In my experience I found that many youth are comfortable with talking about courtship. This has led me to want to use dating as a method to help them bridge the gaps between their often dysfunctional dating environment and their likely inability ability to conceptualize the gory details of institutional slavery. I take this approach in hopes that they will develop an emotional, mental, scholastic, and community-based consciousness regarding their roles as contributors to the progress of African people. I have observed that many of them know that something is wrong (i.e. inside, at home, throughout the black world). In a nutshell, I want to grab their attention via the topic of the problems that are associated with modern dating, and help them to see that these problems have roots that reach into generations of chattel slavery. As this stage is established I would strive to help them to see how slavery not only affects their dating behavior, but the other area of dysfunction within the African-American community. The anticipated result will be youth who now want to make the needed contributions to the African community because they know what is making them-us sick and what will make them-us healthy.
My young people are so powerful. I want you to know that in life, when you act dim then it causes other people to act dim. Young men, when you wrestle with young ladies on the bus stop, holding their necks with both hands in laughter, you are sending a message. Young ladies, when you stand at the bus stop with your back facing traffic in order to show that you have an attractive figure, you are also sending a message.
For six years I volunteered as mentor for a program at my church called the “Youth Sexualities Project” (YSP). The focus of this project was to inform youth that they had the right to seek instruction on sexuality from trusted adults in hopes that they would receive structured advice from them rather than from some of the effete advice that often comes with seeking life-skills information from peers or scorned adults. The research behind this program found that there is a connection between the choices that youth make regarding sex and the source of their influence. Many youth are found to have their primary source of sexual education to come from members of their peer groups including significant others and portrayals of sexuality in the media, rather than seeking education from the experience of parents, family members, or other trusted adult figures.
Trust is a key characteristic when we decide to guide youth especially in the area of sexuality. A trusted individual has the experience of addressing issues of sexuality and mature enough to facilitate the needs of youth from various backgrounds.
My mission was to insure that the youth made informed decisions regarding sexuality and sources that they sought to gain knowledge from. We conducted skits, wrote poems, and even conducted interviews. The number of people in each class was between 15-20 students. I had expected to only mentor for one year, but the opportunity returned and I found myself re-enlisting again and again. Each year I would have a combination of a new crop as well as inspired youth who wanted to return again after the previous year. Each of them had their own gifts and they all had their own unique pressures stemming from sexuality. I treated this program as a matter of life and death because based on my experience, mis-information about sex and an unhealthy outlook on sexuality can kill you physically and spiritually.
Year after year I witnessed young people explain their perspectives on marriage, love, intercourse, and dating. Once they found that none of their stories would leave the room, which basically meant that I could be trusted, I proceeded to listen for anything that sounded healthy as well as unhealthy. I would encourage them to face every issue that they brought to the table. The weekly dialogues allowed them to hear themselves speak. They were able to witness their own ability to share and value ideas within a group. The floodgates opened up, I was privileged to calm tears, inspire curiosity, encourage laughter, maintained an environment to release some pains, address fears, and raise voices. From a contemporary and church-culture perspective, YSP was innovative. Common Christian practices have caused conversation concerning sex and sexuality to be regarded as taboo. At YSP, young people had a place where they could be heard and not be judged.
There are a number of reasons that I have to why I took on mentorship at this capacity. I have always shown an interest in the dynamics of dating. It was initially at a personal level. As I matured I recognized pathologies in male and female interaction and theorized that there is a likely connection between unhealthy sexuality and a jaded sense of purpose I life. I also knew that peer pressure was powerful. I knew that one out of three sexually active individuals will have acquired a sexually transmitted disease by the age of 25. I knew that young people place a great deal of energy into their sexuality. I knew that irresponsible sexual activity led to a breakdown in parental involvement once a child was conceived and because of this reality, statistics revealed that seventy-two percent of adolescent murderers grew up without a father or consistent father figure. I wanted to serve my community. The hand that I have been dealt in life allows me to use my mistakes as teachable tools for survival and be useful in the lives of others.
