Black Male Academic Achievement

Examining Self-perceptions and Behaviors of Successful Black Male College Student-Athletes

Black Male College Student Athletes(Photo Credit: Black Entertainment Television)

In “Diamonds in the Rough: Examining a Case of Successful Black Male Student Athletes in College Sport,” Bimper, Jr., Harrison, Jr. and Clark (2012) investigated the self-perceptions and behaviors that enabled 7 Black male student-athletes to experience academic and athletic success.  A case study was used as the research method, and Critical Race Theory (CRT) was employed as the theoretical framework.  From the findings in the study, the researchers concluded that helping Black male college student-athletes to evolve positive identities as student-athletes and the ability to experience rewarding academic achievement are crucial to their academic success.  The findings of this study revolved around three core themes: complex identities, community, and liberation.

Bimper, Jr. et al. (2012) express that Black male student-athletes are being recruited to predominantly White institutions (PWIs) for their athletic abilities, but many of these student-athletes are experiencing tremendous difficulty with meeting their academic challenges.  They note that recent graduation reports promulgated by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) about 70 bowl-bound NCAA Division I football teams and NCAA Division I tournament-bound basketball teams reveal that the graduation rate of Black male student-athletes is significantly lower than their White counterparts.  In conducting this study, the authors explain that they want to improve knowledge about the distinctive experiences of Black male student-athletes who have been both academically and athletically successful in high-profile revenue-generations sports at PWIs of higher education.  The researchers also disclose that they concentrate their research on “the role in which race unfolds in the experiences and identity of Black male student athletes in this collegiate setting” (p. 108-109).  They assert that great differences in academic achievement between Black male student-athletes and their White counterparts indicate that issues associated with culture, identity, and social relationships could be important to the academic achievement of student-athletes.

Moreover, Bimper, Jr. et al. (2012) explain how pernicious racial stereotypes lead to decreases in Black male college student-athletes’ academic achievement.  Although all student-athletes have to combat “the dumb jock” stereotype, this stereotype becomes even more problematic for Black male student-athletes, considering they academically underperform all of their peers.  The researchers inform the reader that Black male student-athletes have to fight serious pressure to construct a strong athletic identity before they are given the proper space to develop a constructive academic identity.  The authors discussed how Black male student-athletes who participate in high-profile sports experience a level of alienation far greater than that of the general Black student population.

The lead researcher in this study is a Black male and former student-athlete who participated in multiple revenue-generating college sports.  The lead researcher also has experience working with diverse student-athletes.  To ensure trustworthiness, the lead researcher maintained “transparent memos and notes throughout the data collection and analysis, member checked data transcriptions, and collaborated in a peer review process to check biases and discern the accuracy of findings” (Bimper, Jr., et al., 2012, p. 112).

The participants in this study are 7 Black male student-athletes who attend a southwestern PWI on a full athletic scholarship.  The classification of these student-athletes range from sophomore to graduate student: 1 sophomore, 3 juniors, 2 seniors, and 1 graduate student.  The graduate student finished his undergraduate degree in 3 years and had completed work toward a master’s degree when the study was conducted.  Only one of the participants came from a two-parent home.  All of these Black male student-athletes came from low-income homes, and they all attended public K-12 schools prior to enrolling in college.  A purposeful sampling strategy was employed to recruit them for this study.  Specifically, criterion sampling was used to recruit them.  Bimper, Jr. and colleagues (2012) make clear that the reason why Black male college student-athletes at PWIs were sought after is these institutions have proved in the professional literature to be sites where Black male student-athletes experience the lowest academic achievement.  To be selected to participate in this study, the student-athlete would have to have made valuable athletic contributions to the team and be first or second on the depth chart.  Additionally, the student-athlete had to have at least a 3.0 GPA or received some academic award by the institution, NCAA or the athletic department.

The main method of data collection was semi-structured individual and focus group interviews.  The initial questions asked during the individual and focus group interviews are as follows: “(a) ‘Will you describe your experience as a student athlete at your university?’ (b) ‘How have your experiences as a student athlete influenced your perception of self?’ (c) ‘What do you think contributes to your success as a student athlete?’” (Bimper, Jr., 2012, p. 114).

