The Souls of Black Boys

By Sikivu Hutchinson

Black males are now down to about 1% of current UCLA freshmen. It's neoliberal California, where black boys are destined for marginal labor if they're lucky or pipelined to prison if they're not. Still, community activists in Los Angeles are fighting back, trying to nurture and prepare the next generation of black organizers, scholars and intellectuals.

The Souls of Black Boys

By Sikivu Hutchinson

"No one ever discussed Trayvon Martin with us in class," said Sydney, an introspective 9th grader, wistfully. Sydney is a participant in my Young Male Scholars pilot at Gardena High School in South Los Angeles. He and a dozen other 9th and 10th graders are having a spirited discussion about the impact of Martin’s murder on the criminal justice system in Gardena’s college center. According to the school’s college counselor black boys are a “rarity” in the center and our small meeting is the largest number that he has ever seen here. On a campus where black students are the second largest ethnic group next to Latinos, black males are either pounced on by military recruiters or left to fend for themselves, implicitly branded as troublemakers and potential dropouts. 

The college counselor’s observation was the impetus for my starting the pilot in collaboration with Brandon Bell, a young, South L.A. community activist alum of King Drew Medical Magnet and Princeton University. In an educational climate where there were only forty eight black male students in the freshman class of internationally prestigious UCLA, the pilot is specifically designed to pipeline black males into college through targeted intervention. But it is also geared toward politicizing young men of color by providing them with the historical consciousness and space to become an activist generation of organizers, scholars and intellectuals.

Our discussion about the political implications of Martin’s murder took place a day before the death of Nelson Mandela. As the world mourns Mandela and president Obama touts an eleventh hour focus on “income inequality” neo-apartheid conditions in American education continue to fester. Last week was bookended by two powerful education reports which indirectly indicted the myth of American exceptionalism. The 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) showed that American students remained static in reading and science and were well below average in math, falling from 29th to 31st in global rankings. The Campaign for College Opportunity’s "The State of Blacks in Higher Education: The Persistent Opportunity Gap" illustrates the devastating impact of California’s anti-affirmative action policy. 

The Campaign for College Opportunity report concluded “that gaps between Blacks and other ethnic groups in college-going and attainment have remained virtually unchanged for more than a decade, and in some cases, have worsened.” Despite claims of increased college opportunities for millennials, “A smaller share of today’s California Black young adult population holds postsecondary degrees than that of Blacks between the ages of 35 and 64.” Put bluntly, in an era in which affirmative action has been viciously discredited and all but gutted by both the Right and neo-liberal “left”, young African Americans are less educated than older African Americans. African American students attend community and for-profit colleges in higher numbers than other groups and have the highest student loan debt and default rates. In addition, black youth still have the lowest graduation rates in California.

In the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), the class of 2017 (this year’s 9th graders) will be required to have college prep classes in order to graduate. They must earn a C or better to do so. They will have to achieve this feat despite the Obama administration’s Race to the Top emphasis on high stakes tests that narrow the curriculum, undermine critical thinking and force teachers to be glorified proctors. Nationwide, black students are the least prepared for college, have the lowest enrollment in honors and college prep classes and the highest drop-out or push-out rates. The LAUSD requirement is set against the backdrop of deepening unemployment, prison pipelining and black male homicide rates. According to the Education Trust, “If current trends continue only one in twenty African American students will go on to a four year college or university.” The forty eight black males in UCLA’s incoming class are swimming in a sea of over 5000 new students. Enraged by these stats, black male UCLA students recently released an activist video critique which went viral. But despite renewed attention to racial disparities in college access there is no federal, state or local policy or call to action that specifically addresses the fact that young African American male high school students are routinely dismissed as not being college material. 

As the Martin case demonstrated yet again, the dominant culture does not associate young black men and boys with tenderness, caring, sensitivity, and compassion, much less intellectualism. Since white supremacist culture can never see black youth as victims they can only be predators and aggressors. The visceral fear that adults have of so-called black male criminality is one of the primary reasons why black boys are suspended and expelled at higher rates for lesser offenses than are white students.
Youth of color, like white kids, are trained to see explicit acts of individual prejudice as the only standard for racism rather than institutional racism and white supremacy. So when Brandon and I discussed how mass incarceration was devastating our school-communities some of the boys in the group said that “bad environments” and “bad choices” simply lead black youth to commit more crime. But after examining disproportionate crack cocaine use amongst white males and unpacking how legacy admissions policies allow mediocre white students like George W. Bush get into Ivy Leagues the students’ consciousness began to shift. Not seeing themselves in the curriculum, public education socializes them to believe that disproportionate numbers of their brothers and sisters are in prison due to bad choices while college is the reward for the elite few who make good ones. Teaching them to see the connection between the racial politics of college access and the invisibility of Martin’s murder in their high school curriculum is a step toward defying this criminal mis-education. 

Sikivu Hutchinson is the founder of the Women's Leadership Project and the author of Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels and Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars. Find more of her work at



UCLA uses blind admissions

George Bush went to an Ivy school 40 years ago.  The Ivys and UCLA do not currently use legacy admissions.  The poor representaion of black males at UCLA, unfortunately, reflects the poor preparation of students in our public schools.  All students in the top 9% of their California high school class are eligible and will get accepted into one of University of California campuses.

Also, the low numbers of high acheiving students of color at UCLA reflects their recruitment to Ivys and our quality schools outside of the state of California. 

