University City

UNCCharlotte panel to discuss why black men matter

UNC Charlotte’s Real Talk – A Community Conversation series will continue its discussion of the African-American male this month with “Heart and Soul: What the Health of the Black American Male Means to the Entire Community.”

The panel-format discussion, moderated by veteran journalist Beatrice Thompson, will be 6:30 p.m. Jan. 19 at UNC Charlotte Center City and is free and open to the public; registration is encouraged.

The panelists will be:

• Lyndon Abrams, an associate professor in UNCC’s Department of Counseling who specializes in racial identity and reducing violence among youths;

• Dr. Robert L. Jones, medical director of the UNCC Student Health Center and a physician for the university’s sports teams;

• Amadou Shakur, founder and director of the Center for the African Diaspora, who specializes in African-American and Islamic history; and

• Antwan Alexander, a May 2014 graduate of UNCC and now a law student at the UNC Chapel Hill School of Law.

Alexander, a native of Charlotte, will bring a younger perspective to the panel regarding what it’s like to be an African-American male growing up in the Queen City.

“Heart and Soul” is the fourth installment in the series titled “The Black American Male and Why He Still Matters in the 21st Century.” The yearlong conversation among the public, scholars and practitioners in the field has covered a wide array of topics surrounding black men, from culture to employment to treatment in the public school system.

The idea for the series, presented by the university’s Center for the Study of the New South, was sparked by “Question Bridge: Black Males,” a summer exhibit at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts+Culture. At the exhibit, African-American boys and men from all walks of life question one another through short video vignettes on topics often not discussed.

Artists Hank Willis Thomas and Chris Johnson created the traveling exhibit in 2012. The work caught the attention of Jeffrey Leak, director of the Center for the Study of the New South.

“There were some deep questions that came out of that exhibit, and I was certainly moved by it in some ways,” Leak said. “I know that black men often talk about these things in the barbershop or the locker room, and it is a concern.”

“Heart and Soul” will focus on the psychological and physical well-being of African-American men and boys. Studies indicate this demographic group is slow to seek help for either medical or mental concerns, often leading to detrimental results.

“Whatever black men are dealing with from a medical standpoint, we often learn about it too late,” Leak said. “Many of the things that are chronic are treatable, but oftentimes you’re not even acknowledging something is wrong with you until you can’t even walk.”

The latest discussion is intended to address some of the concerns uncovered in “Question Bridge,” including the big question of why many African-American men seem more reluctant to talk about their feelings than those in other ethnic groups.

“African-American men, we think historically, are kind of resistant to the idea of counseling,” Leak said. “If you just know Jesus, you should be all right.

“If Jesus is your source, that’s fine, but some people need systematic care.”

Leak said he doesn’t expect the discussion to cover everything but hopes the event will become a good starting point to explore and help change current thinking.

“We are just at a point in our culture where it is OK for men to cry,” he said.