As mentioned previously, three dominant themes emerged from the data collected: complex identities, community and liberation.  The dominant finding that pertains to the complex identities theme is the student-athletes contended that their identity as Black male student-athletes played an instrumental role in their lives, and they provided a counter-narrative to the prevalent thought of them being only athletes.  All participants were proud to identify themselves as being Black and were conscious of their peers and instructors’ perceptions of their racial identity.  Most of the student-athletes posited that toxic stereotypes about being Black and being an athlete are concatenated.  All participants articulated that Black male student-athletes have to confront challenges associated with their athletic and racial identity.

The community theme refers to the participants communicating their ability to “engage a supportive community” that is critical to their academic and athletic success.  One of the participants explained that too many of his teammates attempt to perform well academically on their own, but they struggle mightily.  For this participant, he did not find the language of the recruiters that he would be coming to a “family” environment to be true.  These student-athletes contend that it was their ability to find a supportive community within the institution and use the available resources offered by the institution and athletic department, especially the academic center in the athletic department, that greatly contributed to their academic success.  Some participants felt that the athletic department created a culture where they expected their student-athletes to graduate, but others believed that there was not a true commitment to their degree completion.  All, save one, participants were linked with tutors to work with outside of the athletic department.  The student-athletes found that networking was essential to their academic success, especially networking with Black professors on campus.  In their opinion, one of the fundamental reasons why many Black male student-athletes struggle academically is they fail to network with others on campus, especially Black professors.  These student-athletes communicated that they were able to overcome the pre-college expectations for them to come to college to simply try to become professional athletes.

Moreover, the theme of liberation that surfaced throughout the study refers to the participants becoming “self-empowered through education” (Bimper, Jr., 2012, p. 122).  The participants believe that it’s more important for them to be successful academically than athletically.  It is there hope that they can change perceptions about Black male student-athletes’ intellect by excelling academically.  They were deeply bothered about the negative perceptions on campus about their intellectual capabilities as student-athletes, especially as Black male student-athletes.

One disappointing aspect of this study is it does not offer any understanding of the academic preparation the student-athletes had prior to coming to college.  This study did not provide any understanding about where the participants’ strong self-determination emerged, and what helped them to not fall prey to simply coming to college to try to become professional athletes.  While this study has great potential for helping scholars to understand how to ameliorate the academic achievement of Black male student-athletes at PWIs, its failure to give insights into the pre-college academic and social preparation of the participants leaves many issues and questions unresolved.  Although it does explain that all of the student-athletes come from low-income homes, the reader is left without any understanding of how well the students performed academically in their K-12 experience.  It would have been helpful to learn more about their pre-college social lives and experiences.  Simply learning that the student-athletes come from low-income homes is not sufficient enough to provide essential background information about the pre-college factors that facilitate and militate against their college academic achievement.

The Black male student-athletes provided valuable insights about how important networking, especially with Black professors, was to their academic success.  It would have been helpful to learn specifically what those Black professors provided for them.  Future research should devote critical attention to how networking can aid in the academic success of Black male student-athletes and what can be done to mitigate barriers to Black male student-athletes being able to engage in networking.  Scholars need to investigate why many Black male student-athletes are not currently engaging in networking on-campus and off-campus.  The study offers promising insights about how academic support centers in athletic departments should adopt a culturally relevant pedagogical framework.  The study does not, however, give specific recommendations for accomplishing this.  Future research should provide specific recommendations for establishing a culturally relevant pedagogical framework in academic support centers in athletic departments, and examine the specific academic and social outcomes that result from implementing a culturally relevant pedagogical framework in these academic support centers in athletic departments.

Reference

Bimper, Jr. A.Y., Harrison, Jr., L., & Clark, L. (2012). Diamonds in the rough: Examining a case of successful Black male student athletes in college sport. Journal of Black Psychology, 39(2), 107-130.

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison 

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Define Yourself, Redefine the World: A Guided Journal for Black Boys and Men: A Review

The Black Man Can Journal

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

Antwone Fisher (2002) and Black Male Mentorship

Antwone Fisher

Image courtesy of tvlistings.zap2it.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

Combating White Skepticism of Black Teachers Teaching Black Students

While most White people involved in the field of Education will say that they support improving Black male academic achievement, some of them become skeptical when Black teachers play a significant role in helping Black students to ameliorate their academic achievement.  It’s natural for Black teachers to have a special passion for boosting the academic achievement of Black students.  Because of the impact of slavery and Jim Crow and their residual effects, many Black people understand the need to passionately advocate for other Black people.  Most Black teachers, if not all, want to provide all students with the highest quality education possible, regardless of their students’ race and ethnicity.  Unfortunately, some White people situated in the education sector do not truly want to see Black students succeed.

