There is a salient need for mentors in low-income African American neighborhoods. Many young people in these communities are growing up with little exposure to positive role models. This is especially true for African American males given the dearth of fathers who play an active role in their children’s lives. The latest census reports for all income groups indicate that nearly 60% of African American males under the age of 18 reside in households where the father is absent. A significant increase in this rate is expected when examining low-income households exclusively. Though many fathers who do not share a household with their children still manage to fulfill the responsibilities connected with fatherhood, many more contribute little or nothing to their children’s social growth and development, especially in terms of quality interaction.
The absence of positive male figures creates a major gap in a young man’s socialization process. In many cases, young African American males are forced to model themselves after people who cannot invest in them. The most attractive and convenient option for these youngsters are men from the local environment, the popular media, or professional athletics. Frequently, adult males from the local environment are in the same situation as the young men, or even worse, they may be promoters of negative behavior. Furthermore, rappers and athletes cannot possibly reinvest in each of their followers; thus, the relationship remains one sided with the young man admiring the rapper or athlete, but getting nothing in return except entertainment.
Unfortunately, many young men will never have the opportunity to substantially interact with positive male figures. How did society arrive at this point and what can be done about it? This article broadly organizes the origins of the problem. It then calls for efforts to provide organized mentoring for African American males in low-income areas.
Major social and economic changes correlate with a significant decline in role models in poor communities. These changes have had a negative direct influence on individuals and they have had such an effect indirectly by devastating the social environments in which poor people live. The decline in manufacturing related employment for unskilled urban males rendered many of them financially impotent. Their inability to meet social expectations led many of them to retreat from the norms and values of society. Subsequently, many of these men began to reject the principles associated with traditional modes of success, such as academic achievement, political involvement, and most notably, the norms associated with stable family organization. It has been known for some time now that men who view themselves as inadequate providers are less likely to be involved with their children.
As a consequence of the economic changes mentioned above, neighborhoods that depended solely on manufacturing became disadvantaged. The situation was exacerbated as many of these areas became disconnected from investment capital and social network resources. In effect, these neighborhoods were now socially isolated.
Socially isolated communities typically do not attract or maintain viable businesses because the people living there are frequently unemployed or underemployed. Politicians are rarely proactive in these areas because the residents tend to be politically inactive and contribute little to political campaigns. Furthermore, socially isolated neighborhoods typically possess little financial capital, makeshift educational opportunities, and virtually no good paying jobs for unskilled laborers.  Ultimately, these conditions engender a process of “ghettoization” where poverty exists not only as a financial circumstance, but as a mindset.
Equally disturbing is that these areas typically develop a culture around ghetto behavior. The values connected to this culture often contrasts with those associated with success, such as hard work, education, innovation, and the procurement of assets instead of liabilities. The culture is upheld by many inhabitants of the community, which, in its manifest reality, only supports a cycle of underachievement.
Also of note, it was during this time that vertically mobile African American households containing positive male figures began moving to the suburbs in a process known as black middle class flight. Several socioeconomic factors may have contributed to the outmigration of potential father-like figures. The development of policy outlawing de jure residential segregation, the outmigration of professional jobs to the metropolitan periphery, and the previously mentioned ghettoization of many urban neighborhoods were all “push” factors encouraging educated, economically mobile African American men to migrate to more affluent areas.
Thus, fathers and father-like figures have become rare in low-income African American households. The social implications of this phenomenon are wide ranging. The literature suggests that young men who have substantial interaction with their fathers are more likely to graduate high school and college, exhibit prosocial behavior, and to eschew abusive attitudes toward women. Conversely, boys who do not have such interaction are more likely to display violent behavior, fatalistic attitudes, and negatives views of marriage and family.
Policy can mandate receipt of financial resources from absent fathers, but it cannot make them be proactive in the lives of their children. The practice of fatherhood cannot be legislated. Thus, any attempt to fill the father gap in low-income areas must arise from community-oriented efforts, such as mentoring.
 Jones, L.1991. “Unemployed Fathers and their Children: Implication for Policy and Practice.” Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal 8:101-116
 Wilson, William Julius. 1996. When Work Disappears.
 Ibid. See also: Clark, Kenneth. 1965. Dark Ghetto.
 Wilson, William, Julius. 1987. The Truly Disadvantaged.
Poverty in the Twenty-First Century” Demography 33:395-412.
 Mackey, Wade C. 1996. The American Father: Biocultural and Developmental Aspects.
 Mackey, Wade C. and Nancy S. Coney. 2000. The Enigma of Father Presence in Relationship to Sons'
Violence and Daughters' Mating Strategies: Empiricism in Search of a Theory. Journal of Men's Studies