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Kendrick Lamar and the Role of Mentors

February 21, 2016


On Monday night in Los Angeles, five-time Grammy award winner and Compton, California native Kendrick Lamar sparked a conversation on race relations in the United States.  Lamar performed songs off his critically acclaimed album To Pimp A Butterfly and told the story of what it’s like to be African American in the United States, while also reflecting on the pressure and responsibility of what to do with his newfound fame.  In a month dedicated to Black History, his stories, which are reflective of what a lot of young men of color go through on a daily basis, are worth listening to. With his performance and in depth analysis of the trials and tribulations that African Americans face in 2016, Lamar cemented his status as the next prominent figure to carry forth the conversation on racial injustice and share it with a massive audience.  However, Lamar is not the only one worried about young men of color and the uphill climb they face to “make it out.”


Last year, the White House started a program called “My Brother’s Keeper.”  The program was started in response to a report from the White House Council Economic Advisers that detailed the obstacles young men of color face, and the enormous cost it presents to our economy.  The report focused on the major discrepancies in education, the rate of incarceration, and availability of employment for young men of color compared with other Americans.  I included screenshots of the second and third pages of the report since they summarize and provide hard hitting facts as to why addressing racial inequality will benefit our country on a multitude of levels. 



Coincidentally, The New York Times published an article on Tuesday titled, New York Schools Wonder: How White is Too White? According to the Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles, New York has the most segregated schools in the country.  New York is not the only major city though to have problems with the segregation of schools, as I detailed in October.  The fact that little kids and young adults are not exposed to differences in ethnicities and incomes at a young age makes it harder for them to empathize and understand those who are different than them as they grow up.  To further that point, research has found that integrating students of different ethnicities and incomes allows for growth on all spectrums: "A strong body of research, beginning in the 1960s with the now famous Coleman Report, suggests that low-income students do better academically when exposed to middle-class ones. Numerous other studies suggest that middle-class students do not see a decrease in achievement when they go to school with poorer students, and may in fact benefit in nonacademic ways.”  I would bet my yearly salary that those “nonacademic benefits” relate specifically to the development of understanding and empathy towards one another.  However, as the White House report stated, discrepancies in education are only one of the major obstacles young men of color face.  The other remains the absurd incarceration rate for all men of color.


Bryan Stevenson’s TED Talk, which was the most persuasive speech to be recorded on the TED stage (based on the amount of donations his nonprofit organization received afterwards), focused on the hard truths of our justice system.  Stevenson is a human rights lawyer and he explained the troubling reality of young men of color and their “path” to incarceration:   "The United States now has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. We have seven million people on probation and parole. And mass incarceration, in my judgment, has fundamentally changed our world. In poor communities, in communities of color there is this despair, there is this hopelessness, that is being shaped by these outcomes. One out of three black men between the ages of 18 and 30 is in jail, in prison, on probation or parole. In urban communities across this country -- Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington -- 50 to 60 percent of all young men of color are in jail or prison or on probation or parole."


What the data shows is that those who live in disadvantaged areas, or urban communities, have an extremely high risk of running into trouble with the law.  As stated earlier, the data also shows that those same individuals of color are attending “failing” schools, which exacerbates the issue.  Poverty + poor educational environments = an extremely high rate of incarceration.  All of this paints a picture of the reality that a majority of young adults of color face.


So because men of color are entering the prison system at an unprecedented rate, the question becomes who will mentor the young boys of color so that this cyclical trend can stop?  That’s precisely why Barack Obama and the White House started 'My Brother’s Keeper.' Because of his influence, they used Kendrick Lamar to spread the message.  Lamar is highly grateful for the mentors he had growing up, and he broke down his gratitude in this one-minute video: “As a kid, having a mentor was vital to me. Always being there when it counted, allowing me to make some of the most important decisions while growing up.  So it’s only right that I mentor a younger person with the same wisdom that was given to me.  If it helps the next kid become a better person in life, I will forever be aware of my influence and pay it forward.”


The struggle that individuals of color face is more than I will ever understand.  White privilege is real.  I know I 'won' the genetic lottery being a white male.  My father and I witnessed this privilege over the winter in New York City.  Seattle native and hip hop artist Macklemore, who is one of the few white artists in the hip hop industry, also weighed in on this issue.  Dr. King’s words continue to stand true in 2016: Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.  I believe our country is on the right path to justice for everyone, but we still have a long way to go.  Let us all fight for the acceptance of everyone. Different ethnicities, different incomes, different cultures, but we are all human, and we are all in this together.


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