Growing up in Crown Heights, I was raised to understand that every man had a way of making money when legitimate employment wasn't available. There was the guy who sold dresses in the trunk of his car and, before lottery offered the opportunity of a Dollar and a Dream, there was the local dude you could play numbers with who had the ability to keep hundreds of numbers in his head without ever writing them down. Hustling was a part of the normal landscape of my Brooklyn life.
Decades later, in communities across this country where Black men especially are being crushed under unbearable unemployment numbers, not much has changed; the hustle is alive and well. Among high school drop-outs, Black male unemployment is over 50%. These stats are the backdrop in communities where poor education, violence and a host of other social ills are out of control.
Recently at an annual retreat at the Muhammad Ali Center, Travian Shorters from BMe challenged leaders from around the country working for the advancement of Black Men and Boys to stop talking about our conditions from a deficit position, suggesting instead that if leaders quote the numbers of boys out of work, they should also talk about the fact that according to the census, African Americans created businesses at three times the rate of others in this country and that there are over 110,000 Black millionaires in America. He suggests that there is more to learn from those who are doing it right than those who are doing it wrong.
Certainly one could subscribe to the notion that behavior is a matter of choice and one might be expected to just "do right." CNN’s Don Lemon would suggest that these problems would all be solved if these Black men just pulled up their pants. These oversimplified solutions won’t cut it when survival is at stake. People choose to do what is right for his/her needs in the moment without ever considering its long term implications or consequences. That is a reality in every hood I know, because "right" isn't an available option.
As we labor through the challenge of waiting for the economy to improve for black men and those in poverty, new and innovative ways of cultivating and structuralizing the fierce ingenuity of entrepreneurship for these men must be developed. Throughout my years of working with men, rarely have I encountered one that doesn't want to work and earn money. He quite often just wants to do it with success and dignity. It must be our country’s goal to cultivate skills and providing information and resources to Black men to help obtain long-term employment, while also establishing policies that will end institutionalized racism and discrimination against Black men in the workforce, so they have the opportunity to turn raw and undeveloped talent into a legitimate business or career.
Braswell is the Executive Director of Fathers Incorporated (FI), a national not-for-profit organization that is committed to eliminating fatherlessness and increasing the commitment of men to become mentors. Braswell also serves as the Director of the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse (NRFC) spearheading the White House's National Mentoring and Fatherhood initiatives. Additionally, Braswell is the host of Ties Never Broken OnAir!, which is a part of the Tavis Smiley Radio Network. Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/FathersIncorporated; Twitter: @Fathersincorp.