Historically, Black researchers were not given a platform to discuss topics of importance. This is problematic because there are several economic, political and social issues that require examination. Throughout my career, I have chosen to challenge the systems that limit opportunities for members of the Black community. My passion is centered in my lived experiences as a Black man navigating various challenges that have existed for generations. Overcoming these barriers is difficult, but I have learned that leaning on other Black men is critical. It is my responsibility to support and guide other Black male scholars at varied points in their careers to ensure their success. For this reason, I’m providing some insight for current and future Black male researchers.
Create Black Male Support Systems
In a forthcoming publication with my UCF colleague Arian Bryant, director of Residence Life, we explore how supporting each other after the murder of George Floyd, the pandemic and racial upheaval in the United States was so important. Also discussed in our publication titled, Am I My Brother’s Keeper?: The Importance of Black Male Kinship at a PWI, is how two Black men — one a faculty member and the other a doctoral student — can discuss the challenges of working at a predominantly white institution (PWI). Highlighting our work is crucial because there are few safe spaces for Black men to talk about their experiences. So, it is important that current and future researchers create a community that recognizes the barriers they could encounter and are willing to offer support. Creating a community can include becoming involved with organizations, such as UCF’s Black Faculty and Staff Association.
Having access to Black men that listened and provided feedback throughout my journey in academia helped me to overcome seen and unseen issues. This is important because we are usually one of a few present at meetings, conferences and several other events. Creating a sense of community can be the key to sustaining professional success and protecting your mental health. In higher education, Black male faculty members and staff need support systems that allow them to be authentic. Creating shared communities reinforces the concept of kinship. It is important to note that kinship can relate to individuals that are not related by blood. These relationships feed the soul and help Black males feel welcomed.
Develop a Community Centered Approach
Far too often, researchers develop theories that are abstract and do not meet the needs of local communities. Becoming detached from the experiences of underserved and marginalized populations can lead scholars to create solutions without understanding the problems. Black male scholars and other minoritized groups can avoid this by adopting an approach that focuses on historical challenges. For example, viewing crime data and making recommendations without researching discriminatory policies such as red lining and limited access to capital is counterproductive. Also, working to find solutions without talking to groups hurt by outdated or dangerous laws could lead to more harm. You have to be willing to listen and reflect on the challenges the community identifies. Adopting this approach is important regardless of the researcher’s background.
Challenge Unjust Systems
In today’s society, choosing to question various systems could cause you to be unfairly labeled. However, Black men, like other minoritized groups, have a responsibility to question and change unfair systems that have continued for generations. Solving these issues will not only improve the lives of others, but also give you a sense of purpose. It ensures you focus on we not me. The fight to balance the scales is more critical than ever. There are numerous examples in which Black male academics of the past and present have spoken up, including W.E.B. DuBois, John Hope Franklin and Eddie S. Glaude, Jr. Your research and concern for others should be rooted in addressing the challenges that are part of everyday life. While the road can be tiring, I encourage current and future researchers to consider “doing the work” to put an end to unjust systems.
Overall, I hope the points I highlighted provide some guidance. Unfortunately, the issues Black male scholars have to navigate can be tiring. But understand that you are not alone and can build an academic and personal community that will support you throughout the most troubling waters.
Larry Walker is the program coordinator for the educational leadership program and an assistant professor in UCF’s Department of Educational Leadership, which is located in the College of Community Innovation and Education. He is also vice president of UCF’s Black Faculty and Staff Association.