Some White people in Education do not trust Black teachers to be able to increase the academic achievement of Black students without cheating for them.  Now, most of the White people who cannot believe that Black students’ academic achievement can be increased without cheating for them will not directly tell the Black teachers that they think they cheated for their Black students.  It is fallacious to think that just because a Black teacher teaches Black students he or she will cheat for those Black students.  Now, you don’t hear a significant number of Black people running around saying that White teachers are cheating for White students just because they are White.

Some Whites’ skepticism toward the improved academic achievement of Black students that has resulted from the teaching of Black teachers dramatically intensifies when it is a Black male teacher helping Black male students to ameliorate their academic achievement.  It seems like some Whites think that Black male teachers are not only going to cheat for Black male students, but also cheat so much for them that their grades end up being astonishingly higher than they have ever been.  When Black male students are making tremendously high grades, it offers a serious counternarrative to the lies and negativity that some Whites like to propagate about Black male students and Black male academic achievement.

Black parents and White parents who are committed to the improved academic achievement of all students need to strengthen their support for Black male teachers who evince a zeal for enhancing the academic achievement of Black male students.  When one truly understands that extensive research has proven that Black male students at every level of the educational pipeline academically underperform all of their peers, then it becomes reasonable to understand why a Black male teacher would develop a special passion for improving the academic achievement of Black male students.  With such vexing academic underachievement at all levels of the educational pipeline, Black male students need everyone who is truly concerned about education in America to give them greater support and attention.

You cannot be seriously committed to education reform in America when you’re not devoted to the improvement of Black male academic achievement.  We should view Black male academic underachievement as a national crisis.  If White male students at every level of the educational pipeline were academically underperforming all of their peers, we would have been declared their academic problems a national crisis.  For some reason, Black male students have not been privileged enough to have their academic struggles be promulgated as a national priority.

Although the Black community must make the improvement of Black male academic achievement a serious national priority, stronger efforts to involve more Whites in this effort is necessary.  We have to think critically about ways to engage more Whites in the effort to ameliorate Black male academic achievement.  Moreover, we have to think more deeply about how make strengthening Black male academic achievement a national priority for Black people.  While some Whites will always remain skeptical of Black teachers working with Black male students to enhance their academic achievement, there must be larger efforts to support the continual efforts of Black teachers to improve Black male academic achievement.

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Pay K-12 Students for High Grades

If you really want to boost student academic achievement, schools should reward students with money for high grades. Now, you can get all sophisticated and deep with me about how this reflects commodification and reification, but the reality is money can be used as a serious vehicle for positively improving academic achievement. For many students who are not performing well academically, money can be the incentive that they need to work to ameliorate their grades. Schools can seek private money from various foundations and individuals to fund the effort of rewarding students for higher academic achievement. Students who make the Honor Roll should be paid. I often hear many parents say that it’s the job of their children to do their school work. Well, then, let’s pay those children when they make the Honor Roll for the good work that they do on their “job.”

For students coming from low-income homes, the money that they receive for high grades can help them to survive. If you want to see minority and low-income students have a greater incentive to close the academic achievement gap, pay them to close that academic achievement gap. You will see that achievement gap get smaller and smaller. We have to be willing to try innovative things to increase academic achievement in America. Don’t allow your lack of an open mind on what I’m saying in this piece to prevent you from seeing the potential of paying students for higher grades to be one thing that we can do to bolster academic achievement.

I’m not asserting that paying students for higher grades is the panacea for the academic achievement problems students are facing across the country. Of course, students need more than just money to improve their academic achievement, but I want us to consider how rewards (like money) can be powerful motivating forces in creating change. Many students can improve their grades if they change the way they view their grades. If they know that there is money attached to getting high grades, they are certainly more likely to work tremendously hard to achieve high grades.

