A recent study on the number of Americans behind bars painted an alarming and rather bleak picture for African Americans males.

According to the Pew Center on the States, one in nine African American men ages 20 to 34 are behind bars in 2008. Add this to a U.S. Justice Department statistic that noted that one in three black men will be incarcerated in their life time and couple that with a new report from the Editorial Projects in Education (EPE) Research Center and the American Promise Alliance on the high drop out rate for urban students, and alarm bells should be screaming.

The EPE study released yesterday and based on 2003-04 data found that three of 10 U.S. public school students do not graduate from high school, and major city school districts only graduate only one of two students. Additionally African American and Native American students effectively have a one-in-two chance of getting a high school diploma.

Taken all together this information would lead to a conclusion that the situation seems hopeless for black males in America.

But at a recently held summit that examined the plight of African American males in the state’s community college system, Shalamon Duke, president-elect of the organization African American Male Educational Network and Development (A2MEND) said that the statistics are a little inaccurate. He added that if you look at the college-age population of 18 to 22, there are actually more black men in college than in prison.

The difficulty added Duke, who is dean of counseling and special programs at Coastline Community College in Costa Mesa, is giving them the support needed to keep them in college, and that is exactly what A2MEND is all about.

“What we hope to do is a couple of things. We want to bring awareness to the issue . . . and always keep it in the forefront of key players and institutions. We also want to provide scholarships and mentoring to young students.”

Duke acknowledges that getting African American males into college, particularly the two-year system is a big challenge but he said keeping them there is so that they can matriculate to a four-year school even more difficulty. And a lot of it has to do with how they are perceived on campus.

“How do we them, when they get there? Are we afraid to talk to them? Do we walk right pass them and not talk to them,” asked Duke adding that often male students take years to finish two year course work because they are not properly counseled on how to take classes, what courses to take and much more.

At their recent conference, A2MEND look at the issues from four different perspective including student and administrator viewpoints.

According to Mark Robinson, out-going president and co-founder of A2MEND, administrators need to take a more proactive role in the recruitment, retention and success of black males.

“We have to be more visible. . . I have to let them (new students) know that somebody at the senior level in administration is going to be available,” explained Robinson, who said that during high school recruitment events and tours, he passes out a stack of business cards, and advises students and their parents to call him, if they have a problem.

Additionally, Robinson said school districts need to incorporate college recruitment information sessions in the body of the school day rather than afterschool.

Robinson and Duke also believe that community colleges need to partner more with unified school districts, and that is one of the approaches A2MEND is in the process of developing with the Long Beach Unified School District.

While the group has been working since 2005 in California, A2MEND is currently preparing to take their work national. For more information on the organization visit their web site at www.a2mend.org.