More than 300 parishioners filled the pews Sunday at Jackson Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church in Hempstead for the annual Men’s Day program, where speakers warned that negative stereotypes can mar the many positive stories about black men in America.
During the service, speakers also addressed how to strengthen black communities through economic empowerment.
Keynote speaker Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League and a former mayor of New Orleans, took to the podium to “debunk some myths” surrounding black men. Morial said negative stories — on topics from the rate of black male college enrollment, to athleticism, crime, and narcotics — propagated by politicians and the media often help perpetuate false stereotypes.
“It creates a psychological scar that the only story about black men is a bad news story,” Morial said, “There are millions of stories about black men who are, yes indeed, living life in a fully positive way.”
Morial said the belief that there are more black men in prison than in college was a misconception. He cited a study by Howard University professor Ivory Toldson, which showed otherwise. According to Toldson’s research, between 2001 and 2011, the number of black men enrolling in college doubled, exceeding the count of incarcerated black men by several hundred thousand.
Morial’s remarks touched upon the annual State of Black America report that the National Urban League, a nonpartisan civil rights organization, released last week. This year’s report, which covers racial equality in black communities, concluded that the quality of black life in America had increased minimally and called for changes such as a federal living wage of $15 and doubling grant programs to make college more affordable.
Jackson Memorial also announced that it would be launching a plan to support economic empowerment by frequenting black-owned businesses during June. On June 1, the church will release a manual listing all local black-owned businesses, Rev. Malcolm J. Byrd said.
“There’s a lot of talk of development in Hempstead village… But very little talk of empowerment,” Byrd said. “We have not, because we support not. As a religious community, as a church community, we put our money back into our community because that’s where it needs to be.”
Longtime parishioner Barbara Vaughn said that the plan was a “great idea” and that she would make efforts to seek out black-owned businesses in June.
“It’ll be a challenge,” said Vaughn, 77, of Hempstead village. “I don’t know of any black-owned gas stations around here. I don’t think I’ll be driving 50 miles to get gas.”