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Why our black boys fail

SO, NOW that Dwayne Michael Carter Jr. (aka Lil Wayne) is out of prison, he can get back to playing the critical role of universal mentor and role model to black boys all across America.

SO, NOW that Dwayne Michael Carter Jr. (aka Lil Wayne) is out of prison, he can get back to playing the critical role of universal mentor and role model to black boys all across America.

After all, with a rap sheet long enough to pave the road to hell, it makes perfect sense that he'd hold such a key position, one that lets "Weezy," as he's affectionately known, shape the beliefs, attitudes and expectations of a group of young people who are currently in a state of crisis.

Documentaries like the recent "Beyond the Bricks" chronicle the struggles of black boys dropping out of high school, a report from the Institute for Higher Education Policy says black males are three times more likely to live in poverty, the Pew Center highlights the fact that one in nine black males from 20 to 34 is behind bars (more than those who are gainfully employed).

And don't forget the ubiquitous issue of violence. Since 2000, the U.S. has had a 39 percent increase in the number of black boys killed between the ages of 14 and 17, according to a Northeastern University study.

Considering all the recent unfortunate trends plaguing the lives of so many of our black boys, one question begs to be asked: What is responsible for such awful trends?

Well, it is my humble opinion that one of the culprits is the constant barrage of negative male images and stereotypes presented to our black boys, much of which is, unfortunately, supported by the black community itself.

At almost every turn, young black males are inundated with stories and images of athletic prowess, criminal deviance or the drug-dealer-turned-rapper-turned-millionaire (real or imagined).

And while I know this represents the vestiges of an era where some whites sought to subjugate the newly "freed" slaves through the emerging power of the media (think blackface and minstrel shows), who can deny the fact that black folks today are all too willing to embrace such negative stereotypes?

And, while publicly complaining, black folks promote and have helped to transform the business of black male stereotyping into a worldwide, multibillion-dollar enterprise - Black Entertainment Television.

So let's reflect on the consequences of such ill-gotten lucre. In 2001, the year that BET founder Bob Johnson sold his black-owned and -operated cable channel for $3.3 billion to Viacom, black males were dropping out of high school at a rate almost twice that of white males, their fourth-grade reading scores were lower than that of any other group, and we saw an increase in attempted suicides among black teens.

I hope Mr. Johnson reflected on the tragic reality that he helped shape, while sipping champagne bought and paid for by the tens of thousands of dead and mutilated bodies of black boys rotting away in forgotten graves. After all, BET told them repeatedly to "hustle" and be "gangsta," and this would lead to money, power and respect.

And while I'm apoplectic at this irresponsible and ethically abhorrent behavior, BET doesn't even bear the full blame.

When a few fortunate black boys muster the courage to exist outside of the stereotypes, they often face constant and unending ridicule from those in their own community.

This is a phenomenon I'm all too familiar with. One more than one occasion, I've been chastised for not being "black enough" or for "acting white."

Let me get this straight. If I score 18 points in the second quarter or get shot six times, there's no question of my authenticity? But it's these culturally reinforced stereotypes that are literally killing our black boys.

But if we're to turn the tide on the many crises facing our black boys, we'll have to realize that the black community needs to promote more diverse and positive images of successful black men. We have to show them that they can and should seek to become bankers, lawyers, physicians, journalists, educators, entrepreneurs, engineers and - above all - good men.

Recently, I visited the website, whose mission is the empowerment and development of black youth. The site's founder is Cathy J. Cohen, a professor of political science and deputy provost of graduate education at the University of Chicago.

On the site, there was an article discussing the lunacy of celebrating the criminal shenanigans of rappers in which the author suggested that such behavior is now a rite of passage, not just merely a response to racial oppression. He writes that, if "we continue to praise celebrity incarceration, many young people will trivialize going to jail."

Black boys will be who tell them to be. The real question is, who is that?

Charles A. Williams III is an assistant clinical professor and director of the Center for the Prevention of School-Aged Violence at Drexel University. Watch him Tuesdays at 5:30 p.m. on Fox 29.