Three Rivers forum tackles racial stereotypes

Norwich – From the influence of hip hop culture on black youth to the reasons for a “school-to-prison pipeline,” participants in a community forum Thursday at Three Rivers Community College tackled a host of racial issues.

"Living the Stereotype: The Status of Black Males in American Society," was intended to open up dialogue on why black youth continue to find themselves at a disadvantage compared to their white counterparts, according to Three Rivers Adjunct Professor Edward A. Derr, program coordinator for the school's Access and Success Program.

Derr started the night's presentation citing statistics that show as many as 30 percent of African-American males in the inner cities between the ages of 16 and 25 end up in prison. Their number one cause of death is homicide.

African-American men also are more than twice as likely to be pulled over for a traffic violation or stopped while simply walking somewhere, he said.

"It's not a white problem. It's not a black problem. It's an American problem," Derr said. "We have a crisis in America and what we don't want to do is point fingers."

Derr said instead of assigning blame, forums like Wednesday's could serve to find solutions.

Derr posed questions and invited the 50 people in attendance to speak with the panelists, which included Three Rivers English professor Frederick-Douglass Knowles II.

Knowles called it "an everyday struggle of defying those stereotypes" assigned to black youth. Knowles and other panelists agreed that education, youth mentoring and activism were some of the keys to instituting a change.

Among the participants at Wednesday's event were members of the Three Rivers Community College Social Justice Club and Writers Block Ink, whose members performed a choreographed dance and spoken-word performance.

Hearing Youth Voices, a New London-based youth activist group, outlined a "we want to graduate" campaign and called on New London High School to revise policies and send notifications to parents of students who may be losing credits or in jeopardy of not graduating. The group showed statistics outlining a rising number of suspensions at the school for things like violating school dress codes.

It is these zero-tolerance policies that disproportionately target youth of color and lead to a "school-to-prison pipeline," pushing students onto the streets and into juvenile and criminal justice systems, according to the group.

Audience member David Tate, 33, said he was kicked out of New London High School for what he called a simple argument and later "took to the streets."

He said he completed a stint in federal prison for "drug running" and his role in a shooting and turned his life around. He is now attending Three Rivers and mentoring school students.

"I've done it all. Now I'm on the other side. I beat the odds," Tate said.

g.smith@theday.com

Twitter: @SmittyDay

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