The problems with our educational system needs to be fixed before our students are high school seniors looking to go to college.  UCLA is not the problem.

Ill-informed Comment

Evidently you either did not read or understand the article.  First, the author is arguing that the UCs have an unjust admissions policy that effectively penalizes youth of color (specifically African American and Latino students) who go to under-resourced schools, have inequitable access (often due to racist classist tracking) to college prep/AP/honors courses and cannot afford expensive test prep services ala affluent students in predominantly white/Asian districts.  The more AP classes a student loads on the higher the GPA, meaning a 4.0 at an elite high school with a wide array of APs can translate into a 4.5.  Second, contrary to your specious claim, legacy admissions have not been miraculously abolished at the Ivys.  They continue to drive the fundraising base and establishment legitimacy of elite private universities and even the right wing acknowledges this. Third, nowhere in the article does the author claim that UCs (which are public institutions) use legacy admissions.

Fourth, Black students who go to UC campuses like UC Riverside that have a strong culture of reinforcement, mentoring and support actually have a higher graduation rate than white students.

UC admission

Class rank not the number of AP classes taken is used for the UC admission. If your high school has no AP classes or just a few AP classes and you are in the top 9% of class rank, you are promised UC admission.  Students are selected based upon high school opportunity.

While I don't know how every school district supports their students, SDUSD (second largest in the state) provides the funds for AP testing for all students with need.  SAT prep programs are a scam.  Students that read the SAT study guide (available at the library) and take a couple of practice tests do as well or better than high school slackers who pay for a prep class.

The top students of color from our public high school choose Georgetown, the Ivys, Stanford, USC, and other private schools over the UCs.

The video by The Conscious Mind Force

Brothas and Sistas check out The BlackMan(State of Emergency) on Youtube. It's The Black Print(blue print) that we all need to follow into the future. Peace!

Clearly it's wrong, yet polls show most whites aclueless as ever

"As the Martin case demonstrated yet again, the dominant culture does not associate young black men and boys with tenderness, caring, sensitivity, and compassion, much less intellectualism. Since white supremacist culture can never see black youth as victims they can only be predators and aggressors."

Couple things here, the verdict was a travesty of justice, but initially I felt due to the publicity, Zimmerman wasn't going to get away with this murder of Trayvon Martin, and now, I'm doubting anything privy to only jurors can convince me the justice system is not rigged racially. It's like open season on every part of life for raising up people of color by the status quo corporate state. Dismayed, disheartened and frustrated about the verdict as I was, I thought back to the incidences of even law enforcement killing Oscar Grant(sp?)and so many others with impunity who are being shafted by this justice system/society, Marissa Alexander, Renisha McBride, Troy Davis, and the list is large, sadly, whose worst 'crime' was needing assistance.

Ms H, your observations about many issues on race, justice, humanism are spot on. The other thing in the above quote to do with black men portrayed not as capable of being tender, sensitive, compassionate, and so on, is just so not true, and while anecdote is not evidence, my young life was in contact with a man I learned so much from, as I was an embittered young man POd after being in a childcare system run by 'care'less staff. He was a beacon of care and concern for all others and his last name was also Martin, N Martin, and he was my boss in my early 20s and he taught me, a white young man who thought little was wrong with working for a black construction contractor, and whose employees were mostly black, and N was the site Superintendent who hired me, a long haired 'hippy' type, rejected by most employers for my long hair, but N hired me, and actually educated me about compassion for others, lo and behold I, the 'Great white Hope' fellow workers would rib me about,  was 'mentored' by  a tender, sensitive, compassionate, and yes, a man of high intellect and keen insight into life itself, telling me he'd rather buy a book than eat 3 meals a day, who saw in me, a young man privileged with being white, still needing to learn what 2 orphanages never found the time to teach, how to be a caring human being. I, a white kid was taught by a black man what I never learned in my associations with white men, though white women were closer to N's outlook on life, so even now what's happening to young black men is just wrong, It's wrong for a white society average family to own 7 times the assets/wealth of an average black family, and it is not as many white privileged characters claim, that black s don't work hard enough. And again, anecdote isn't evidence, but I worked for a black contractor, H.A. DeC in SC Low Country,  whose mostly black employees worked hard at their jobs, and though some would be paid on Friday and broke in Monday, that was immaturity not a lack of ambition to do a good job and trying to get ahead.

This website is so filled with many excellent insights by the bloggers here, and while their observations are correct and often true, what to do escapes me, as try as I might in changing people's attitudes, it isn't easy, even based on the cold hard facts that have me up in arms and outraged, too many are stuck in complacency, but some white people are beginning to wake up to the historic lives of people of color as they as white people lose their jobs, and face a bleak future economically, and while the unemployment picture for white people is bad, for people of color it is way worse. The 13th Amendment may have opened some doors for former slaves, the clause to do with conviction of a crime loophole produced Jim Crow Laws in the South and a prison system that enslaved black people all over, only now excluded not as slaves per se, but as prisoners/slaves as businesses used the prison system to get workers they could exploit.

Personally, everyone I meet I want to put a bug in their ear that injustice is all around us and we must do something about it. Facts alone won't do it, it's going to require a heartfelt plea to the humanity of those we meet. And as the first abolitionists were met with,"what you do will only be a drop in the ocean," that was met with the astute, "but what is the ocean, but made up of many many drops?"

Thank you, Sikivu.