New approaches asked for problems of black men


Concerned that "the African-American male is slowly but surely becoming an endangered species," a governor's panel yesterday released a study calling for new approaches to problems that black men face with health, education, jobs and crime.

"We don't have any choice," said Baltimore Democratic Del. Elijah E. Cummings, the chairman of the Governor's Commission on Black Males. "We have people who are dying. We have people who are dying physically, emotionally and spiritually."

The 18-member commission was named by Gov. William Donald Schaefer three years ago at the urging of Delegate Cummings, a Baltimore lawyer who said he saw "too many black men falling by the wayside." The sight of hundreds of black men standing together in prisons "does something to you," he added.

The report says the problems are critical. About 500,000 of Maryland's 4.8 million people are black men, and they face problems ranging from lower life expectancy to higher unemployment.

Black men are seven times more likely to die of homicide than white men, according to state statistics. They are more likely to have such illnesses as heart disease, diabetes and pneumonia. They are less likely to have health insurance. They earn less.

And the report adds they suffer low self-esteem, fostered by news reporting that "leaves an impression that most African-American males are: involved in drugs; criminally inclined; physically threatening to everyone; and of limited mental and intellectual capacity."

The study, compiled after hearings held around the state, was released at a news conference held in Governor Schaefer's Baltimore office.

The governor, who endorsed the report, nonetheless cautioned that state government alone cannot accomplish the study's goals. Black business and community leaders must work with the commission to make the recommendations work, he said.

"This is not a state initiative. We [state officials] are not going to do this. This is going to be done by the African-American black community. We will work with them."

But he added that he will have every cabinet secretary read the report.

And the governor said he sees some projects that the state can indeed undertake, such as a takeover of the Westside Skill Center, a Baltimore vocational program that was launched while he was mayor.

"It was not a success," Mr. Schaefer said yesterday. Changes in the curriculum, he added, would make the school "the key to technology training for the young black male."

The idea of a state takeover of a city school was so fresh that Mr. Schaefer said he had not discussed it with the state school superintendent or Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.

The mayor said he's "interested in talking with the governor about making the Westside Skill Center more successful than it's been in the past. It's clear that this whole career technology area needs new thinking -- whether it's a state takeover, private takeover or a public-private partnership."

Better job training is one of the goals of the report, which Mr. Cummings said he worked 10 years to see. "What we're doing isn't working."

Among the recommendations:

* Develop family support centers to offer programs in male mentoring and manhood development; parenting skills, self-esteem, health maintenance and mental health.

* Expand programs to prevent the spread of HIV and serve those already infected.

* Help communities establish health programs specially designed for black men.

* Expand programs that teach values, character and culture in schools.

* Expand resources to schools in poor communities.

* Develop new resources for black business expansion.

* Expand education and job-training programs for men at risk of going to prison.

* Expand the state's boot-camp program for nonviolent inmates.

Reciting lyrics from a song that taught "No Man Is An Island," Mr. Cummings said all facets of the community owe it to their neighbors to work together on the recommendations. "If black males have a problem, we all have a problem."

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