Define Yourself, Redefine the World: A Guided Journal for Black Boys and Men (2012), penned by Brandon Frame of The Black Man Can, is a powerful journal specifically designed for Black boys and men to engage in critical thought and reflection. In the 284 pages of the journal, Black boys and men have an opportunity to create a vision and plan for ameliorating their own lives in their own language. Never has there been a personal journal produced solely for Black boys and men. Through this journal, they are provided with space to express their thoughts on a range of issues and respond to essential questions. Powerful quotations from accomplished Black men have been carefully selected and masterfully deployed by Brandon Frame to inspire critical thought.
An extensive body of empirical research has evinced that Black male students throughout the educational pipeline academically underperform all students. In the face of this reality, tools must be available to militate against the factors that contribute to Black male academic underachievement. Define Yourself, Redefine the World: A Guided Journal for Black Boys and Men is one of those innovative and valuable resources we need to help Black boys and men to progress academically, professionally, socially and personally. The issues and questions they will confront in the journal offer them opportunities to face what they must do to make a significant change in their lives.
Too many Black boys and men are allowed to read and internalize negative narratives about themselves—primarily verbal and written narratives from Whites who do not wish them well. Harper (2009) contends that Black males must have the opportunity to tell their own narratives in their own voices to offer meaningful and necessary counternarratives to the dominant extant narratives about them—the dominant narratives about them are mostly untrue, demeaning, and racist. Through this journal, Frame empowers Black males with opportunities to write their counternarratives.
A growing body of professional literature demonstrates that mentoring Black male students leads to higher academic achievement and motivation. Frame’s journal equips those who mentor with a resource that can be used to aid them in the process of transforming the lives of Black male students. For those who mentor Black men, it gives them a tool to facilitate proper guidance and support.
Black fathers and sons now have a serious means through which to share and learn from one another. I envision this journal helping to form Black male virtual and non-virtual communities and spaces where important ideas, challenges, problems, and solutions are discussed, shared, envisaged and implemented. Additionally, I can see multifarious conferences and think tanks developing from those who read and use this journal.
I highly recommend this journal. It can be purchased here: Purchase the Journal Here. For only $15.00, you could save your own life and/or the life of a Black boy or man by buying this journal.
Antonio Maurice Daniels
University of Wisconsin-Madison
- Young black men, unaware and at the highest risk of HIV/AIDS (thegrio.com)
- IU Press to publish new journal on black masculinities (iupress.typepad.com)
- Hey America! Can you please stop killing our (usually) innocent Black male children now? (dailykos.com)
- Single Black Female- The Epidemic (nubiansisters.com)
- “The Hunt is On, and Brother, You’re the Prey” (jackandjillpolitics.com)
- Are black boys endangered? (jsonline.com)
- Premeditated Manslaughter: Notes From a Black Male Suicide Survivor (gawker.com)
- Minister dedicates life to mentoring young black men (chicagotalks.org)
- The “Acting White” Myth (andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com)
- Why do Blacks student not enroll in immersion programs? Avoiding acting White? Probably not (daveporter.typepad.com)
Antwone Fisher (2002) offers one powerful example of how effective Black male mentorship looks in praxis. This film marks the debut of Denzel Washington as a director. Washington also stars in the film as psychiatrist Dr. Jerome Davenport. Derek Luke (Antwone “Fish” Fisher) begins his Hollywood debut in this film. The inspiration for the film emerges from the true story of Antwone Fisher (the screenwriter) and is based on his autobiographical work Finding Fish. The film is produced by Denzel Washington, Nancy Paloian and Todd Black.
