By Melanie Lekocevic
Capital Region Independent Media
ALBANY — Trauma that dates back to the enslavement period is at the root of many of the challenges facing today’s African-American community, author Hosea Givan II said.
Givan penned a book, “Reach Your Community,” which outlines strategies for unifying neighborhoods, particularly in communities of color, through basketball and other sports programming.
The author, who has ties to Albany, said communities of color have made progress in addressing the issues facing society, but there is more to be done.
Givan lived in Albany County when he served as executive director of the New York State Black and Puerto Rican Legislative Caucus between 1989 and 1991, working under the caucus’ chair at the time, Assemblyman Albert Vann.
He also worked to support the campaign of David Dinkins, who became New York City’s first African-American mayor, and by registering voters through a grassroots initiative.
“I was able to organize my fraternity brothers — I am a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, which was the same fraternity David Dinkins was in — and we were very effective,” Givan said. “We registered thousands of voters through the course of a couple of summers.”
Givan and his fellow fraternity brothers went from neighborhood to neighborhood, drawing in more fraternity and sorority members to carry out a voter registration campaign.
“We worked as a collective to go out and get people registered to vote,” he said. “We knocked on doors in the projects, we stood on street corners — it was very effective. We registered between 4,000 and 5,000 voters over the course of those two years. It was an exciting time.”
When Givan took over as executive director of the state’s Black and Puerto Rican Legislative Caucus, he directed the group’s focus to a specific need that he said was vital to address.
“The primary focus while I was there was the endangered African-American male,” Givan said. “I was able to convince them this was something that needed to be addressed and focused on with a sense of urgency.”
The term “endangered African-American male” was coined at a time when there was a disproportionate number of young Black men facing legal troubles and recidivism rates following imprisonment.
“We were specifically looking, at that time, at the amount of Black men that were getting imprisoned, going into the prison system at an alarming rate and then returning,” Givan said. “It wasn’t a corrective system, it was a system that was repetitive. There were a lot of repeat offenders.”
Givan had been a special education teacher early in his career and said he saw a lot of young Black males siphoned into the special education system due to behavior problems, and later on, entering the prison system.
“There was a pipeline from special education to prison. There was a lot of gang violence at that time, and crack [cocaine] was on the rise,” Givan said. “There was a lot of turbulence in the community and when we saw the endangered African-American male, it was mostly associated with the fact that there was a high percentage — one out of four Black men, in the mid ‘80s — that had some involvement with the legal system, which was incredible.”
A series of public hearings was held across the state, including a hearing at the famed Apollo Theater in Harlem that drew a huge crowd and media attention.
“Some initiatives statewide came out of that,” he said, including the creation of an Office of Black Male Initiatives at campuses in the State University of New York system to support African-American male students.
The challenges facing young Black men were numerous, with some dating back generations.
“I think a lot of it stems from trauma from the enslavement period that is unresolved,” Givan said. “The enslavement period was horrific — it was inhumane and we can’t begin to imagine some of the things that men and women were subjected to during that phase.”
The end of enslavement may have freed African-Americans in the United States, but the trauma they experienced would resonate for many years, Givan said.
“When the Emancipation Proclamation took place and enslaved people were free again, there were no mental health clinics, there were no trauma centers, they didn’t have psychologists or psychiatrists or social workers to help them deal with the trauma that they had experienced, in many cases for several generations,” he said. “That unresolved trauma just perpetuated. Not in all, but in many cases that trauma is still there, it is still present and still resides in many from generation to generation.”
Communities of color are also faced with societal challenges as well, he said.
“The other part of it is the lack of economic opportunity and that can be attributed to the education system, the lack of support due to a fractured family structure where in many situations there isn’t stability in the home, the lack of community support systems — there are so many reasons,” Givan said. “There is racism, a caste system that exists in this country that is not just based on race but on economic opportunity and sometimes economic opportunity is based on race. If you have access to information or resources — Blacks and Hispanics oftentimes do not have that same availability.”
Progress in the African-American community has not been as swift or as comprehensive as Givan would have liked, and in some respects he has seen backwards movement, he said.
One way to help young people of color is to reach them through involvement in community sports leagues, which would connect them with adult male figures who can guide and support them, the subject of Givan’s book. “Reach Your Community” was published in May 2021 and Givan was scheduled to go on a book tour, but the COVID-19 pandemic prevented that from happening.
“I would like to see more men and women involved in simple things that make a big difference in society and which have certainly made a difference in my life,” Givan said. “One way is to take the initiative and pull together a team in a basketball league, or in a baseball league. When you have men taking an interest in boys, it makes a difference. These young men will remember this their entire lives. It helps to compensate in many ways for young men who may not have direct contact with strong men — you have an opportunity for one man to impact 12 kids. Those are basic and simple things that we have to get back to.”
Addressing mental health issues resulting from both past trauma and the COVID pandemic, is also vital, Givan said.
“Mental health has been compounded as a result of the pandemic, but I think the trauma goes back generations. It goes back to the enslavement period and it is unresolved,” Givan said. “If a child goes through a bad divorce and there is trauma from the divorce and the child doesn’t see a psychiatrist or social worker — imagine their children and grandchildren, who never got the proper support from a mental health standpoint, and the trauma goes from that person to their child, because they are broken, and then to the next child when they become a parent.”
“Their parenting skills are based on what they experienced — and the pain and suffering they have experienced is passed on, and passed on, and passed on,” he said. “So at some point, we have to deal with that trauma and I don’t think it has been effectively dealt with in a serious way.”