African-American Male Suicides


There is a crisis in America and while African American leaders search for answers, some community groups are finding solutions of their own.

A recent study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and co-authored by University of Pennsylvania Professor Sean Joe found that suicides remain very high among the nation’s youth, specifically in African American communities, where there is a significant amount of violence associated with suicides.

“Seventy percent of African American youth who commit suicide do so with guns,” said Joe. The study co-authored by Joe “suggests that there is in fact a youth development crisis in the African American community.”

The study concluded the age range for the suicides was 15-19.

Dr. Hugh Butts, a leading African American psychiatrist, agreed that the use of firearms sends a lethal message but added, “The added stress alone is crucial to the mental development as an African American teen in that age bracket. “The Black adolescent is even more vulnerable than adolescents of other ethnic groups because, not only must they deal with issues confronting other adolescents, such as personality consolidation, peer pressure, the stress of dealing with adults, but they must deal with the cultural aspects of a society which imposes a great deal of stress on them.”

Severe problems in urban areas are cause for concern for leaders and scholars speaking out in African American communities nationwide. Some alarming figures show that many problems exist among all ethnic groups. In 1998, white males accounted for 61 percent of all suicides among youths 10-19, and white males and white females together accounted for over 84 percent of all youth suicides, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The suicide rate has been increasing most rapidly, however, among African American young men ages 10 to 19 – more than doubling from 1981 to 1998. Among Hispanic students, young women were almost three times more likely than young men to have reported a suicide attempt.

“The most likely explanation for ethnic rate differences is variations in cultural factors that promote or inhibit suicide,” states the Center for Disease Control and Prevention Web site.

In one African American community on the South Side of Chicago, a group of Christian men are working with African American teen-agers to expand their knowledge of educational, political and economic issues.

“If they do have fathers, they see us as uncles, or as part and parcel of the family structure,” said George Glenn, director of programming for Concerned Christian Men Inc.

“The reality of the situation is that most of the young men that we work with have no viable fathers in the home. It’s an outrageous situation. In their elementary schools and high schools, there are no real male role models. It’s really a female dominated society that these young men are trying to reach manhood in. We just saw that as being problematic. So what we did is, we made a commitment that we’ll step in and provide leadership and direction as much as we can,” As Glenn sees the situation, what is needed to resolve many of the problems some young people experience on a daily basis are perception, commitment and a consolidation of forces on many different fronts.

“What we’ve done is we’ve made a commitment that we will provide these young men with opportunities to grow,” said Glenn.

Glenn seemed to have very definite ideas about many of the issues needing immediate attention. He doesn’t hold just one part of society responsible. Rather, there is lot everybody could do to make these problems better.

“We need to get control over various forms of the media to reflect what is our accurate assessment of reality,” Glenn continued. “If you don’t have that man in the family, you have basically a dysfunctional family because the roles have changed. Mom is the one who can share dreams with the children. She’s there rearing them and she’s got a real connection with them. Now because mothers are either working all the time or taking on the father role and the mother role, they spend less time sharing in the children’s dreams.

“As a result, not getting that nurturing from a parent allows these kids to spin off on their own. This allows for gang members to take on a more family role in the lives of these children. You’re having children rearing children, the blind leading the blind. What it has done is it’s castrated an entire segment of men who are roaming the streets,” said Glenn.

Glenn was critical of hard-nosed conservatives and their theories that people should pull themselves up by their boot-straps.

Though many conservatives consider it coddling to suggest that self-esteem or the lack thereof is a barrier to productivity, Glenn said, “Most of the European immigrants didn’t face the situation where there was institutionalized racism. We know that there’s institutional racism. We can see that in corporations. It’s designed to keep them (minorities) as a sub-culture and if it kills the dreams you have, then that is a wipe out.

