Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University
(BLACK PR WIRE/FAMU-TALLAHASSEE) – November 4, 2008 was a historic day; a black man, Barack Obama, was elected president of the United States. Many blacks saw a new chapter in the African American experience, and some feel the number of black males in college will go up; others do not. Surveys have shown that many African Americans believe the image of Obama will send a positive message to the black community; more specifically black men and education. But will black men take action to the message?
Jamil Jude, 23, an aspiring playwright and Colgate University graduate, believes there has to be more than an image to improve the number of black males in college. Jude said Obama is a good role model to look up to, but he doesn’t feel that it will improve the number of black males who enroll in college. Jude, who currently resides in the D.C. metro area, said President Obama is going to have to take a stance and convince the general public that black urban youth is worth the investment.
Jude said if anything, Obama’s presence in the White House will be an excuse to keep black males out of college. “My theory is that they [schools] will feel that they won’t need programs that help black men on the fences to get into schools as much,” Jude said. “Until we change institutional legislation, which is the reason for blacks being disproportionately institutionalized, there won’t be much of a difference in education.”
Gary Cooper, a Florida A&M University graduate, and Kermit Harrison, a Tallahassee Community College professor, disagree. Cooper, 23, said black males don’t see enough positive black role models outside of musicians and actors. “I feel like the African Americans see him as an example of a person who took the academic route, focused on his career and made it cool to be educated,” Cooper said. “We became not only black Americans, but we became Americans with the election of Obama.”
Harrison, who teaches philosophy, said when people see obtainable and achievable goals, they’re more enthusiastic to go for it. Harrison went on to say that popular culture and black men visually being able to see college as a viable option helps them want to go. Harrison used the example of the hit sitcom of the 1990s, A Different World. When the show about student life at an HBCU was on air, there was a triple increase in enrollment in HBCUs. Harrison believes this is what Obama will do for this generation.
“Obama has shown that being smart and educated is cool,” Harrison said. “We know he didn’t do it by not being educated.” Jude spoke about institutional racism still being a factor that will continue to discourage black men to go to college. Cooper believes institutionalized racism is just an excuse to not strive for more. He said black people have to overcome institutionalized racism. “I believe institutionalized racism is going to be around, but we have a part to play in it about how the society perceives us,” Cooper said. “If Barack lost, we could’ve blamed that on institutional racism.”
Cooper said people will try harder because of Obama, and institutions that use tests and other factors to deny black students won’t work. Harrison said the moment of truth of racism for his generation was asking the question, “When did you realize that you can’t be president?” Now with Obama in office, that is no longer a barrier for black males to face.