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Teen Murder Suspect’s Case Highlights Need for Early Black Male Intervention

By Dr. Adia Winfrey | 3/21/2014, 3:38 p.m.

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Dr. Adia Winfrey

Earlier this month, 61-year-old Glenda Woodard was found beaten to death inside her Jackson, Georgia home. Butts County Sheriff’s Department investigators say her violent murder was at the hands of her 18-year-old grandson JeNorman Bland, all because she refused to take him to a nearby store to buy cigars. This tragic case highlights the need to give special attention to young Black males. It also highlights the validity of My Brother’s Keeper, a $200 million, five-year initiative led by President Obama that aims to search for solutions to the problems Black men face with early childhood development, school readiness, educational opportunity, discipline, parenting, and the criminal justice system. As an author and psychologist, my research has identified and addressed issues largely influencing the negative trends that Black males face. As more attention is placed on Black males in response to the President’s initiative, I feel the need to raise understanding about the fundamental issues affecting our boys.

Young Black adolescent boys ages 10 to18 are among the most vulnerable groups in our society, some would argue the most embattled of all racial and gender groups. Social, academic, judicial, and economic forces manifested in racism and oppression delay the mastery of adolescent development for many Black boys. The result is a basic mistrust of their environment, low self-esteem, confusion about their place in the world, and extreme behavioral problems.

I have seen evidence of this lack of adolescent skill mastery in the academic underachievement, delinquency, substance abuse, homicide, and disproportionate incarceration of Black men and boys. These factors, illustrated in JeNorman’s case, are the foundation of the “school-to-prison pipeline,” a national trend moving youth from the public school system into the corrections system.

According to media reports, JeNorman withdrew from school during his sophomore and junior years. He briefly returned in the fall of 2013, but soon withdrew again after incurring criminal charges stemming from a fight at school months before. Like many young Black males, he was entangled in the criminal justice system at a young age, which compromised his ability to contribute productively. So what is the answer to the problems that JeNorman and many of his peers face?

According to the Center for Early Adolescence, large numbers of youth can avoid involvement in the corrections system if problems with family, mental health, or substance abuse are addressed early. In my professional experience, a holistic approach--speaking the language that this group speaks--is required. Hip Hop music and its culture have been the voice of Black males for several decades. Integrating this culture into interventions with Black males can enhance effectiveness of treatment. There are two Facebook accounts in JeNorman’s name and posts on each suggest he identifies well with Hip Hop culture, as do most young Black adolescent teens.

Hip Hop culture emerged in the Bronx, New York in the early 1970s, and its elements, which include music, language, and visual arts, are rooted in African traditions and the Black American experience. When elements of Hip Hop are competently integrated into programming with Black males, such as with Healing Young People thru Empowerment (H.Y.P.E.): A Hip-Hop Therapy Program for Black Adolescent Boys (African-American Images, 2009), youth are empowered to make better choices.

The My Brother’s Keeper Initiative will continue bringing attention to issues affecting Black males. Yet changing the negative trends that have plagued this group for generations requires a break from the status quo. Preventing tragedies such as JeNorman’s calls for early, holistic interventions that foster a sense of purpose and help youth create their vision for the future. Propelling Black males to limitless success requires brazen innovation that includes Hip Hop Culture. As they say, hindsight is 20/20 vision. In JeNorman’s case, such an intervention could have prevented the loss of two lives; his and his murdered grandmother’s.

Dr. Adia Winfrey

Dr. Winfrey is a Stone Mountain, GA based author, psychologist, and corporate trainer who has been featured on NPR, the Tom Joyner Morning Show, and in JET Magazine. She is the founder of Healing Young People thru Empowerment (H.Y.P.E.). H.Y.P.E. incorporates Hip Hop music and lyrics into group therapy sessions for at-risk youth, with emphasis on Black males.