Focusing on Black men healing to empower community



By Samuel Simmons, Jr. and Minister James Muhammad 

Contributing Writers

Whether right or wrong, when discussing the ills and disparities within the African American community, many things are talked about, such as violence, drugs, poverty, and emotional, physical and spiritual health. However, there are two that come to the forefront, especially in the urban community: racism and the Black men’s role.  

Let’s start with one that many have difficulty with, no matter Black, White or brown, and that is the issue of racism. One group wants to focus on what many believe is America’s original sin — chattel slavery — and they believe that pervasive structural racism still exists. Historians agree that chattel slavery’s destruction of family relationships to this day undermines African Americans’ ability to form healthy relationships and families (Joy Degruy, 2005). Another group wants to believe that racism isn’t that big of a problem, and besides we have a Black president. 

The unrelenting issues pertaining to Black men’s emotional attachment, emotional regulation, and self-concept difficulties give cause for mainstream society and causal observers to ask, “What’s wrong with them? Why is it that nearly one in three Black men will spend time behind bars during his lifetime? Why is it that Black men die six years earlier than Whites? Why are Black men so angry? Why are Black males, young and old, committing suicide at an unprecedented, alarming rate?

 It’s not difficult to understand why, when one considers the holocaust of chattel slavery and its enduring injury that’s gone untreated up to today. The issue of power, and who holds it, remains everybody’s hot button. Life expectancy is one of the best indicators of power and suicide one of the best indicators of powerlessness.

Over the last 30-plus years, many of the brightest in and outside the community have addressed these questions. But, there are many Black men who feel that the various systems around them have since failed and/or excluded them. Consequently, these men are mis-educated/undereducated, have poor emotional regulation, possess little or no work experience, are female-dependent, and have little or no healthy involvement in the productive activities that foster real self-esteem and hope for a future. 

Invariably, these men come from a multigenerational experience of trauma, violence, powerlessness and poverty in their domestic, community and social settings. Even those African American men who appear to be succeeding in the mainstream are trying to survive in a nation where they’re viewed as angry, aggressive and dangerous brutes. 

When the Black man suffers, everybody in the family and community suffers tenfold. It’s been said that men are responsible to cultivate hope. The presupposition is that he, himself, has hope; for how can he cultivate that which he does not have? And how can he heal from pain that he refuses to acknowledge because he believes to do so is unmanly?

Unwittingly and helplessly, Black men pass their pain on to the women and children in their lives, and the cycle of slavery’s devastating pain continues and its profits soar. And yet, there are those who still ask, “Why the focus on Black men healing?”

African American men are not responsible for America’s original sin and the pervasive structural racism built upon its foundation, but we need to take the responsibility for our healing from its devastating impacts upon us as Black men so we can be healthy crusaders with our women in rebuilding our families, vital communities and capable children. 

Without healing from individual and intergenerational trauma, it’s hard to fully experience a relationship that reflects respect for all the people in the relationship, including the children, and move forward — like the Sankofa principal of looking back to move forward — towards becoming a safe and healthy part of the community.

Yes, Black men should be held accountable by Black men, but our mantra must be Compassionate Accountability and Straight-up Healing, i.e., C.A.S.H., so we can enrich our own lives and empower our communities.

On June 23 and 24, 2011 the Third Annual Community Empowerment Through Black Men Healing” conference will be held at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul. In this era of limited resources and increasing disparities, this conference provides an opportunity for meaningful community engagement and access to national and local educators, community practitioners and other experts to discuss and introduce practical trauma-informed and outcome-driven ways of thinking about community building and empowerment.


For more information about the conference, see the Spot listing on page 7.

Samuel Simmons, Jr., ADC and Minister James Muhammad are organizers for the Black Men Healing Conference.