Black Men in the Academy: Narratives of Resiliency, Achievement and Success
reviewed by Joelle Davis Carter & Yoruba Taheerah Mutakabbir - June 07, 2016
Title: Black Men in the Academy: Narratives of Resiliency, Achievement and Success
Author(s): Brian L. McGowan, Robert T. Palmer, J. Luke Wood and David F. Hibbler, Jr.
Publisher: Palgrave/MacMillan, New York
ISBN: 1137567260, Pages: 234, Year: 2016
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Since the 2006 publication of Michael Cuyjets African American Men in College, the examination of Black males in college and the academy has been situated in a national context, imploring colleges and universities to consider best practices to promote and sustain a strong critical mass of Black males in higher education. Black Men In the Academy: Narratives of Resiliency, Achievement, and Success, edited by Brian L. McGowan, Robert T. Palmer, J. Luke Wood, and David F. Hibbler, Jr., extends the conversation surrounding the experiences of Black men who have witnessed the balcony and basement views of the academy. As professors, doctoral students, and higher education administrators each author reflects deeply and shares how his lived experiences, not academic degrees, guided his decisions and stories of success. This inspiring and informative contribution skillfully employs a narrative methodology that allows the authors to present their lived experiences as a scholarly mode of inquiry and reveal issues that may be invisible to others coexisting with Black men in academia.
The text is primarily framed by the tenets of the anti-deficit model developed by Shaun R. Harper. As noted throughout the book, the anti-deficit model refutes deficit models of education and is designed to understand environments, conditions, programs, initiatives, policies, and resources that facilitate Black male success (p. 3). For instance, Harper suggests that rather than investigating why Black male retention is low, considerations should be given to institutional factors that may influence the reasons that these men do not persist in higher education. Throughout the books 14 chapters, the authors authentically and intellectually walk the reader from their elementary school to graduate school years of education.
In Chapter One, the editors collectively set the context by explaining Harpers anti-deficit model and reemphasizing the importance of encouraging Black male success rather than focusing on elements that stagnate Black male advancement in college and the academy. McGowan addresses being bused to an affluent elementary school because of his academic gifts and being mocked by classmates. The leading editor states,
They made fun of me, which led to many physical altercations. I often wondered if I was teased because of my commitment to academic success, not having the newest clothes, and/or the color my skin. Nonetheless, I had to be thick-skinned to succeed in this new environment. (p. 4)
The editors use their own narratives to further demonstrate different aspects of the anti-deficit model and bring life to layman examples to connect to a broader reading audience. In Chapters Two and Three, J. T. Snipes and Ferlin G. McGaskey share the impact of racial politics associated with being a member of the Black middle class and navigating a predominantly White educational environment. McGaskey uses Schlossberg's Transition Theory to reflect upon his experiences and lessons learned from pursuing a doctorate on three separate occasions. In Chapter Four, Jameel A. Scott reflects upon his early childhood experiences and the ways they shaped his trajectory in higher education. Similar to other chapters, Scott highlights the significant impact of role models, mentors, and the values of perseverance and determination.
In Chapters Five through Seven, Michael Steven Williams, Christopher C. Jett, and Willis A. Jones use narratives to illustrate their experiences as faculty members. Williams positions his piece with Banduras concept of self-efficacy and the importance of informal and formal mentoring experiences. Jett focuses on the isolation and racism that is often aligned with being the only person of color in rigorous scientific and technological fields such as mathematics. The author emphasizes resilience and encourages more Black men to persevere in these areas. Finally, Jones focuses on the anti-deficit model and shares how his own stubbornness aided in his professional success.
Keon M. McGurie eloquently begins Chapter Eight by retelling the social and educational experiences of his ancestors, noting that his personal life is an extension of theirs. Through the use of intergenerational stories, McGurie explains how elements such as segregation and anti-Black racism shaped his own educational trajectory. In Chapters Nine and Ten, Christopher B. Newman and Don C. Sawyer offer perspectives on how sociological factors like family resources, identity, and other forms of capital influence academic success for Black males. Newmans chapter includes strategies for practitioners to better support Black men and boys while Sawyer describes ways to create spaces for Black males to be empowered.
In Chapter Eleven, T. Elon Dancy interweaves postcolonial, impostership, and self-authorship theories to demonstrate how colleges as colonized institutions restrict the scholarly identities of faculty. Finally, in Chapters Twelve through Fourteen, John Michael Lee, Eric Love, and Terence Hicks share personal narratives to describe their respective paths to earning a doctoral degree. Lee acknowledges the immense emotion stirred while writing his chapter and explains how his family shared in his educational experiences. Love reflects upon being a diversity educator and the challenges associated with advancing social justice issues at a predominantly White institution. Perhaps most importantly, Love shares his personal battle and courage to abandon a profession that he passionately enjoyed. Hicks concludes his powerful piece with a discussion of studies indicating that parents of first-generation students show more support for their children to attend and graduate college. Using the Systems Theory of Family Resilience, Hicks contextualizes the narrative of his parents being denied access to education in Prince Edward County, Virginia and the ways he remained resilient in achieving his educational goals.
