African American News

"Slaying Cynicism and Offering Hope - Commentary by Joseph C. Phillips"

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Few things are as satisfying as proving a common sentiment false. Whether in the media or in barbershop discussions, we are often led to believe that the priorities of our young people are askew and that Black men do not take an interest in their communities. It is little wonder the beast cynicism so often rears its ugly head.

Last Monday, while speaking at the African American Youth Leadership Programs annual summer conference, I was inspired by several men of character and spent some time with some truly dynamic young people. It was a pleasure seeing often spouted misconceptions along with my doubts about the future blown to smithereens.

The African American Youth Leadership Program (AAYLP) is sponsored by the Research and Policy Institute of California, a non partisan think tank dedicated to issues affecting the African American community in California.

The current president of the institute and one of its founding members is Tommy Ross, vice president of public affairs at Southern California Edison. Ross has spent his career attempting to build relationships between those that make policy and those that are affected by that policy. That relationship is dependant upon clear lines of communication, which are fostered best through research, and dynamic leadership.

The AAYLP begins that leadership training by providing high school students with the tools they will need to find success in education, business and government. During the week long conference, student participants get hands-on experience, such as developing academic and career plans, running political campaigns and participating in the legislative process.

The program, however, is really about self discovery and empowerment; about realizing that one’s life has meaning and purpose beyond the present moment.

The week begins with discussions of African American history linking the past with the present by comparing African traditions from the past with those of present day America. Students are then asked to begin thinking about their own lives, about their dreams for the future and more importantly what they need to do in order to achieve them. They discuss what leadership really means, how to be examples for others in their communities – how to be a strong link in the chain.

In addition to Ross, students are given the opportunity to meet other links like former Oakland Raider Rick Jennings, executive director of Center for Fathers and Families and Lt. Colonel (ret) Brett Duge a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, current liaison for academy recruitment and a pilot for American Airlines. All of these men have achieved professional success but most importantly they give the lie to the belief that black men do not reach back with helping hands for those that are following. These men are husbands and fathers that spend a great deal of time offering wisdom to young people about the importance of education, planning and tenacity in achieving both professional and personal success.

There is something intoxicating about the enthusiasm of young people. One can’t help but be caught up in the hope and eagerness with which they approach the future. On more than one occasion, I had to swallow back the lump in my throat as one student after another stood and shared their dreams for the future: attending one of the service academies, journalism, or medical school. “I can’t” was not part of their vocabulary. To a person, they echoed the conviction “teach me and I will.”

There are times I fall victim to pessimism. I digest the images in the media that tend to focus on the negative behavior of young people and black men in our communities and I wonder about the future. Thankfully, I have plenty of opportunity to witness the optimism of youth and the love and dedication some men have for young people. During times like last Monday evening, I sleep well knowing that our future is secure.

Visit to learn more about the program.

Joseph C. Phillips is the author of “He Talk Like A White Boy” available wherever books are sold.

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