“I think that’s why so many of us turn to drugs, because we have no more dreams. It’s a very sad situation but I think given the kind of racism African Americans experience, if they (the powers that be) didn’t have the scapegoat of the Africans in this country, it would’ve been someone else. We believe our young men are in crisis right now and we’re stepping up to make that commitment to bridge the gap.

“How do people develop values? It’s through the media primarily. Even word of mouth is not that effective because you can’t talk to that many people.

“We believe our young men are in crisis right now and we’re stepping up to make that commitment to bridge the gap,” said Glenn.

Glenn’s group, Concerned Christian Men Inc., hosts a Man-Boy Breakfast every third Saturday of the month. At this breakfast, young grammar school age boys are asked to meet with the Christian men’s group to enjoy a lecture, Bible classes, food and sports in a casual atmosphere.

“The good thing about this breakfast concept is that we have all ages, literally from 6 to 90 years old represented. It’s a way for young men to view the future, being with us. I think every speaker has such impact on them because they see the same thing. They see a young man out there who will one day be an attorney or a sportscaster. We need to get control over various forms of the media to reflect what is our accurate assessment of reality.”

Violence Prevention Study
A study conducted at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Chicago has shown that young victims of violence can change their high-risk behaviors. That’s the encouraging news in the final report of “Within Our Reach,” a two-year collaborative study between Mount Sinai Hospital in Chicago and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Chicago. Dr. Leslie Zun, chairman of Mount Sinai’s emergency medicine department, said, “Within Our Reach” developed “when our staff started seeing young victims of street violence on repeat visits. It was frustrating to just provide medical treatment and then send kids back on the street – with a recidivism rate of more than 35 percent. When kids have just been shot or stabbed, they’re scared about the path of violence they’ve chosen. So we decided to strike when the glamour of gangs and street violence didn’t seem so glamorous after all. “This is a totally new approach to violence prevention,” he added. “But it seems to have great potential for reaching an extremely unreachable population who are very mobile, are rarely in school and have no primary care doctor.”

“Within Our Reach” was developed by Zun and Jodi Rosen, a consultant to the Boys and Girls Clubs. They worked with some 188 youths ages 10-24 who came to Mount Sinai’s emergency department with violent injuries, mainly gunshot and stab wounds. After being randomly divided between a treatment and a control group, case managers addressed specific needs of the treatment for six months. They focused on addressing, personal and family issues, helping establish a formal treatment plan, and making referrals to services at Mount Sinai, the Boys and Girls Clubs and other community-based providers. Those in the control group were given a list of services they could access on their own. It is significant that the treatment group reported fewer re-injuries than the control group.

“However,” said Dr. Zun, “the study found no difference between the two groups for other targeted behaviors such as arrests and incarceration.”

The study also showed that youth in the treatment group were much more likely to use health and social services than those in the control group. Some of the services most frequently used were education, job readiness, legal assistance, child care, substance abuse treatment, health care and social support. During the two years of the study, 48 participants were enrolled in job training-readiness classes, and 60 participants were linked to medical and health-related services.

What the study made clear was the effect, importance and significance of the right type of intervention. The study found that for those who want to provide health care or social services to victims of violence, there also should be an additional focus on education, employment, gang intervention and mental health assistance. The study also determined there was a very high cost to making a significant impact on the behavior of this high-risk population. The high cost came from using resources such as transportation, community-based centers, additional case managers and incentives. Zun said “Within Our Reach” has become a resource as groups throughout the country planning similar violence-prevention programs incorporate these findings into their own plans. Substantial, previously unknown information about the characteristics of these youths, including schooling, gang involvement, friends and family, alcohol and drug use, violence exposure, delinquency patterns and weapon accessibility are now known.

Zun said the “Within Our Reach” study’s results show how intervention can dramatically lower re-injury rates and ultimately prevent more violence among difficult-to-reach youths. He acknowledged, “Many of the targeted behaviors didn’t change appreciably, due to a number of factors including the limited duration of case management, overburdened case managers, lack of community-based centers to provide services to this population, and limitations of the referrals,” said Zun.

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