Black Men Battle Stereotypes In Florida
Not only is this just in Florida, but nationwide:
They are more likely to get shot, go to jail, drop out of school, end up in foster care, be abandoned by their fathers and have children of their own while they’re still teenagers.
Compared with other Americans, young black men have the statistical odds stacked against them.
But statistics only reveal trends; they don’t define an individual. In in-depth interviews with more than a dozen young black men, ages 15 to 28 — from honor students to jail inmates, star athletes to aspiring executives — the voices so rarely heard in public forums spoke out on being the most profiled segment of society. For many, the fear of ending up like Trayvon Martin — the unarmed teen shot to death by Sanford Neighborhood Watch volunteer George Zimmerman — is far too tangible. At the least, their age, gender and skin color make them regularly subject to suspicion. They felt they had to be better than the next guy just to stay even.
“Sometimes it hurts,” says Jaboris Haynes, 19, who grew up in poverty with his mother and sister in Apopka. “When I was younger, I thought of being a different race and wondered what it would be like. The message I got about being a young black man wasn’t a good message. I always felt like somebody was after me, like they were judging me, just because I’m a black male.”
Having escaped the pressure of gangs to win a scholarship to Florida A&M University to study civil engineering, he still feels pressure “not to be a statistic.”
“I want people to know that I’m a lovable person, I’m kind, I can be a good friend, I’m reliable, trustworthy,” he says on a break from his summer job as a camp counselor. He slumps forward, shaking his head. “But being a young black man, you have a lot of people talking down on you.”
No matter how wealthy, how educated, how well-dressed and well-mannered, all the young men interviewed reported being profiled because of their skin color.
For some, it meant being stopped, questioned and frisked by police. For others, it was more subtle: a car door that locks as they walk past or pull up to a traffic light, a sales clerk who eyes their pockets suspiciously, a white woman in an elevator who clutches her purse when a young black man steps in and the doors close.
Mark Lark, 22, is going into his senior year at the University of Central Florida, studying architecture. One of only two black students in his major, he also serves as vice president of the local student chapter of the American Institute of Architects, volunteers to mentor college-bound minorities and works at the Central Florida YMCA.
With a year to go to graduation, he already has business cards printed. But his real mission is to be a role model for the young black men who come after him. And in so doing, he hopes to persuade those who judge simply on skin color to rethink their assumptions.
“Trust me, instead of being in your face, now it [racism] is more subtle,” he says. “Instead of, ‘Hey, boy, you shouldn’t be drinking out of that water fountain,’ it’s ‘Why is this [black] person doing that?’
“What I do with my life — I do this to show a better example of my culture and my race. There are sophisticated, well-mannered, ambitious black males in the community that aren’t going to be a degradation to society, that are actually going to help the economy, help the U.S. and help the world.”
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