What do black males in Ohio need?

SANDUSKY Sammie Gresham Jr., executive director of the Ohio Commission on African American Males, go
Tom Jackson
May 24, 2010



Sammie Gresham Jr., executive director of the Ohio Commission on African American Males, got an earful of responses when his agency set up shop Thursday and invited testimony into an open microphone.

Several themes emerged, including these two: Black male teens need mentors to show them the way, and they need to think very hard about going to college.

Vicki Slaughter, assistant principal at Sandusky High School, had a ready answer when she finished her testimony and Gresham asked her to name one thing people could do to help.

"Mentor males," she replied.

It's very important for more black teens to have mentors and role models, she explained.

Teachers at the school "need to know what a black male is," she said.

"So they are afraid of them?" Gresham asked.

"They really don't know how to deal with them," she replied.

Frank Cox, a retired administrator at Sandusky High, said the school used to have more black teachers, but they left when they found it was difficult to get administrative jobs in the school system.

Eugene Sanders, who runs the Cleveland school system, used to work in Sandusky, Cox said.

"He was here, and he was one of the ones who got turned down," Cox said.

Erie County's health commissioner, Peter Schade, was the first witness and pledged the health department's support. The Erie County Health Department hosted the hearing, which is part of a series of public hearings scheduled by the commission in 15 Ohio cities.

Most of the cities are bigger than Sandusky, but Gresham said he was pleased by the audience of about 30 who showed up Thursday.

"We went to Cleveland. We didn't have this many people in the room," he said.

Gresham said information from the hearings would be used for policy recommendations for Gov. Ted Strickland. Gresham said Strickland supports the commission's efforts.

The OCAAM does not have a Web site yet, but it will be set up soon and will include video of the Sandusky hearing and other hearings, Gresham promised.

Brett Fuqua, a Sandusky city commissioner, said it's important to try to get young black males to go to college and to teach them they don't have to become star athletes to accomplish that.

"Our girls are getting to colleges. I don't know why," he said.

Fuqua said it's fine when football players or basketball players win a scholarship, but only a limited number of such scholarships are available.

"There is no limit for academic scholarships that schools give out, especially for minorities," Fuqua said.

One of the people who testified, Pastor Tracey Shoemo, managed to have a strong presence Thursday evening, even though he wasn't there for most of the night.

Several teenage boys attended the meeting and sat near the front. Gresham insisted each come to the microphone, and they took turns explaining shyly that they came to the meeting because Shoemo had insisted.

Shoemo arrived toward the end of the hearing, and Gresham asked him to talk, too.

Shoemo said he believes in talking to young men, and said he's not afraid to get out of the car and approach a group if he sees one.

"I'm more about actions than talk," he said.