When to Give Up on Black Teenage Males, and Why?

“Life is tough, but it’s tougher if you’re stupid.” – John Wayne

When you serve as a mentor or coach there may come a time when you have done all you can for a person. No matter how well-intentioned you are, or how able you may be, it is possible that your protégé stops listening to you and stops acting on your advice. The best thing to do at that point is to sever the relationship, and let the person go.

For me, I believe ultimately that God is in control. Aside from that, I can do what I know works to affect change in people but real change happens through personal experiences. I can offer a young man the framework for those experiences but unless he commits to the methodology and follows through I can’t help him change.

As the CEO (Chief Empowerment Officer) of L.E.A.D., I coach and mentor at-risk young Black males to empower them to lead and transform their city of Atlanta. L.E.A.D.’s methodology is framed on the game of baseball. When a young man signs on with L.E.A.D. (Launch, Expose, Advise, Direct) they become a L.E.A.D. Ambassador and with that they make a commitment. In addition to joining L.E.A.D.’s baseball team, an Ambassador must commit to the ABC’S which is an acronym for:

  • Attendance
  • Behavior
  • Curriculum (academic achievement)
  • Service to others

Sounds simple enough, but follow through on the commitment is hard and oftentimes a struggle. If an Ambassador is not willing to commit to the ABC’S to have the experiences necessary to build the character he needs to become a leader in this ever-changing world, then I can’t help him and the relationship ends. That’s the “when”.

Sounds harsh? Here’s the “why”. I know he knows better, but he is just refusing to do better and that makes him stupid. I define stupidity as failing to do better even when you know better.

I understand what it is to be a young Black teenage male and what it is to be stupid. My Mom and Dad raised me in the church and I grew up knowing right from wrong. Even so, I did a lot of stupid things as a teen. In middle school, I skipped school. In

My elementary school days

high school, I stole my dad’s truck and in college, I missed over 30% of my classes. I knew better, but failed to do what I knew to be the right thing. I was just plain stupid. A lot of time has gone by since then but I had the experiences of being stupid, and learned from them. I also learned that life is tougher when you’re stupid.

Further, I understand commitment, struggle and grit. It is my legacy as a Black man. Through centuries, Black folks persevered despite the horrors and other obstacles they faced. For instance, a Black man looking at a White woman the wrong way led to a lynching. The Black community has also been denied opportunities to get an education. These are just a couple of examples of the terror and injustice endured by our Black community for hundreds of years. Through commitment, struggle and grit we have persisted and overcome much. Things are better today, but there is much left to do, which is why I serve at-risk young Black males in Atlanta through L.E.A.D.

A young Black male will not outgrow stupid if he doesn’t commit to the struggle to attain grit and build character. At L.E.A.D. we provide the

opportunities for the experiences necessary for a young Black male to be the best he can be. We recognize commitment as showing up, being respectful, and taking advantage of opportunities available to better oneself. Doing otherwise shows lack of commitment to L.E.A.D. I will welcome a L.E.A.D. Ambassador back when he is willing to recommit and enter the struggle to build character and learn to lead.