Black Men in the Academy is a phenomenal text that adds a necessary dimension to the conversation on Black men in higher education. Further, it offers readers an opportunity to learn about a more intimate side of scholars. The narrative methodology used substantiates that quantitative methods are not the only ways to make meaning of experiences or changes in ones life. I applaud these brother scholars for their courage and willingness to allow readers into their personal and professional lives. This text is ideal for educators and practitioners at all educational levels and even professionals working on diversity issues related to Black men in both community-based and non-profit organizations. For instance, the entire text or select chapters could be used to deepen views of race, gender, and socioeconomic politics in undergraduate and graduate courses. They could also be used as a resource for training teachers and student advocates in educational systems where there are significant populations of Black boys and men.
Black Men in the Academy accomplishes the goal of delineating stories of achievement, resiliency, and success for Black men in the academy. As often mentioned in scholarly literature on Black men in higher education, the importance of family, mentors, support, and access to information continues to be critical for the personal growth, social integration, and academic success of this diverse population. However, there are common strands intertwined throughout many of the narratives in the text that are worthy of mention. First, at least six of the authors attended a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) at one point in their educational journey. Within these narratives, the authors explicitly mention their desire to attend such institutions, the support and nurture received during matriculation, and the ways in which they remain connected to them. These stories reinforce much of the evidence in the research literature about the ways HBCUs support the success of Black males compared to predominantly White institutions.
Next, there is a consistent theme of the powerful influence and role of women in the personal and educational lives of Black men in the academy. Whether the men point to the positive influence of their grandmothers or the negligence of their mothers, it is clear that a woman, and specifically a woman of color, provoked change in their lives through leadership, caring, and even disappointment. Finally, support programs before, during, and after college can aid Black men in both college and the academy. The majority of authors allude to programs such as An Achievable Dream, African American Student Activities Board, and forms of Black Men Excellence and Initiative programs that contributed to their excellence and motivation for success in the academy. Fountaine and Carter (2012) found that when pre-college Black men are provided a forum to reflect upon their innate strengths and abilities in a supportive forum, they are better able to achieve their academic and personal goals. Preparatory and intra-college programs designed to provide reflection, support, and realignment of educational goals is a fundamental step in aiding Black males to reach success.
The authors achieve their goal of sharing the resiliency of Black men in the academy. Further, this text discounts a common misconception in research on Black college men that suggests they are a monolithic collective with no group variation (Berhanu & Jackson, 2012). The authors of Black Men In The Academy attended various institutions, emerged from different socioeconomic backgrounds and familial structures, and perhaps most importantly, perceived their lives from totally different parts of the world. The authors have experienced pain, poverty, and inappropriate educational placement in programs such as special education due to their response to an environment that did not understand them.
While this book is a powerful and meaningful piece of scholarship, we found two areas lacking with regard to closure and individual discussion concerning how the authors might serve as conduits to cultivate future Black men in the academy in a pipeline outside of their professional positions. Within each chapter, most of the authors are intentional in sharing words of wisdom and advice, but almost none of them speaks about how they might personally go into the village and empower others based on their experiences. When given a platform to share, it is necessary to think about ways to refine or contribute to systems that aided ones successes. More discussion concerning how the authors Black male mentors are fully engaged in programs to develop young Black males would have complemented the narratives. A second element that could have strengthened this project would have been to include an afterword. While the preface and the first chapter do an exceptional job of providing context for the reader, we finished the book desiring a final thought about the common themes in the compilation of these critical narratives. The foreword, written by Jerlando Jackson, adds value to the text. An afterword written in a similar emphatic tone would have given the ending a stronger impact. Despite these criticisms, Black Men In the Academy is a valuable addition to the scholarship on Black males, a critical commodity in higher education.
Berhanu, J., & Jackson, J. F. (2012). Untold stories: an examination of selected experiences of black male graduate students at an Ivy League Institution. In A. A. Hilton, J. L. Wood, & C. W. Lewis (Eds.), In Black Males in Postsecondary Education: Examining Their Experiences in Diverse Institutional Contexts (pp. 4974). Charlotte, NC: Information Age.
Cuyjet, M. (2006). African American men in college. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Fountaine, T. P., & Carter, J. D. (2012). Yes I can! Strengths-based approaches for engaging academically underprepared Black males. In R. T. Palmer, & J. L. Wood, (Eds.), Black Men in Black Colleges: Implications for Diversity, Recruitment, Support, and Retention. New York, NY: Routledge.