Over 150 students gathered in the Grand Ballroom Monday night to hear poet and activist Kevin Powell present the “State of the Black Men” address. The forum, which the Student Government Association sponsored as a conclusion to Black History Month, addressed issues that affect black men.
Powell, who appeared on the first season of MTV’s “The Real World,” was a writer for VIBE magazine and edited the VIBE’s book on Tupac Shakur. Now a published author, Powell’s assessment was grim.
In an attempt to start on a positive note, Powell indicated that some black men do work, make good husbands, and are peaceful and educated. The remaining time, however, was spent dissecting and deconstructing the negative issues that concern black men.
Addressing issues such as employment, relationships, drug abuse, education and sexual responsibility, Powell began to paint what he describes as a bleak picture. In New York City, Powell’s hometown, 48 percent of black men between 16 and 64 are unemployed. A common cause, according to Powell, was that institutional racism was still blocking black men from employment.
Powell said crime and illegal activities were commonplace simply because black men’s upbringing was centered on three things to aspire aspire to: rapping, playing ball and/or hustling.
“If you are not taught, you won’t think you have done anything, so you won’t do anything,” said Powell, referring to the educational system and the missing black history.
Powell challenged black men in the audience to take education seriously.
“Not until prison do they [black males] take education seriously,” saying black men in college are representing more than themselves.
“You are going to college not for yourself, but for those that didn’t have the opportunity.”
Powell drew applause when he talked about black men and relationships.
“The easy thing to do is to point fingers.” Powell said.
“We should point inwards and ask, ‘what am I bringing to the table,'” he said, referring to black men not wanting to be in committed relationships.
Discussing the root of the commitment issue, Powell touched on how the absence of a father can affect the black men.
“One of the problems is that fathers are emotionally unavailable, sometimes physically too.”
“If fathers are never there, how do you become a man?” Powell asked.
Frederick Brown, a 20-year-old pharmacy student from Plano, Texas agreed.
“I don’t think it’s our fault. The older generation should have set the example.”
Powell referred to Jamie Foxx’s Oscar speech as an example of a black man being unafraid to show vulnerability. Powell blamed homophobia for the lack of communication between black men.
“We don’t talk to each other.” Powell said.
“The only place we do is at the ball court and in the barbershop.”
Powell also called on the audience to take metal health issues seriously.
“All we are taught is violence is the solution,” said Powell, revealing that he has been to therapy throughout his life to deal with his temper.
“If your mind and soul is messed up then you are nothing more than a resume negro.”
Powell, 38, asked the audience what pop culture is doing to black men today after illustrating how the blaxploitation movies of the 1970’s produced a generation aspiring to be “superfly” and “thugs”.
Calling the new generation “collegiate thugs” Powell said college campuses look more like music videos, and that those videos are teaching black men that manhood is about sexual conquest, cars, rims and clothes.
According to Powell black men have to be willing to create a new definition of black manhood rooted in love, peace and nonviolence.
“We sabotage ourselves so many times,” said Powell. “We don’t think about the long term.”
So where do we go from here?
Besides just urging black men to take responsibility for their lives, Powell presented some solutions.
“Next time you participate in any march or any empowerment rally and their isn’t a solution presented, you’ve wasted your time.”
Powell also called on black men to own their own issues relating to politics, spirituality, culture, physical, mental and economic empowerment, change their values on money and ask if they treat their bodies like a garbage can.
“Each generation must contain its own vision.”
While the turnout filled the seats, Eddie Seatin, a 19-year-old pre-med student from New Orleans was disappointed.
“I was kinda surprised that more women showed up,” Seatin said.
“I really thought more men would have showed up to an event about black men.”
“I was impressed with the turnout of males, especially with the ratio being what it is at FAMU. I would hope that the males that were there will go out and speak to other brothers and challenge them also,” Powell said.
“It’s all about breaking that cycle.”