The story centers on Antwone “Fish” Fisher (Derek Luke), a young man in the Navy with a deeply complex and troubling past. His father was murdered before he was born and his mother was incarcerated soon after his father’s death. Fish’s teenage mother, Eva Mae Fisher (Viola Davis), gave birth to him while she was incarcerated. While she was in jail, Antwone was put in an orphanage until his mother was released. Unfortunately, she never claimed him when she was released from jail and he was placed in foster care at the age of two. His foster parents, who claimed to be Christians, were Mr. and Mrs. Tate (Ellis Williams and Novella Nelson). Mrs. Tate’s claim to be a Christian was exposed by her many years of mental and physical abuse of Fisher until he departed from her home at 14 years old. Antwone also experienced sexual abuse and molestation by an African American woman who Mrs. Tate left him in her care when she had to leave for work. Mr. Tate is oddly absent from the home while all of the dominant action takes place. Presumably, he’s out working long hours. Antwone leaves his foster home in search of freedom from mental, physical and sexual abuse.
Fish lives on the street for a few years before he resolves to join the United States Navy to chart a new course in his life. As is understandable, his turbulent childhood causes him to struggle with an unbecoming temper. He gets into fights with a few sailors and is demoted, fined and restricted to the ship for 45 days. As a part of his punishment, his commanding officer mandates that he receives physiatrist treatment from Dr. Jerome Davenport (Denzel Washington). Through Dr. Davenport’s work with Fisher, he’s able to achieve success and liberation from his oppressive past, and is able to enjoy a relationship with a woman—despite how his childhood sexual abuse and molestation complicate having a relationship with a woman and her touch.
Dr. Davenport is depicted as a strong leader, smart, disciplined, and compassionate. He’s willing to move from just doing his professional work to using that professional work for charitable service. Davenport sees a need in ameliorating the life of this young brother who is vexed by his childhood. While it may be easy for some people who have never had similar childhood experiences as Fisher to say he simply needed to get over his past, it’s far more complicated than that and this type of thinking lacks sophistication and compassion.
We need more black men to assume a real life mentorship role as Dr. Davenport does in the film. Davenport did not have to go beyond his professional sessions with Fisher, but he understood his linked fate to Antwone. He understood that when young black men like Fish are struggling, he’s struggling too. Dr. Davenport reflects a potent sense of community and he uses mentorship as a vehicle for promoting community improvement.
Although the film ends with your typical happy ending, its exploration of the life of Antwone Fisher brings to the national scene many of the experiences young black males confront. Unfortunately, many young black males resort to negative means of coping with these experiences. Too many black men are neglecting an opportunity to improve the plight of underprivileged young black males.
Dr. Davenport was instrumental in helping Fisher to become a reflective thinker and learner. He taught Fisher how to think about his past experiences in empowering ways rather than in depressing ways. Although Dr. Davenport is a psychiatrist, black men don’t need to be one to have an auspicious impact on the behavior and educational experiences of black males. It was not so much Davenport’s educational background that enabled him to instigate a change in the life of Fisher; it was more about his will to answer the call of leadership and responsibility of mentorship. Asa Grant Hillard, III always reminded black people about the importance of having the will to make change happen, and how vital having this will is to ameliorating black male academic achievement.
When one situates Fisher’s entrance into the Navy in our present moment, he would be required to complete his high school diploma. Joining the Navy in any period in American history promotes learning and positive progression. While we certainly want to increase the number of African American men who enroll in higher education institutions, there are other successful paths for them to select, which, of course, include military service. What’s important is for more black males to be redirected from being ravished by nihilism to paths of advancement, which learning—both formal and informal—must be central to those paths.
More committed African-American male mentors, such as Dr. Davenport, can aid in more black males moving from embracing nihilism and replacing it with achievement. Antwone Fisher provides one valuable example of positive and effective black male mentorship and the redeeming value of mentorship at its best.