My experience was further reinforced once I began employment with the Chicago Urban League. I now service estranged fathers ages 18-40 who need assistance with enhancing their lifestyles so that they may be useful in the lives of their children and families. These men are often very hard on themselves because they have made various mistakes in life. I observed that self esteem made the problems that they have communicating with the mother of their children increase from severe to life threatening. I eventually became frustrated because the help that I wanted to offer could not be passed on through a simple resume’ workshop.
I am now a father of two daughters, and I am grateful that I am aware of my role as a father to them. The experience that I have gained from being a mentor has influenced my views on parenthood. I know that my treatment of them and their observation of how I interact with them and their mother (my wife) will influence their expectations of the men they bring into their lives. I have always taken to the idea that I am their first boyfriend.
I want my daughters to embrace who they are as African people. Since they are African and female, my hope is that they will be prepared to embrace the stages of being a woman-daughter, sister, wife, mother, and grandmother. I further would expect that their frame of reference be based on their consciousness of their African heritage. My daughters are going to be confronted with sexual pressures. This pressure does not just come from the men that they encounter but their peers. I don’t have a problem with what I cannot control. I do have a problem if my children (birthed and surrogate) are not prepared. Finally, I know that my presence will have an impact on the decisions that they make with men.
These three experiences have allowed me to be open to the idea of exploring the history of courtship and sexuality in ancient African tradition in hopes to discover tools that will lead youth into healthier awareness of self, dating, and purpose, and parenting. I attribute much of my ability to navigate through life’s trials and triumphs to the choice I made to embrace my African ancestry. Part of my self-awareness is rooted in the values upheld by African people who have lived before me. Therefore, my frame of reference for settling conflict, strengthening relationships with members of my extended family, rules for monitoring my work ethic, and worshiping God is grounded in an African-centered point of view.
I mention African-centered thinking as the foundation for my inspiration because it supports my desire to explore traditional African ideals regarding courtship and sexuality. I hope to find out if scholars have provided research on providing African-American youth with instruction on the traditional practices that were implemented to ensure that interactions between male and female upheld socially acceptable conduct. I want to make a contribution by conducting research that will enhance the lifestyles of African people so that they may be more productive and prepared to do their part in the world.
I espouse to the belief that slavery is the cause of current situation. I know that this position turns off a large number of African-Americans as well as those outside of this ethnic background. However, if I am giving the opportunity to explain then the depth of this statement will be revealed. The reason that slavery is the cause of the situation that African-Americans are placed in is because so many are unable to articulate it. African-American children exhibit little to no value regarding life, thought, future, or self; because they are not able to conceive the magnitude of destruction that befell their ancestors and thus affecting them each and everyday.
I want to our youth to be concerned with ideas of what it means to be scholarly and how their choices impact their community we have to provide them with keen insight to their plight. For some, we will even have to introduce to them that they are in a problematic environment/mentality in the first place. Jewish people around the world are able to articulate their Holocaust and it allows for them to be prepared in the event that such a destructive force attempts to be erected again. The staggering percentages of African-Americans entering the penile system, self-hatred, low marriage, and lack of concern for education are the result of an inability to articulate the details of the institution of slavery.
My role in affecting change among African-American youth is to first narrow my focus on what I want to discover. I am seeking works that guides young men to learn the power behind using “words” to express their interest in a young lady. I am seeking works done by scholars that guide young women to understand the responsibility to display allure, poise, and standards of quality when seeking relationships with men. In my research and I am seeking to find works by individuals and/or organizations who aim to inform youth about healthy dating-relationships, bi also the affects of slavery that cause it to be unhealthy.
In this literature review I am seeking to analyze the work of long-time professionals whose discoveries about youth development relate to my topic of interest. It is by looking closely to their positions that I will have a clearer sense of the need for me conduct my own research. I seek material to support a need for African-American Youth to be able to articulate the process of slavery and gain a knowledge-base of the courting process to the extent that they are capable of identifying the destructive elements that are presented in their present environment in hopes that they will gain significant consciousness and contribute to their community’s uplift.