This book details the participatory research approach in which the author engages five successful African-American men in dialogue to explore their reflections on those factors that have contributed to their present success. Preface; As president of Morehouse College, the nation's largest institution of higher education for men, and the only institution of its kind that focuses on the unique educational and developmental needs of African American men, I am particularly appreciative of the work Lois Moore has done in her excellent book, "Voices of Successful African American Men." As Ms. Moore correctly points out, volumes of books and pages of articles have been written about the problems some African American men experience as the result of their involvement with crime and violence - a lifestyle that not only hinders the personal development of these men, but also often leads to a breakdown in their physical and psychological health, devastation of their families and communities and, ultimately, their long-term association with the criminal justice system.
While many of these books and articles legitimately point out very significant and troubling issues about which we should be concerned, unfortunately, because the overlay of racism often causes one not to think critically, many readers accept these observations about some black men as the truth about all black men. Ms. Moore's research, which includes ancestral, historical, sociological and psychological analyses, bears out that this tendency to stereotype black men is fueled and reinforced by the dominant image of black men on television, in movies, and through music as shiftless, brutal, hypersexual, and disrespectful of others. Indeed, the most consistently positive images of males in the media are of athletes, and even they are depicted as successful mostly because of their physical prowess as opposed to intellect, compassion or other more positive attributes.
The combined effect of these negative messages is to create a myth about black men that hurts everyone - the African American men who put unnecessary limits on themselves and fail to reach their highest potential, the parents and teachers who unwittingly discourage black boys from creativity and ambition, and the larger society, which polarizes African American men as the "other" with whom they cannot - or will not - identify. One of the myths about African American men with which I am most familiar, given my position in higher education, is the often quoted "fact" that there are more black men in prison than there are in college. According to the latest information from the Frederick D. Patterson Research Institute, which compiles education statistics for the College Fund/UNCF, this simply is not true. More black men are in college than in prison, both in terms of raw numbers - 635,000 versus 586,700 - and in terms of percentages of "college-age" black men, which is defined as those 18 to 25 years old. Using this standard, U.S.
Department of Justice data reveal that only 122,700 college-age black males are incarcerated, meaning there are more than five times as many black men in college as in prison. What is true is that black men are not attending college at the same rates as black women. Almost two-thirds of all African Americans currently in college are female. Here, again, critical analysis of the data is required to understand that while the gender disparity in college attendance is greater for blacks, men from all racial groups are pursuing college degrees at a slower rate than their female counterparts. Still, the college enrollment rate for black males has increased 36 percent over the past 25 years - suggesting that there is a different, more encouraging story to tell about black male achievement. Fortunately, not everyone buys into limiting myths and stereotypes about black men, most of whom, despite the effects of racism and discrimination, have developed a positive self-concept, have healthy relationships with their families, value education, work to make a living, and contribute positively to society.
These men have written their own definition of success, which they live out quietly every day. Thanks to Ms. Moore's work, which includes the results of extended interviews with successful black men, some of them have an opportunity to speak out - not only for themselves, but also on behalf of the legion of African American men whose voices have not been heard. What are these men saying? What have they shared with Ms. Moore about their idea of success? A common theme emerging from these voices is that success is about more than money and status. It also includes education and career, family and community, church and society. Importantly, these men identify systems from which they have and continue to draw support in living successful lives, formal and informal communities where their value is seen, acknowledged and appreciated by others. This finding rings particularly true for me as president of Morehouse - a unique educational community where, because all the students are male and most are African American, gender and race have been largely removed as factors, either for or against one's success. At Morehouse, the playing field is level and one gets what one earns.
Our students also receive a great deal of mentoring and encouragement - a success factor noted by some of Ms. Moore's interviewees. Indeed, perhaps the most important thing we do at Morehouse is to tell our students that they are and can be successful, that they are special because, in many ways, they have already overcome the greatest obstacle they will face as black men - the low expectations of others about what they can achieve. At Morehouse, we do one other thing Ms. Moore is doing. We give black men voice. In an academic setting, dialogue is a fundamental tool of learning, the primary vehicle of exchange of information between teacher and student. Dialogue allows our young men to know and to be known, to become comfortable with who they are, and to recognize and harness the power they have to make a difference in the world. And, so it is with "Voices of Successful African American Men." By organizing and analyzing the literature on the voices of successful African American men, and by "stirring" and recording the voices of several black men who embody and exemplify success, Ms. Moore has paved the way for other scholars to do meaningful research on this important topic.
Now that the voices of successful black men are finally being heard, we all would be well served to listen. Dr. Walter Massey