The latest panel in a series of discussions surrounding "Question Bridge: Black Males" was hosted by 10 members of RIT's MOCHA (Men of Color, Honor, and Ambition.) This panel, held Wednesday, October 29, brought out many of Rochester's youth and gave them an opportunity to share their opinions with attendees.
After a short clip of the film, hosts Timothy Reed and Bernard Rodgers posed the question, "Why is it so difficult for African-American men to be true to themselves?" Each young man participating in the panel responded to the question -- below is an edited version of some of their answers.
Cory Ilo: "Where I was brought up, it was taboo to be smart, and eventually I just owned my intelligence and formed an identity around it."
YasmaniAguiar: "There are a lot of social constructs and stereotypes; society puts pressure on all of us and it can be hard to step out of that comfort zone. It is good to be surrounded by positive people that support what you are doing."
Ryan Nieves: "I grew up in a predominately black neighborhood and later moved to a predominately white neighborhood; and I struggled in school, trying to stay in my stereotype so people wouldn't say, "He's trying to be white." But as I saw people living out that stereotype I decided I wanted better and I found my self-identity through success."
Mike Valentin: "Stereotypes limit people. They could be the greatest painter, but they won't take a painting class because they would be the only non-white and would be judged by both their white and black peers."
The question was offered to the audience, and one attendee commented that the biggest need was support and encouragement: There is always a race that is proud of themselves, and as an African American, the attendee didn't see himself in mainstream media and couldn't relate to the messages they were sending.
CarvinEison posed a question to the panel: "How do you manage or process hip-hop in a world where media is so pervasive?"
Bernard Rodgers: "We had people help us find a piece of our identity beforehand, so we aren't as impacted by it."
Jaquan Outlaw: "There are the rappers who are sharing their struggle to show that it is possible to make it out; they are sharing their success. Then there are others who are just trying to make a living, they should be called 'entertainers.'"
Tim Reed: "Even if you took away hip-hop, nothing would change because social media exists and young people will still emulate what they see as 'popular.' If you look at pop music: it has the same messages, it's just as bad, and it reaches more people. But hip-hop is originally and predominately black so it's easier to blame for societal issues."
Members of MOCHA asked the audience the final question: "Do you think you are a product of your environment?"
One young woman answered that as an African-American female that grew up in a poor and negative environment, there were a lot of stereotypes and expectations. But there were younger children around her that looked to her for guidance, and therefore she could not afford to be a product of her environment.
Another gentlemen said that people were products of their environments until they reach a certain level of consciousness, then they become a product of the environment they create. As a father, he said, it was his duty to create a positive environment for his children and regulate the filter.
The next "Question Bridge: Black Males" discussion will be held on Wednesday, November 5, at 7 p.m. and will feature Llyod Holmes, The VP for Student Services at Monroe Community College.