By James Morgan

As I continue on my journey from young adulthood into full maturity, there is one experience that I have that I think about almost everyday, in a seemingly religious manner, participating in an African Centered Rites of Passage Program. Often times the elders in our community, educators, and politicians ask the question “What is wrong with the youth today?”. I believe that through my own experience and learning I might have identified one of the problems plaguing the Black youth of America today. The question that should be asked is “What does it mean to be a man/woman and how do we bring our youth to that point?”.

In Kenya and Tanzania exists a group known as the Maasai. They have gained a lot of notoriety for many different reasons one of which is their elaborate and well organized rites of passage ceremonies. In this and many other traditional African cultures we find that there are certain rituals, and personal character traits that identify one is on the path to complete adulthood, after which point they are identified as an active mature member of the society entitled to all of the benefits but also inheriting the responsibility.

In a recent conversation I had with a friend of mine we got into a debate over what it means to be a child vs. an adult and I mentioned my 16 year-old younger brother as a reference point for our conversation. I was explaining to my friend that there are certain things that I and my family expect from him now that he is entering manhood and her perspective was “he is only 16” he doesn’t need those responsibilities. My question throughout this whole ordeal was “When will he be a man in your eyes?” at which point I got a collage of answers that to me seemed symptomatic of the overall African experience in America.

When a rapper like 50 Cent says he is a man he is putting a definition on it that is attached in large part to the material wealth he has amassed and the amount of women he has gone to bed with. Is this Black manhood? I believe not, and I also believe that the time has come for us to redefine what it means for one to be on the path from childhood to maturity and that markers should be established to let the individual and the community know that the individual is on the path to reaching adulthood.

The S.T.E.P. Program takes boys through the passage to manhood

S.T.E.P. Program takes boys through the passage to manhood.

The above statements in the mind of this writer are proof positive that African centered rites of passage programs are gravely needed in our community. As a product of New Jersey’s S.T.E.P (Striving Together Equals Progress) organization I have witnessed firsthand the wonders such programs can do for our youth. Dr. Kmt Shockley of George Mason University points out in his research essay “Africentric Education Leadership:Theory and Practice” that all throughout the United States and the broader world other cultures and religious groups have educational institutions that use that particular groups principles, history and culture as a foundation and ongoing framework for learning.

As I am also a product of a Catholic High School, I am also a witness to how such an education can empower people to be more confident and knowledgeable about the history of whichever group to which they belong. Why then should people of African descent not use a culturally based methodology for the education of our children, especially when such a diverse group of scholars such as Dr. Asa Hilliard, James Lowen, Dr. Ivan Van Sertima and others have proven time and again that the American education system is actually miseducating students?

This is my challenge to myself, my peers and our community, we must save our youth from the many challenges they face. I believe that one way that this can be done as part of a multi-pronged solution is by utilizing culturally relevant rites of passage programs so that our young men and women realize that they have a mission to better themselves as human beings and to contribute to the advancement of the community. I would like to add an addendum to the old African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child”, and say that “A child who is raised properly can raise the village”. It is my hope that we begin and, continue this task. Our ancestors would have it no other way.