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Social Studies

Long's Way Home

I wanted to wait for some of the smoke to clear before I said anything about Bishop Eddie Long. For those of you who don't know, Long is the head of Washington, D.C.'s highly influential African-American New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, and he has been accused by three young men of sexual impropriety. According to the men, Long systematically exploited and sexually abused them under the guise of mentorship when they were members of New Birth's young men's program, the Longfellows; all three made very specific claims about the bishop's behavior. Besides the provocative nature of any sexual scandal, the story has maintained another level of resonance because of Long's history of anti-gay rhetoric and activity. In Blackworld (where macaroni and cheese is baked and the O'Jays get piped through the sound system), this has been a huge deal, and I wanted to give the man a chance to say his piece before I did what I do.

Well, he has defended himself in court papers. And frankly, Long pretty much admits doing every single thing he was accused of except having sex. Yes, he traveled with the young men out of the country. Yes, he slept in the same room with them. Yes, he gave one of them an Ambien. Yes, he bought them cars and paid their bills. Yes, yes, yes. Bill paying, sleep-aid giving, car buying, same-room sleeping, sexy-picture sending; these are behaviors that Long admits to. Everyone's in a tizzy arguing whether or not Long is on the dreaded "downlow," but I couldn't care less if he's gay. I'm more concerned over the fact that I don't see many people addressing the nature of the stuff he's done. More than anything else, I think the entire situation speaks to the crisis of mentorship in the black community.

`Cause, see, here's the thing: Even if we just take Long at his word and grant him the right he deserves to be seen as innocent until proven guilty when it comes to the sexual assaults, what he already admits to doing is some shady-ass shit! I don't care how you explain it, you can't give teenage boys sleeping pills and send them pictures of yourself flexing and buy them stuff! That is not normal behavior! That is strange behavior. That is inappropriate behavior. And what continues to bother me about the whole thing is that someone even has to say this! Why should I have to raise my hand and say, "Hey, am I the only one who thinks there's something a little bizarre about a grown man sleeping in the same room as some teenaged boys?" I'll tell you why. Over the past 25 years or so, as a community and a country, we have fetishized the Crisis of Black Boys to the point where, honestly, you can say and do anything you want if you cover your actions under the guise of "helping these poor fatherless black boys."

And, in a lot of ways, we've taken the power away from mothers to intercede and interrogate about what's happening with their sons. All through the 1980s and '90s, folks wrung their hands about the lack of direction with black boys, and how the lack of fathers led to incarceration and school dropout and any other undesirable behavior young men engaged in. We're all guilty of it. Hell, over the years I've found myself saying stuff like, "A boy can't be a man until he holds a man's hand." Because of that, many mothers have been made to feel like they don't have much say in what's going on during mentoring.

Don't get me wrong. I continue to believe in the power of mentoring, and I believe that young people-boys and girls for that matter-need to have positive male images in their lives. My dad was around, but I can't overstate how influential other male role models-my baseball coach, my Boy Scout leader, priests, uncles, neighbors-were in shaping my journey into manhood. Children learn through mimicry, but they are also molded through reinforcement of shared ideals. It's one thing to learn the value of hard work and the formation of a solid ethical base from your parents, but it helps to see those attributes in the other people around you. So, I'm very pro-role model.

What I believe in more than that, however, is due diligence. Yeah, I had all those voices and presences in my life, but you can be damn sure my mom was right up in cats' grills making sure everything was on the up-and-up. Oh, I went camping and stayed after school and had all-day baseball practices, but there was never a moment when my parents didn't know exactly what was going on, because as much as they valued the outside input, it was their job to keep an eye on the overall deal.

And I think we've gotten away from letting mothers raising sons on their own know they are the ultimate arbiters of their sons' lives because of this hysteria. We have got to stop harping on the issue of mentorship to the point where we box out mothers. Yes, it's nice that your son's Big Brother takes him to the barbershop, but you should never feel like you couldn't go if you chose to. What I get more than anything from Long and all this "Lots of people call me `Daddy'" foolishness is that members of the congregation and, most importantly, the mothers of young men either didn't know what was going on or, more insidiously, knew but didn't feel empowered enough to say anything. Moving forward, the issue of mentorship will continue to be debated. More than that, I think we need to talk about exactly what that mentorship is going to look like.

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