It wasn’t the Grammys as usual this year, with many winners and presenters highlighting causes they support. While accepting his Best Original Song Award for “Glory” from the movie Selma, John Legend, along with his musical partner Common, said, “There are more black men under correctional control today than there were under slavery in 1850.”
A recent Politifact article fact-checked this statement and revealed that there are 1.68 million prisoners today, compared to about 873,000 slaves in 1850. But even this doesn’t tell the whole story.
It did reignite the conversation, however, and provided a more correct statistic than the long-held belief that has circulated throughout the media for years that there are more black men in prison than in college. Coach Michael Taylor, a long-time advocate and coach for African American male empowerment, said, “That is something that has been perpetuated for a very long time and actually the truth is, never in this country has there ever been more black men in prison than in college. It is an illusion that has been perpetuated by the media for a very long time and people just grabbed onto it.”
Even Legend’s statistic does not tell the whole story. The 1.68 “prisoners” he refers to includes anyone under correctional control, including probation and parole. A Vox article from February 2015 provides a more accurate representation of the situation, supporting Coach Taylor’s stance. In 2013, 1,437,363 black males attended college, while 745,000 were behind bars.
Taylor adds, “If you truly want to know the status of black men, it’s important to look at the trends of incarceration rates over time. Over the past twelve years, there has been a significant reduction in black male incarceration rates. One black male in jail is too many but the fact remains that we are definitely making progress in reducing incarceration rates, and from my perspective, this trend will continue.”
Ivory A. Toldson, a professor at Howard University, also provides support for Taylor’s claim saying in a 2013 column for The Root that the 2002 report that first provided the basis of this “more black men in prison than in college” statistic was likely based on incomplete data.
Taylor believes the solution to the problem starts with recognizing the philosophy that perception creates reality. Taylor has a motto he calls “GIGO: Garbage In, Garbage Out,” which boils down to the fact that if black men buy into the garbage the media is putting out, than those same negative behaviors will inevitably become their reality. He aims to change this by showing black males positive examples of those who overcame struggles, hardships, and victimizing circumstances that were put before them.
Coach Michael Taylor is a motivational speaker, radio and TV show host, and recent best-selling author of the book Black Men Rock. To learn more about Taylor’s teachings, programs, and books, visit his website at: http://www.blackmenrock.net.