“Last night I could’ve been killed. My sons or any of the Black males who I mentored could have also been killed.” I said this to myself as I walked on to campus and read the Chicago Sun Times’ headlines on November 24, 2014.
Before moving to Mexico in 2016, I lived in a Chicago suburb and worked at the University of Illinois at Chicago in the Honors College as a Post-doctoral Fellow in Teaching and Mentoring. I remember November 24, 2014, because it was also the day the video of Laquan McDonald’s murder by a Chicago police officer was released to the public. The dash cam video of the moment when Officer Van Dyke made the decision to shoot McDonald in the back quickly went viral and stirred protests throughout the city. I had to make the decision of whether to watch the video, become infuriated or continue with my work and escape to the abyss of ignorance.
As someone who taught courses that explored the impact of race and racism in contemporary America, I felt an obligation to watch the video. Mentoring young Black males were not only a part of a research project that I led at the time but also an integral part of my life's work for over ten years. If I ignored the video, was I being a coward to face the harsh realities that too many Black males must face every day? Sure that was a possibility. I was also in desperate need of a break from what felt like a daily occurrence of unarmed Black youth who were shot, killed, or otherwise harmed at the hands of White police officers. Didn’t I deserve one day to preserve the remaining part of my mental health that was frequently under attack from state-sponsored violence?
I made the decision to watch the video and I was angry. No, I was pissed that another young Black male was killed by someone who swore to protect and serve the community. From the video, it appeared that although McDonald was armed with a knife, he was walking away from the police when the decision was made to kill rather than arrest. At the moment his body hit the pavement, I thought could I have done something to intervene? What can we, educators, parents, mentors, and community members, do to encourage Black males to reach their full potential in spite of blatant racism? Questions like these and others crossed my mind. Here are five answers among a plethora of responses that we can do to encourage Black males in US communities:
Create a space where Black males can talk about their experiences.
Listen to the voices of Black males and offer practical advice.
Offer to stand with Black males as they engage protest or other direct actions against injustices.
Commit to spending at minimum 1hr per week with young Black males in a positive engaging activity.
Work toward the implementation of school curricula that is relevant to the lives of Black males.
Van Dyke has been charged with murder. June 28, 2017, three additional officers were charged with conspiracy to conceal the investigation. Will Van Dyke or the other officers get convicted of McDonald’s murder? Countless cases push me toward a state of pessimism. In the meantime, we must do whatever we can with whatever resources available to encourage young Black males.