Although I come from economically well off family, receiving money served as a strong influencing force that kept me making good grades. Therefore, if you have children who are already making good grades, having schools to pay them for making those good grades will help them to keep making good grades. Many students need to see some type of tangible and meaningful immediate reward for getting good grades. Money is tangible, meaningful, and immediate.

Many who oppose the idea of paying K-12 students for making high grades contend that it sends the wrong message to students because they become more focused on the money than learning. Well, if they are not focused on learning right now, then we need something to cause them to at least begin to think about improving their grades. When they start to think about improving their grades for the money, they will have to have some focus on learning because they must learn to get higher grades.

One of the greatest challenges we have in the K-12 educational pipeline today is ameliorating Black male academic achievement. Black male students academically underperform all students throughout the educational pipeline. Many Black male students in urban areas see that it’s easier to go make some money selling drugs than it is to go to school and do some homework that is not going to produce them some immediate money. They find that they cannot be concerned with thoughts about college in the future because they have to survive right now. Now, just imagine if we were able to tell these Black males that if they make high grades they can get paid for those grades. I am confident that many more of them would choose to become more engaged with their studies than with things that will lead them to incarceration.

Okay, let’s just say that my proposal to pay students for getting high grades does not dramatically improve academic achievement. That’s fine! We should be thankful for the students this proposal does help. What’s wrong with putting my proposal into action on a trial basis on a national level to see what happens. I really don’t see any serious harm that can be done by trying this out. Paying students for high grades just might be what we need to jumpstart academic achievement in this country!

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison

You Gotta Love Me to Improve Me: The Cry of Black Male Students

The extant professional literature has extensively evinced that Black male students academically underperform all students throughout the educational pipeline (See Jerlando F.L. Jackson’s “Toward Administrative Diversity: An Analysis of the African-American Male Educational Pipeline”). Limited research exists on what impact the level of love teachers have for the profession has on Black male students’ learning outcomes. People will ask how are you going to measure love for the profession. One of the important ways to measure a teacher’s love for the profession is to ask him or her how important of a problem is it to him or her that Black male students academically underperform all students throughout the educational pipeline. Next, one can ask the teacher what is he or she doing to ameliorate this problem. I think that gaining answers from teachers on those two questions are important steps to gaining a qualitative understanding of where teachers stand on the problem of Black male academic underachievement.

Given that America has been a historically racist nation and continues to be a racist nation, I contend that it is vital to engage White teachers with queries that seek to understand how they feel about the quandary of Black male academic underachievement. In no way am I trying to call all White teachers racists. It’s just a reality that most students are educated by White teachers in America. The existing scholarly literature needs to benefit from qualitative research that examines the perceptions of White teachers about the problem of Black male academic underachievement. We need to understand what percentage of them really views this as a serious problem. We also need to know why White teachers think this problem exists. These questions need to be asked to White teachers because we need to uncover the level of investment they have in Black male students throughout the educational pipeline.

It is very possible that one of the foremost contributing factors to Black male academic underachievement could be many White teachers’ lack of a strong investment in Black male academic success. As we look to further identify the most significant factors that contribute to Black male academic underachievement, we cannot be afraid to ask questions that might be offensive to people. If people get offended when you are solemnly exploring questions aimed at buttressing Black male academic achievement, then that’s just tough for them. It seems that there are not enough people getting offended about Black males academically lagging behind all students throughout the educational pipeline. That’s what we need to get offended about! Therefore, if you get offended when I start asking you whether or not you really love Black male students, then you will just have to be offended.

I am not going to let Black teachers off the hook either. If you really love the members of your community and are looking to uplift your community, then what are you doing to advance Black male education? What are you doing to support positive educational experiences and outcomes for Black males? What are you doing special for them to meet their special realities? I don’t want to hear this crap about having to treat them the same as everyone else. If you have that kind of mindset, then you really don’t care about them because they are not just like everyone else—they are the most academically underperforming students throughout every grade level.

I encourage you to do whatever you can to help to ameliorate Black male academic achievement throughout the educational pipeline. We can keep more Black men off the streets, out of gangs, out of prisons, and off of drugs when we take the initiative to dedicate ourselves more to ensuring that they have positive educational experiences and outcomes. I will continue to posit that the American education system is failing until I see a substantial improvement in Black male academic achievement throughout the educational pipeline. Black boys and men are worth more than the gargantuan profits they can produce for you on football fields and basketball courts.

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison