An African American male has a greater chance of going to prison (1 in 3) than college (1 in 5).

Last summer, I was preaching on a passage of Scripture from Amos chapter 8.  When I got to the part of the sermon where I was sharing some details of the harsh realities of different groups of people in our world today, I almost could not make it through the statistic shared above.  I got choked up and had to dig deep to push through.  It breaks my heart and burdens my soul that as things stand right now in our nation, young black men are more likely to end up in prison than in college.  

Marcus was one of the youth I worked with as a youth minister in an inner city community a few years back.  Marcus was a bright, energetic, fun-loving, compassionate leader of our group.  He was full of promise.  However, Marcus struggled with the realities of his existence as a young black male, living in a poverty-stricken neighborhood, attending a school that couldn’t afford to provide books or computers for their students, and with a “promising” street life dangling ever presently and often dazzling right in front of his eyes.  

I remember picking up Marcus and his brother from the juvenile detention center one day.  They had been sent there because of a fight at school, and they were now being suspended for several days.  Not only getting further behind than they already were in school, they were now marked by the criminal justice system (which studies show exponentially increases the potential for future jail/prison time).  And all for a silly schoolyard fight.  I remembered the several fights I had been in as a teen, all resulting in slaps on the wrist, runs around the track, and forced “apologies”.  

I realized right then that things were not the same for Marcus.  He faced a different reality.  And it broke my heart, a brokenness that continues to haunt me to this day.  I don’t know what has happened to Marcus.  What I do know is that the statistics and harsh realities behind the troubling stats do not paint a pretty picture for young black men like Marcus.  However, as shared in the earlier post, it is an undeserved reality.  White youth are as likely to be criminally involved, or even in some situations more likely.  

And as a friend read my mind earlier today in a blog post comment, NPR had a story this week about Black and Hispanic school children being disciplined at disproportionately higher rates than whites — even by minority teachers.  Indeed, as Vance stated, “Institutional racism has left a deep, deep impression on our culture that prevents equal justice.”  But I think he would agree though, that there is always hope for a better world.  And it starts with corporate confession of our complicity, repentance from our silence, and compassionate response to Marcus and his millions of brothers and sisters underserving of their thwarted promise.  May we stop wasting the beautiful promise of the youth of our nation!


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