According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control, the leading cause of death among African-American males age 15 to 34 is homicide. It’s a grim and disheartening reality that hits close to home when you examine deeper and look more directly at the impact right here in Baldwin County.

Disheartening, yes. Impossible to overcome, no — there are too many success stories every day that debunk the stats — but conquering such odds for young African-American men will only come to pass as the local community faces some painful truths about ourselves and members of the community organize with a course of action.

Saturday marked the first in what is hoped to be an open dialogue geared at finding solutions to combat the issues facing local African-American males. We hope it won’t be the last. And while many may see this at first glance as an issue only affecting a segment of the population, we know it certainly isn’t.

When you look at the fact that prospective businesses and industries often look at education data on local schools, crime and the employability of the local population, we can see that the success of all segments of the local population contribute to the future of the community at-large. It’s also a safety issue, not only for these young men who seem to be at such risk, but also for their families, their children and the families in their neighborhoods where these acts of violence and their offshoot issues occur.

It’s not a singular neighborhood issue. It’s not a socio-economic issue either. It’s not an issue for a particular district or community to solve, but it is an issue that all of us can get behind in an effort in finding solutions.

We can start by setting better examples in our homes, our communities and in our daily lives. Then we can get involved and get others involved and give time to the effort.

United States Education Secretary Arnie Duncan noted recently that less than 2 percent of public school teachers in this country are African-American males, signifying a greater need for mentors both in and out of the classroom for these young men. These moments in the classroom and through one on one mentoring are vital to the shaping of young minds, providing precious opportunities for these boys and young men to have direct interaction with men that they can and should aspire to be like — they don’t get that from television, and sadly many of them don’t get it at home — and it is sorely needed.

We all need someone to emulate and some path to model our lives after to some degree; yet in many cases, it’s a critical missing link that hinders the bridging of the path to adulthood. If these young men don’t have examples in a positive fashion, they seek it elsewhere in the negative, and take the wrong path.

It also takes parents and other adults driving the message home with young people that violence is never the right road to choose.

By teaching young people empathy and how we as individuals impact the greater good, they learn to care for others and value life so they never think of taking life away from others through violence.

By holding ourselves to a higher standard by taking personal responsibility for our actions and setting a better example in our homes and our communities, by holding our families and our children to a higher standard and expecting more from them in return, and by holding our communities to a higher standard, expecting more from our elected officials, our schools and our local leaders with regards to resources and support, we can counter the statistics.

But we can’t only be about lip-service; we have to continue the effort and work toward viable solutions for the sake of these young men, their children, their families and the entire community.

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