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Lupe Fiasco Ignites National Conversation on the “Terrible, Substandard Education” of Black Men in America

Written by Phillip Jackson, The Black Star Project on 15 July 2013.

In Rochester, N.Y. 9% of young Black males graduate from high school, 20% in Detroit, 24% in Philadelphia, 28% in New York City, 39% in Chicago and 41% in Los Angeles, and about 50% of Black males in America finished high school with their graduating class in 2010, according to a 2012 report from the Schott Foundation for Public Education.  American prisons are teeming with young Black men who dropped out of high school, and the American economy is emptying itself of Black low-skilled, non-high school completers.  Sadly, even most of the young Black men who graduate from American high schools do so with reading and math skills far below their national and international counterparts of other ethnicities.  These horrific real-life outcomes are the reality for most Black men in America today!

Lupe Fiasco, who is fast becoming the social conscience of America, has ignited a national conversation on the education of young Black men and boys in this country.  At the Mass Black Male Graduation and Transition to Manhood Ceremony in Chicago, created by The Black Star Project and hosted by Chicago State University, young Black men were challenged to do more than just graduate from high school.  They were challenged to become truly educated life-long learners and critical thinkers, to become world citizens and to become “men” who produce value for the world, control and develop themselves and their communities, and inspire and connect with humanity.

This dynamic ceremony included African drumming, the pouring of libations, the march of the elders, positive musical performances and two ultra-powerful keynote speeches delivered by Fiasco—hip-hop artist, free thinker and social commentator and long-time civil rights activist Attorney Thomas N. “T.N.T.” Todd.  Additionally, 50 elders—some of the top doctors, lawyers, business and community leaders, educators and elected officials in this country—embraced and energized 150 newly-minted young Black male high school graduates.

Since those speeches, a national conversation is raging on the “terrible, substandard education” of young Black men and boys in America.  Both speeches were rivetingly hard-hitting, sometimes painful, yet transformative. The young men who heard them left the convocation center transfixed, more aware and responsive. It is a tragedy that every young Black man in America did not hear these two speeches!

In his remarks, Lupe Fiasco fired an indictment at the American education system with, “Congratulations, you have graduated from one of the most terrible, substandard school systems in the entire world. You have just spent the last . . . 12 years receiving one of the worst educations on earth. You are at least four/five steps behind people in other countries that are younger than you.”

Fiasco continued, “The caps and the gowns and your tassels and your honorary blah blah blahs don’t mean nothing. That’s just dress. That’s just some clothes. Meaningless clothes, too, because they have no real purpose in life. They don’t keep you warm. What do they do? They just represent to someone else that you’ve achieved something. But then when you look back at it, what have you achieved?”

"I don't care how smart your smartphone is”, admonished elder Attorney Todd, “I don't care how great your technology is, I don't care what you have - You still cannot download freedom!!! You must work to be free! Education has always made the difference for us."

Because of these shocking messages, these young men now perceive that life, understanding and responsibility are more important than sleep-walking through their roles with rote learning and perfunctory graduations that lead to low-income, dead-end jobs.  On this day, Mr. Fiasco gave these young men with the greatest educational gifts they will ever receive—the freedom to think, the freedom to learn, the freedom to change, the freedom to transform themselves and the desire to be excellent!  These young men are now focused on "manhood" and humanity!

Some have criticized Mr. Fiasco for “spoiling” these graduates’ ceremonial celebration with his caustic words, although no one has disputed his words or his facts—just his audacity to voice these truths!  After his speech, Mr. Fiasco gave $100.00 scholarships to each young man who attended this ceremony.

Because of his words, ideas and actions, many people who were not fans or followers of Mr. Fiasco are now, and the country is discussing how to improve the “terrible, substandard education” that young Black men and boys receive in America.

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