Part of a year-long series, presented by The American and the Brown School at Washington University, on changing the narratives and outcomes of young black males in St. Louis.
While 66 percent of African-American children live in single-parent households, black students attend disproportionately underfunded schools, and black juveniles are 5 times more likely to be incarcerated than their white counterparts, we are neither predisposed nor destined for bad outcomes.
The black men in my circle are pastors, bankers, philanthropists, successful entrepreneurs, corporate officers and proud, blue collar men who love their families and this country. Many of them are college graduates, including some from Ivy League schools and military academies. We have lively debates about the merits of competing economic doctrines, politics and religion. We regularly joke about our relative failings in competitive endeavors, be they golf or basketball. We don’t ignore our failings while we absolutely embrace our triumphs, both personally and collectively.
I am not, however, advocating an approach where black men in our region are going to be saved by our Talented Tenth. Rather, I am pointing out that we are an economically and politically diverse group of independent thinkers with a proven track record of contributions to this region.
Professors Paul A. Samuelson and William D. Nordhaus define economics as the study of how societies use scarce resources to produce valuable commodities and distribute them among different people. I have participated in discussions about the allocation of resources among black youth where the question was posed, “Is there a point where the marginal benefit derived from investing in a particular individual/group becomes less than the marginal cost?”
My answer: all lives are worth saving. And yet this remains a touchstone question in any reimagining of St. Louis. This investment calculus about the margins is essential to all economic entities. Investment tenets include the principle that a diverse portfolio generally provides more stability and avoids risk. The presence of black men in our region and investment in them is positively accretive to our region if for no other reason than it strengthens diversity.
I offer one more analytical construct: optimization subject to a constraint. Given the steeper hill that black men must climb and recognizing that not all of these obstacles are self-imposed, the majority are optimizing their outcomes, albeit subject to these constraints. While one may look at the negative statistics commonly associated with black men and draw the conclusion that it is safer to literally and figuratively walk away, a superior outcome awaits by investing in the diversity of perspective, ability and contributions that we bring to the region. It is in our region’s economic self-interest to invest in black men.
Taking me as an example, the prologue of my life story is not unlike most black men. I was born into a single-parent household to a teenage mom in rural Mississippi. Many in the small town of Natchez contributed to raising my three sisters and me. Yes, it did take a village to raise us. During my formative years, this ongoing investment of both time and other resources in me made a significant difference in any positive outcomes I have been able to achieve.
I have been married to Tammy for 30 years, and we have three mostly wonderful children whose floors are much higher than either of their parents. The older two are already accomplishing tremendous things. And, yes, even with a different level of parental resources, it is still taking a village to raise them. We have lived in St. Louis for 13 years and made lifelong friends here. While we could live anywhere, we choose this region because, while not perfect, it is a great place to raise a family.
Tammy and I met recently with five 20-somethings (four college students and one recent graduate) to extend economic offers (jobs), pertinent training, networking opportunities and anything else that we can bring to the table with a desired outcome of increasing the likelihood that they will remain in the region.
I spent a significant amount of time thinking about whether to add any personal details to this narrative. I cannot recall a single instance where those details made a difference in an economic conversation because we all, independent of ethnicity, have burdens to carry. Ultimately, I chose to include these personal touches because, in my personal sample size of one, I can unequivocally offer that the investment in me paid off when measured by the increased potential of my children.
Kelvin J. Taylor, Sr. is a husband of 30 years, father of three and managing partner of Taylored Analytics.
“Homegrown Black Males” is a partnership between HomeGrown STL at the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis and The St. Louis American, edited by Sean Joe, Benjamin E. Youngdahl Professor and associate dean at the Brown School, and Chris King, managing editor of The American, in memory of Michael Brown.