Book explores how to best help African-American boys succeed

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The challenges faced by African-American boys and adolescents, such as negative stereotyping and racial profiling, have received a great deal of attention recently, from the police shooting of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri, to President Obama's "My Brother's Keeper" initiative, which aims to support young black males despite opportunity gaps.

A new book co-authored by a Virginia Commonwealth University professor and a VCU doctoral student is seeking to inform that conversation.

"African American Boys: Identity, Culture, and Development," by Faye Belgrave, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Psychology in the College of Humanities and Sciences, and Joshua Brevard, a health psychology Ph.D. student, provides in-depth information on topics including self and identity; school expectations and achievement; peers, family and kin; and delinquency and victimization.

"We've summarized the research, the literature and the best practices for working with African-American boys," Belgrave said. "We saw a need to compile in one source [a book on] the state of the literature and research on black boys."

The book is written for academics, policymakers, psychologists, parents, teachers and others working with African-American boys. "It's geared toward an academic audience," Belgrave said, "but it's meant to be accessible."

The book focuses on African-American boys between the ages of 10 and 16, Belgrave said, because decisions made during preadolescence to midadolescence often have far-reaching consequences.

"At that age, boys are likely to make decisions that might have a profound impact on the rest of their lives," she said. "Think about early adolescence, where they start moving ahead in school or start moving back in school. They might start getting in trouble, or not getting in trouble. And, accompanying all this, they're developing an identity about who they will be."

One of the book's chapters explains what types of programs and practices have worked well at helping African-American boys in the past.

"There're a lot of programs out there," Belgrave said. "And I always ask people when they're running these programs, 'Why are you reinventing the wheel? Let's look at what's out there already and see what's working.'"

"African American Boys" comes five years after Belgrave authored a similar book focused on African-American girls titled "African American Girls: Reframing Perceptions and Changing  Experiences."

Brevard, who was the lead author on the new book's chapters on peers and delinquency and victimization, said he hopes "African American Boys" will help promote positive ways of influencing better outcomes.

"I hope that it provides individuals who are in a position to work with young African-American males some potential ways of protecting them from the negative environmental factors that can be present in a lot of situations," he said. "And to not only focus on the bad or focus on the assumption that if you're a black male then you're almost predestined to have negative outcomes."

A key theme throughout the book, Belgrave said, is that African-American boys and adolescents are faced with insidious and pervasive racism, even relative to African-American girls.

"The expectations for black boys are lower among parents and teachers," she said. "So parents have higher expectations for their girls than their boys, as do teachers. So no wonder you're seeing all these disparities in incarceration and academic achievement."

These challenges, she added, are underlying factors in situations such as the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson.

"This pervasiveness of racism and discrimination is not necessarily intentional, but it has adverse consequences. It's very subtle," she said. "When people see black boys, they automatically associate [them with] negativity. And this is why we're seeing things like Ferguson."


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