Antonio Maurice Daniels
University of Wisconsin-Madison
A significant body of empirical research has demonstrated that Black male students academically underperform all students throughout the educational pipeline (Hawkins, 2010; Jackson, 2003). One has to wonder how this can be a reality when there are so many successful Black men in America. Unfortunately, many Black men are not taking Black male academic underachievement as serious as they need to take it. Imagine if White male students academically lagged behind all students throughout the educational pipeline—it would be declared a national emergency. Why will we not declare Black male academic underachievement in the Black community to be a national emergency? Do Black people not really care about Black male academic underachievement? Of course, we do! The challenge for members in the Black community is to resolve the best way to lead a coordinated national effort to begin to tackle this critical problem. This article contends that mentorship is crucial to dramatically ameliorating Black male academic achievement.
Mentorship is the most immediate, practical, and effective tool that we have in the Black community to tremendously improve Black male academic achievement. Yes, there are many important factors that contribute to the national academic underachievement of Black males, but we, Black men, have the power to address this problem ourselves. We cannot depend on others outside of the Black community to educate our children—we have to do it ourselves!
When we are discussing community development and building, we need to include improving Black male academic achievement as a part of this conversation. Community organizers need to organize Black men and women around helping Black male students to experience higher academic achievement. Those discourses about Black male students do not have to be inundated with examples about Black male students who are academically underperforming. Harper (2005) offers us an opportunity to focus on those factors that contribute to high-achieving Black male students. Instead of us always concentrating on what is not working for Black male students, let’s start devoting more of our attention to what is working for Black male students who are experiencing academic success. Harper’s study provides us with critical insights into what factors have enabled high-achieving Black male students to be academically successful.
Discourses about Black male students that only involve the negative dimensions about them ultimately lead to them being viewed as “problems.” When one perceives Black males as “problems,” he or she reifies them. Black male students are human beings—don’t treat them like objects. Let’s work to engender the factors that have contributed to the academic success of the Black male students that Harper’s (2005) work promulgates.
I mentor 50 students across the United States, mostly Black males. For most of them, I only need to send them an email, text, or call them once a month just to make sure that everything is going okay. They may ask me for advice about certain problems they are confronting, to look over a paper for them, pen a recommendation, and/or etc. This does not take much of my time. Some of my mentees, however, consume much more of my time and this is quite fine. I may have to tutor them weekly, heavily critique their papers often, give them lengthy advice frequently, and/or etc. Now, I’m just one person and I’m mentoring 50 students. If I could only get every capable Black man to mentor just one Black male, then we would not have to witness so many of our Black males dropping out of school, experiencing academic failure, and/or being incarcerated or put in juvenile detention centers.
At “The Think Tank for African American Progress” in 2008, a scholarly national conference held in Memphis, Tennessee, I served as a panelist and presenter of a scholarly paper about ameliorating Black male academic achievement. As both a panelist and scholarly paper presenter, I posited that one of the most important reasons why Black male academic achievement is not being improved is we don’t have enough Black people evincing the will to aid with bolstering their academic achievement. At first, many people at the conference thought my argument about not enough people in the Black people having the will to assist Black male students with improving their academic performances was too simplistic. However, as they begin to offer their solutions and positions about Black male academic achievement, they were able to see that everything they were saying came back to my argument about the importance of having more people exhibiting the will to augment Black male academic achievement.
We don’t have to wait for a government program to help Black male students to ameliorate their academic achievement. Capable Black men need to start mentoring Black male students so that they can be on a path for academic success. Even if mentoring a Black male student does not amplify his academic achievement, you will have given him a true chance to improve his academic performance. You probably will help in many other ways. The key thing is to act. Act now!
Harper, S.R. (2005). Leading the way: Inside the experiences of high-achieving African American students. About Campus, 10(1), 8-15.
Hawkins, B. (2010). The new plantation: Black athletes, college sports, and predominantly White NCAA institutions. New York: Palgrave MacMillan.
Jackson, J.F.L. (2003). Toward administrative diversity: An analysis of the African-American male educational pipeline. The Journal of Men’s Studies, 12(1), 43-60.
Antonio Maurice Daniels
University of Wisconsin-Madison