Shawn Ginwright

author, professor, activist

Loving our Boys

There is a precious tenderness underneath the thin veneer of toughness of every black boy. We only need to open hearts to see how much they are crying out for us to really see them, hold them and love them.

 Shawn Ginwright


Love is a term we rarely use to describe what black boys need in order to mature into healthy adults. Often we point to quality education, strong role models, consistent mentoring and manhood training. While all of these are important, loving relationships allows us to pierce through their toughness and truly see them. Unfortunately, when we only focus on the exterior toughness, we focus only on the problems facing black boys rather than the possibilities for their lives.

 Some may ask, what’s love got to do with it? How can love shift the tide of the deep despair among our black boys are facing? bell hooks responds to this question with simplistic brilliance. She says that ìlove does not bring an end to difficulties, it gives us the strength to cope with difficulties in a constructive wayî. Our black young boys are filled with the anger of not having their fathers in their lives, they are enraged about the conditions of neighborhood, they are frustrated at watching the mothers work so hard, with little to show for their efforts. It is a heavy burden that no single school, job training program, role model or mentoring program can address. These feelings fester in black boys, and at times erupt as an act of power to proclaim, ìI matter in the worldî! However, in the midst of darkness and misery, our love says to our black boys, ìgood morning child, the sun is bright and a beautiful day is waiting for you! Our black boys are in need of love. With our guidance and support, they can begin to find love in themselves--and in each other. 

 Dr. Noel Anderson at the City University of New York, has commented that rather than teaching our boys how to become men, we need to consider teaching them how to be boys. Our focus on manhood has robbed black boys of their childhood, a precious time to learn how to love, feel and grow. In many ways gangs have fulfilled the function of providing meaning, purpose, support, protection, and love to black boys in urban neighborhoods. They have been a presence in our neighborhoods for decades, and the disputes and negative activities they foster are partly responsible for the deterioration of our communities. Yet, research on gangs does not equate their presence only with violence. In fact, it shows that only a small percentage of gang-affiliated young men can be labeled "hard core" members, an indication that many have only loose affiliations--and may simply equate gang association with peer acceptance and support. Scholars have documented how young people will seek ways to have their need for purpose, guidance and love met either positively or negatively.

  Amid the array of negative connotations that they present, youth gangs also show that young men have the capacity to be leaders. But our boys need support and opportunity to take on leadership roles that are positive.  We can do our part by viewing our young men as community assets and by helping them to expand their possibilities so that they lead lives they have reason to value. When they lead lives they value, they telegraph positive messages to other boys; they build self-esteem and self-efficacy in themselves and in others.

We must develop a range of ways to love and to build healthy relationships between black men and boys. But our men, youth and boys first require healing. Healing from the trauma of oppression—poverty, racism and sexism—is an important political act. As bell hooks wrote, daily trauma, hopelessness and nihilism  “prevent us from participating in organized collective struggle aimed at ending domination and transforming society .” Healing happens when we offer personal testimony to reconcile the painful experiences stemming from oppression, and when we call what may seem at first to be simply personal misfortune or self-blame what it really is—systemic oppression and discrimination.

 Healing requires a consciousness of possibilities, strong caring relationships and safe spaces that encourage our young men to both navigate their current circumstances in their communities as well as see a brighter future for themselves. When young black men are conscious of the root causes of the problems that confront them, they tend to act in profound ways to find ways to transform their own lives and the lives of their communities. 

Copyright Shawn Ginwright All rights reserved.