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  • An Introduction Declaring…Spectrum: A Journal On Black Men
  • Terrell L. Strayhorn (bio) and Judson L. Jeffries (bio)

It’s July in the year two thousand twelve (2012), just a few days away from the nation’s celebration of “Independence Day,” commemorating the signing of the historic Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. Written by Thomas Jefferson, the nation’s third President, the document signifies the formal and public assertion of power by the thirteen colonies against British rule. Charging the King of Great Britain with illicit abuses and usurpations—that all seemed an attempt to establish an absolute tyranny—leaders of the original colonies declared their independence by severing ties with the British throne and promising to set new guardians of their future destiny. It is from this founding document, The Declaration of Independence, that these infamous words are drawn: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by the Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

In the late 1930s, Gunnar Myrdal, the renowned Swedish economist and Nobel Prize winner, led a team of researchers to conduct a Carnegie Corporation–funded study on race relations in America. In the report of findings, a massive 1,500-page book titled An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy, Myrdal (1944) argues that much of American life is powerfully shaped by a widespread belief in an American Creed—the same “unalienable Rights” or ideals of liberty, equality, and justice referenced in The Declaration of Independence. The American Creed, he argued, seemed to serve as a common cause or ethos for a nation that otherwise was remarkably diverse and disparate. And despite this keen observation, Myrdal’s encyclopedic treatise points out the troubling and paradoxical coexistence of American liberal ideals and the deplorable sociopolitical situation of Blacks in America—what he called “the Negro Problem.” He noted “that White prejudice and discrimination keep the Negro low in standards of living, health, education, manners, and [End Page 1] morals. This, in its turn, gives support to White prejudice. White prejudice and Negro standards thus mutually ‘cause’ each other.”

Almost 70 years later one could still posit a “Black problem” in America and elsewhere based on nearly any measure or index of economic, political, or social progress available. For example, there are approximately 43.8 million Blacks in the United States, representing 14% of the total population (U. S. Bureau of Census, 2011); yet, the net worth of Black families is a mere $6,100, compared to $67,000 for White families (Strayhorn, 2008).

Since Myrdal’s study a substantial amount of evidence has amassed from decades of multidisciplinary research on the backgrounds, experiences, and outcomes of Blacks in society. A fair amount of this significant body of research chronicles and examines both the persistent challenges faced by Black men as well as their enduring contributions to humankind. For example, only 41% of Black male youth graduate from high school and two-thirds of all Black men who enter college leave without ever completing a degree (U.S. Department of Education, 2011). Not only are Black men more likely than others to be unemployed for longer than six months, but they also are two times more likely than Latinos and six times more likely than Whites to go to prison (National Urban League, 2007). Nearly 2 million Black men have lost their “unalienable” right to vote due to felony convictions (National Urban League). And most studies conclude that Black men are disproportionately the victims of police use of excessive force. These statistics collectively paint a portrait of the Black male in crisis, one whose future would be dismal and disappointing without intervention.

Yet, not all Black men are unemployed, high school dropouts, or convicted felons. There is remarkable diversity among Black male populations and Black men continue to make far-reaching and lasting contributions, both in the U.S. and abroad. For instance, there are more elected leaders and chief executive or senior officers of Fortune 500 companies today, than ever; Black men such as E. Stanley O’Neal, CEO of Merrill...


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