This semester, I'm teaching four courses and have about about 110 students, and 35 to 40 of those students are young black men. 20 of the guys, all in one class, are 18 or 19 years old. The other guys, in two other classes, are between 20 and 22.
I'm looking forward to working with all my students this semester, but it's also really interesting to work with the young brothers. I had some of the older guys in a class when they were first-year students; they're now seniors. I'll have to put some thought into how they've grown and how I've grown since we first met a few years ago.
There are all kinds of statistics out there about troubled, down-trodden black males. They are, so the numbers tell us, the most adrift of the academically adrift, products of failing high schools and rough home environments, etc. There's another social side though. They are known to be cool, highly social, deep into rap and sports, and the list goes on.
So far, in my classes, we haven't had time to cover these various issues related to the contemporary dilemmas and social lives of black men because we've been busy discussing African American poetry--a subject and form that pervades my four courses. The poetry becomes our central focal point as well as our point of departure. For now, at least, in the regular classroom discussions, the poems that we have read about slavery, poems by Paul Laurence Dunbar, and poems related to Malcolm X have guided our conversations.
Throughout the semester, specific issues related to the struggles of black men will eventually emerge in some of the poems so I imagine I'll hear from some of the guys on how those various topics relate to their particular life experiences. Some topics have already come up after class, as two or three of the young men always wait around to ask me about something in the news, politics, or the newest music.
Collegiate Black Men, Rap, and Poetry
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