The second session of the Black Male Achievement Symposium was held Saturday at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. The theme of the two-day event was "Deploying a Southern Strategy to Achieve Educational Equity." The symposium began in Little Rock on Friday and concluded in Pine Bluff.

The second session of the Black Male Achievement Symposium was held Saturday at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. The theme of the two-day event was “Deploying a Southern Strategy to Achieve Educational Equity.” The symposium began in Little Rock on Friday and concluded in Pine Bluff.

Hosted by Sen. Joyce Elliott, the UAMS Center of Diversity Affairs and the Women’s Council on African American Affairs, Inc., the event seeks to make academic achievement of black males a priority. According to the Schott 50 State Report on Black Males and Education, 54 percent of black males graduated from high school in Arkansas in 2007-2008, compared to a 70 percent graduation rate for white males. In 2009, 7 percent of Arkansas 8th grade black males tested proficient or above in reading, compared to a rate of 30 percent for Arkansas 8th grade white males.

“We are looking at a way of addressing underachievement of black males and being purposeful about it so we can reverse this tide,” Elliott said, adding that it will take a strong network.

“The problems and solutions around the critical state of African American male achievement and related issues like poverty, health, criminal justice and lack of opportunity are neither black, nor poor, nor simple; so solutions will require aggressive, intentional intervention,” she said.

Many of those who attended Saturday’s session offered ideas for helping young black males succeed including after-school tutoring, mentoring, extra-curricular activities and increased parental involvement. Overall, they said initiatives must come from individuals, community organizations, churches and others.

More than 75 people, including college and school age black males, gathered in UAPB’s L.A. Davis Student Union for the Saturday event. It featured speakers, group discussions and a screening of a documentary. Dr. Ivory Toldson, a senior research analyst with the Congressional Black Caucus, led a presentation and panel discussion.

Toldson urged those at the meeting to not be discouraged by the numbers they might hear about black male achievement, explaining that some are outdated.

“We need to move toward understanding and recognizing the best in black men and move away from this deficit thinking – this thinking that there is a crisis and no way to get out of it,” he said.

Toldson said often statistics focus on the number of black men in prison. However, he said there are 1.2 million black men in college. While some young black males may live with only one parent, it is not a negative factor in their achievement, he said.

“Being from a single parent household is not going to penalize you to a point where you are not going to succeed,” Toldson said, adding that the focus needs to be on parenting.

The Howard University professor said he struggled in elementary school but a teacher saw and nurtured his potential.

Those attending the symposium watched a 30-minute documentary film titled “Beyond the Bricks” that examines the issue of consistently low performance of African American males in school. The film by Washington Keon Media follows students Shaquiel Ingram and Erick Graham as they struggle to stay on track in the Newark, NJ public school system. The film features commentary from some of the nation’s top leaders, experts and scholars focused on black boys and education, including Newark Mayor Cory Booker, the Reverend Al Sharpton, and Schott Foundation President Dr. John Jackson. The film promoted solutions to the low performance of African American boys in the public school system including community and church-based programs.

Kendra Stokes, who is majoring in early childhood education at UAPB, said she wants to work for change in Pine Bluff.

“I’m thinking about doing a documentary about our community and bringing some of these issues to the forefront,” she said. “I want to look at how we can educate our people about respect for life. I want to work on getting more services in the community and I would like to start an after-school program.”

Lonza Hardy Jr., athletics director at UAPB, said young black males need to understand the importance of education.

“They are going into a global society without literacy and education, there is no way they are going to make it,” he said, adding that black men need to step up to serve as role models.

Several young black UAPB students shared their thoughts on helping other young black men to succeed.

Stephan C. Burse Jr. a senior general studies major, said black college students need to tutor young black males and serve as mentors.

“Those who are successful have a responsibility to let them know how we got there,” said Greg Robinson, a senior history major. “You have a responsibility to help someone, to uplift each other.”