We Can’t Knock Their Hustle! The Struggle of Black Boys in Atlanta Simply Trying to Survive.

“We are products of a society that tells us who we are, how to live and who deserves to be loved!”

In the Southwest Atlanta community that I live in, our young boys have taken the plight of crime into their own hands. Instead of playing into the fast life, easy money, influence of gangs and petty thief, these young boys have taken initiative to sell bottle waters at the corners of major intersections.

Many of these young boys are automatically labeled by the color of their skin, zip code, texture and style of their hair. It’s important for us to understand that how we educate young boys of color ultimately determines the level of success they will obtain.

As a Black male Educator, I know the importance of having not only Black males represented in the education process, Pre K through higher education, BUT a strong support system from family, faculty, staff and community members that embrace, support and empower us. However, Atlanta leadership hasn’t truly done anything effective to help crisis these youth are facing in the streets.

I was inspired to write this post from recent dialogue in our community Nextdoor App around Black boys. Several residents voiced their opinions about why the young boys are doing took to selling waters on the corners of major interactions within our community. Previously, residents complained about “crime,” “thief,” or not feeling “safe” because of youth in our community. Many made the assumption that our Black boys were to blame. There were some boys who were engaged in poor choices and behavior but it wasn’t all.

We too often made predictions about all because of the actions of a few.  This is the struggle of Black boys not only in Atlanta, but around our country. Before we see them as scholars, athletes, professionals, graduates, fathers, husbands or successful, we immediately confine them to the stereotypes of being “thugs,” “menace to society” and other labels. Our perspectives about Black boys will continue to overshadow positive reinforcements learned in school.

The key here is for us to see that community engagement and family engagement determine how students are engaged in our schools. We set the tone for school culture from the culture we drive within the environment the our Black boys live, play and learn in.

I talked with several of the young boys who sell waters on our community interactions. Out of all 10 of them, the first thing they attributed their inspiration to were the community leaders and teachers, particularly Black males. I commend my father and other Black men who are business owners in our community for taking the time to actually have conversations with these young men, get to know them and encourage their spirit of entrepreneurship by mentoring them.

“Your ability to maintain success starts with finishing school and making a pathway sustainable lifestyle for yourself,” is one of the tokens of inspiration one of the young boys who is a 5th grade student mentioned to me that was said to him by one of our community business owners. As community stakeholders, we too play a role in the education of our Black boys.

How we speak, engage and present ourselves to them teaches them what we believe they are and either reinforces positive or negative behaviors.  They said that their community heroes and teachers inspire them to do something outside of the box to get what they want.

In particular their Black male teachers, coaches and community leaders that support them. “Everyone can get out in the streets and steal but I want to do something that makes me a man!”, one of the young boys stated to me. I asked them what did community leaders and teachers do to inspire them.

Here are some solutions that have proven to work:

  1.  Supporting the local schools with mentoring initiatives like Real Men Read with their schools and programs such as Raising Expectations, PAL, Camp Best Friends, etc., provided a variety of activities for them to learn, grow and play outside of school.
  2. Improving training for teachers, police officers and community organizations who can help reinforce positive behaviors, conflict resolution and decision-making skills.
  3. Starting career readiness training programs as early as 4th grade beginning with a focus on life skills.

This isn’t an issue of just giving the youth money while selling waters. We need to help them heal. We see the negative aspects of how their selling waters while neglecting their why. What is their home life like? The very ones of us complaining about them don’t understand their hustle and simply working to escape the realities of their living conditions. Improving our communities, workforce development, education, affordable housing, mental health resources are all factors that help connect the dots to the hustle these youth are displaying.


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