx males). The only difference is how they achieve those goals. Some are praised for it and receive accolades, while others are castigated for it,” he said.

During her address, Dr. Camille Gibson, professor and interim dean in PVAMU’s College of Juvenile Justice and Psychology, said, “We know that in schools, based on how systems operate, that some of our youngsters hear the message in so many ways: Academics is not for you, think about something else.”

“If young people in our communities are exposed to violence, gangs, drugs, poor schools and unemployment, which makes other things look more attractive – that is a problem,” she said.

Gibson said peer pressure is a major factor in student success or failure, along with a strong support system.

“Try to deal with boys without having a conversation about girls. It’s not going to work,” Gibson said, inciting laughter from the crowd. “The main reason that males come by my office to say they are leaving school is because they got somebody pregnant and they have to go to work to help support the child.

“We know from research in higher education that a lot of the students who stay and graduate are ones who have family support. If parents aren’t there giving what we know children need, that’s when we come into play – nonprofits, churches, professors, teachers. We try to fill that gap. We need people in our future who believe in giving back, so we need to teach that now. We need to teach them how to open doors, how to serve, show them how to make a difference.”