Friday, May 11, 2007

Is Intellectualism among African-American Young Professionals dead?

I know many smart black people. By smart I mean, educated, speak well, able to discuss current and historical events. But intellectuals seem to be fewer in number. The word intellectual calls to mind people who are able to discern information, synthesize information and news items and present topics of interests that spark people to think. Think deeply. Dialogue deeply. Focus on common denominators of societal ills. Propose solutions to these problems and evaluate impact and effectiveness of these solutions.

I am amazed by the swell of seemingly smart people who are cognitive novices. Now, let me preface this with a little background information. I've spent quite a bit of time working with and teaching high school students and college underclassmen. It's heart-breaking how many of these students are unprepared. And among students of color and those from urban school districts, lack of academic preparedness is even greater. Most have no idea 'how to think' and the importance of being logical, rationale, and thorough. They don't know where to start. What frightens me more is that I've witnessed scores of adults who are just as deficient. I'm just dismayed by the lack of understanding and interest in understanding that so many of my peers have about the world around them.

I've concluded that "Why" and "How" are very difficult questions for many people. Asking someone to define goals and objectives and outline a plan of action can be a very trying task for many as well. As a scientist, thorough planning, execution, and evaluation of projects comes very naturally for me. Furthermore, I am always being examined and critiqued by others to make sure my proposals and projects are meeting stated goals and objectives. This simple exercise (for me, at least) of planning, critique, and re-evaluation, keeps me sharp. My ability to detect errors or mis-information or inconsistencies helps me become a better scientist and citizen.

But, this level and expectation of critical thinking seems to be lacking among the majority of African-American young professionals I encounter. Take young professional associations for African-Americans for example, what are these organizations really about? To get an exact and complete description, one must study the organizations themselves, but overarching goals seem to be the same.
Mobilization? yes.
Civic Engagement? yes.
Preparation for success? yes.

But what I don't always see is an actual and deliberate plan to implement these objectives. In order words, HOW do such organizations promote or get African-Americans to mobilize, to become civically engaged, and/or prepare them for success? And frankly, how would they measure their success, i.e. will they know if they were really able to mobilize, civically engage and prepare people for success?

More often than not, I've witnessed, members of such organizations becoming engulfed in participating in the organization - e.g., going to meetings, answering calls to action/volunteer, going to fundraisers and socials.

Sometimes the faces are the same, sometimes they are different.
I wonder what is on their minds. I imagine introspective conversations for them.

  • "Is my participation in this project helping me become a better person/citizen/professional?"
  • "I'm meeting lots of great people. The connections I've made will really set me apart from my professional competititors?"
  • "What does this event/project have to do with the objectives of this organization?"
  • "Am I doing everything I can to make a difference in the community through this organization?"
  • "Are my dues worth this?"
  • "This organization is really the best place to be."
  • " Have I really made a difference in helping people become their best possible selves?"
At times, I've asked these questions of others. The answers are mixed. Nothing all bad or all good. But a common response is that some people become involved for the sake of being involved. That's not a bad thing. I only wish that more people were cognizant of what they are doing and why.

For a little more info about Black intellectualism, visit these commentaries about Black Intellectualism and Cornel West (America's most popular Black Intellectual) here and here.

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