Who’s talking to our young Black men?

As a mother, it was heartbreaking to hear my adult daughter’s account of random gunfire ripping through her home on the Humboldt Greenway as she and her two children, ages 5 and 8, lay asleep in their separate bedrooms on a hot summer night.

According to my daughter, and like the story-telling accounts of so many others, there were loud noises that first sounded like fireworks. After realizing the sounds were gunshots, not fireworks, my daughter crawled on the floor, went to grab each of her children, and dragged them into a back bedroom where together, they called the police as they lay on the floor until help arrived.

The next morning, my daughter found gunshot holes outside her home, gun piercings inside her house, and an actual bullet in her bed. While she and her children were not physically harmed, the mental and emotional damage had been done.

At a time of year when parents should be filled with excitement about sending their children back to school, too many guardians are filled with fear and anguish about becoming victims of random gunfire, whether it be at the corner store, in the car, at a transit stop, or in their children’s beds. According to the Department of Justice, Bureau of Statistics, African Americans, males and persons ages 18-24, had the highest rates of homicide by firearm from 1993-2010. Anecdotally and obviously, these same profile trends continue today.

Unfortunately, it is young Black males who are most often doing the shootings in our inner-cities. It doesn’t matter if it is Minneapolis, St. Paul or Chicago. When we hear about shootings in our neighborhoods, many of us conjure up images of young Black men riding around in their cars doing the shootings.

I find it curious that whenever gun violence is discussed on television news, it is often professional commentators with little to no understanding of inner city dynamics. Whether it is here locally in the Twin Cities or in the national media, we always see somebody older, established, or a professional, speaking about the issue.

Why don’t we ever here directly from the age group and racial cohort who, from what we know from statistics, are most prone to pick up a gun and use it? Why don’t we seek to interact with young African-American males, ages 18-24, to engage them in conversation, learn more about their lifestyles, see how we can be helpful and learn what sets them off?

So many of us deal with African-American males ages 18-24 from a distance. Unfortunately, this can apply to the parents of our young African-American men as well.

In 2006, the Minneapolis Urban League, under the direction of then president and CEO Clarence Hightower, had a program called, “Mending the Nest,” an initiative aimed at bringing down that year’s abysmal homicide rate. As a part of “Mending the Nest”, the Urban League gathered hundreds of neighbors on an evening to talk to actual Stillwater Prison inmates who had been convicted of murder. At this event, residents who packed the room were able to talk directly with some of the young men who had been doing the shootings in our community via a live satellite hookup. The audience sat mesmerized as young men gave accounts of what led them to the rage that prompted the picking up of a gun, and eventually pulling the trigger to kill a person.

This innovative strategy was utilized by the Urban League to actually talk to the people who were doing the shootings and killings in the neighborhoods. However, what we really need to be doing is talking to our young Black males before the prospects of prison, not after. Simple questions such as, how are you doing? What’s on your mind? What are your hopes and dreams? How can I help you achieve your goals?

Most of us hear about the homicide rate in each city. What we need to remember is that there are hundreds more gun discharges that either miss their targets, or injure victims, which don’t show up on more prominent homicide rates because somebody got pegged in the stomach, leg, arm or head, but somehow survived the gunshots.

None of us should fear walking down the street, lying in our bed, or going to the store, scared we might be the victims of random gunfire.

I am keenly aware that men and women of all ages, races, and economic backgrounds resort to picking up a gun and pulling the trigger when they are angry. However, today I am talking about our young men … our community … our dads, sons, nephews, brothers and friends.

We can double the size of our police force, put a cop on every corner; but until we begin to talk to, engage, educate and interact with our young Black men, my daughter and her children, and the rest of us will not be able to sleep at night as comfortably as we should.

And, the sadder part is, I’m not sure we even deserve the rest until we do a better job drawing our young Black men into the mainstream of society by providing equal opportunity, along with liberty and justice for a population of individuals that are all too often, dealt with at an arm’s length. Our young Black men are beautiful pools of talent, sometimes tapped, other times not. We must work to bring out the genius, creativity, ability, talents and gifts of the young Black men in our midst, sooner rather than later; more rather than less.

Gloria Freeman is President and CEO of Olu’s Center, an intergenerational childcare and senior day program, and can be reached at

September 13, 2016
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