Despite a 3.1 percent overall increase from 2004 in statewide university system enrollment, the African-American presence has declined 1.6 percent, according to a Sept. 9 Florida Board of Governors press release.
FAMU’s incoming freshmen class has decreased by 26 percent from 2004-a glimpse of a bigger picture in which black female college students throughout the state outnumber their male counterparts two to one.
19-year-old freshman Antonio Brown said he has big dreams of becoming owner and CEO of a telecommunications business.
So this fall he left his hometown of Cocoa Beach, destined for FAMU’s School of Business and Industry.
But students like Brown are a dying breed, according to a study released in May 2005 by the Civil Rights Project at Harvard and the Urban Institute.
The study titled “Confronting the Graduation Rate Crisis in the South” cites a 38.3 percent graduation rate in 2002 for black males in Florida. And even fewer black males choose to further their education.
Brown decided to go against the grain.
“I wanted a career that required a college education,” Brown said. “FAMU is in my home state, and I wanted to go to an HBCU. Most of my friends went to college too.”
But this is not the trend.
There are a number of factors that influence why fewer black males, compared to other demographics, choose to set foot onto the campuses in pursuit of higher education.
Brown said some of the males he knows chose not to attend college because of financial difficulties, problems at home or children they did not want to leave behind. Others, he said, were satisfied with their current jobs or opted to join the military.
“They don’t want to go because they feel like “I won’t get in anyway,” said 21-year-old Gregory Bacourt, president of Progressive Black Men, a campus organization with an Adopt-A-High School project geared toward mentoring 11th and 12th-grade males at FAMU High School.
Bacourt, a senior social work student from Miami said the environment of black male students can impact their decision to attend college. Bacourt said although members of PBM support athletics, they seek to expose high school males to a world beyond the gym doors and stadium bleachers.
Kerby Pierre, a 25-year-old senior and president of Proud Distinguished Gentlemen, said his organization’s mission is similar to that of PBM.
Some of the young men his organization come in contact with, he said, have their hearts set on breaking into the entertainment industry, rather than on stepping into a university classroom.
The same is true, Pierre said, of some of his childhood friends in Miami who turned to street life when their pipe dreams didn’t pan out.
“A lot of my friends have died because they said they’d wait (to come to college) after they got their lives right,” said, Pierre, a computer information systems student.
And that’s why Bacourt and Pierre said they joined their organizations-to make a difference in the lives of young black males by becoming positive role models and leading by example.
Bacourt said PBM’s mission is to show the community that there are young black males who are “standing up by being men and giving back.”
Throughout their seven-week mentoring program, PBM members visit male students once a week, helping them to develop their plans and goals for the future.
In addition, they research the college-of-choice for each student, showing him the SAT score he must attain and the GPA he must maintain in order to gain admittance. Members also assist seniors in the application processes.
The program closes with PBM members giving the students a tour of the various schools and colleges on FAMU’s campus.
PDG has a different approach.
This “family-based organization” seeks to cultivate chivalrous qualities in its young students. The organization visits local high schools to conduct seminars that stress the importance of respect, decorum and etiquette.
“We act as big brothers,” said Pierre, who has been a PDG member since 2001, “tutoring them and showing them how to be natural-born leaders. We encourage them to be better men.”
For students who may not have a stable support system, organizations like PBM and PDG can fill in the gap by teaching young males how to recognize their potential
“A progressive black man is one that understands that his work is never done,” Bacourt said.
Similarly, Pierre said he sees a “huge difference” in the work ethics, demeanors and ambitions of his organization’s pupils.
Although Bacourt emphasizes that college “is not for everybody,” he readily acknowledges it as “an investment in one’s own future.”
“College is truly a different world, a different universe than where I came from,” Pierre said. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Contact Andrea Young at email@example.com