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CNN Presents: Black in America Parent and Teacher Discussion Guide

  • Story Highlights
  • CNN launches an on-air and digital initiative, CNN Presents: Black in America
  • Soledad O'Brien explores the varied experiences of black women and families
  • O'Brien examines the challenges and achievements of black men in America
  • Use these questions and activity to facilitate a discussion about the programs
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(CNN Student News) -- Forty years after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., CNN launches a sweeping on-air and digital initiative, CNN Presents: Black in America. These documentaries, "The Black Woman and Family" and "The Black Man," focus on fresh analysis from new voices about the real lives behind the stereotypes, statistics and identity politics that frequently frame the national dialogue about Black America. Before and after viewing these programs, use the overview questions and discussion activity that follow to facilitate a discussion with your pre-teen and teenaged children.

Black in America: The Black Woman & Family
Program overview: In Black in America: The Black Woman & Family, Soledad O'Brien explores the varied experiences of black women and families and investigates the reasons behind the disturbing statistics on single parenthood, disparities between black and white students in schools, and the devastating toll of HIV/AIDS. O'Brien reports on the progress of black women in the workplace and the status of the black middle class. Black in America: The Black Woman & Family airs in HDTV on Wednesday, Feb. 25, 8 p.m. ET. Click here to access discussion questions for Black in America: The Black Woman & Family.

Black in America: The Black Man
Program overview: In Black in America: The Black Man, Soledad O'Brien evaluates the state of black men in America and explores the controversial topics of black men and fatherhood; disparities between blacks and whites in educational, career and financial achievement; and factors leading to the dramatic rates of black male incarceration. The documentary also examines the achievements of black men and the importance of the positive influences of black fathers. Black in America: The Black Man airs in HDTV on Thursday, Feb. 26, 8 p.m. ET. Click here to access discussion questions for Black in America: The Black Man.

Overview Questions

Before viewing

  1. What is your impression of black culture in American society?
  2. What accomplishments have blacks made in America since Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination?
  3. What challenges do you think exist for black men and women in American society today?
  4. Has Barack Obama's candidacy impacted your view of black men and women in America? Explain.
  5. Do you think that your family's history has affected your life? If so, how?

After viewing

  1. What factors for success did you observe in the documentary? Are these factors present in your life?
  2. Did any of the individuals in the program grow up in an environment similar to yours? Explain.
  3. In your opinion, are there any aspects of black society that could have been added to the program? If so, what are they?
  4. Did anything in the documentary surprise you? If so, what?
  5. Has anything in this program affected your view of blacks in America? Explain.

Black in America: The Black Woman & Family
As you and your preteen and teenaged children watch the program, use these questions to promote discussion and understanding about its content.

1. Who are the Rands? What kind of event are they going to at the beginning of the program? Why do families have reunions?

2. What do you think David Baxter means when he says that showing his kids "a proud positive heritage" is "a manifestation of Dr. King's dreams"? Can you think of any examples of Dr. King's dreams in your own life?

3. What have the Rands learned about their family's history? How have both sides of the family reacted to this discovery? How would you react if your family made a similar discovery? Explain.

4. What does Victor Keys do to try to keep kids in school? Is his method always successful? Explain. Is education important to you? Why or why not?

5. Who is Roland Fryer? Why does he believe that education is so important, especially to the black community? What does the term "achievement gap" mean? What is Fryer's approach to keeping kids in school? What might be some of the pros and cons of this method? What do you think of Professor Fryer's idea? Do you think that students should be paid to study? Why or why not?

6. According to the program, what are some health disparities between blacks and whites? What are some of the challenges that physician Icilma Fergus faces in delivering health care to her community? How does she address these challenges? What was your reaction to the statement one woman made in the program that she could find a gun in her neighborhood faster than she could find a tomato?

7. What do you think that Julianne Malveaux means when she says that, "We need to tell the whole range of our story"? According to the program, what are some myths about blacks in America? Why do you think that these myths have persisted?

8. What do current statistics tell us about the percentage of black children born to unwed mothers? What is your reaction to this number? According to the program, what effects can single parenthood have on a child? What challenges do you think single parents face? How do some of the single parents featured in the program deal with those challenges? Do you think that you could handle being a single parent? Why or why not?

9. According to Angela Burt-Murray and Julianne Malveaux, why is the percentage of single black women nearly twice that of single white women? According to the program: What outlook are many black professional women adopting? What factors are playing a role in this outlook?

10. How is Tom and Kimberly's marriage different from most? How has the issue of race caused tension in their marriage? According to Prof. Fryer, most biracial children identify themselves as black. Why do you think that this is so? Do you know any biracial children? If so, what challenges do these children face? How do they address these challenges?

11. According to the program, what percent of Americans infected with HIV are black? What are some examples from the program that demonstrate how the black community has dealt with HIV/AIDS? How much do you know about how HIV and AIDS are spread?

12. According to the program, what is the predominant cause of death for black males under the age of 30? How is Dr. Carnell Cooper addressing the issue of violent crime? What are some of the outcomes of his program?

13. What diversity have you seen within the black community as portrayed in this program?

14. How do you define success? What are some of the characteristics that you associate with successful people? Are there people featured in the program that you would consider successful? Explain.

15. What were your impressions of African-American culture before and after seeing this program? How might the story of Black America be different in 25 years, when you have children of your own? Do you think that the story will include more struggles or more successes? Explain.

Black in America: The Black Man
As you and your preteen and teenaged children watch the program, use these questions to promote discussion and understanding about its content.

1. What do you know about the Little Rock Nine? What is their legacy? How did Butch Warren describe the Little Rock Central High School of 1968? How would you describe your school? Are there conflicts between groups in your school? If so, what is the source of these conflicts? Do they affect you? If so, how?

2. According to the program, what did Akono Ekundayo and Butch Warren have in common when they attended Little Rock Central High School? What events happened to both men throughout their lives, as discussed in the program? Why do you think Ekundayo and Warren each turned out the way that they did?

3. According to Roland Fryer, what is the correlation between crack cocaine and the number of black men who are in prison? Why does he say that judges treat a crack cocaine conviction differently than a powdered cocaine conviction? Are drugs an issue among your peers? In your opinion, what can society do to reduce and prevent drug abuse?

4. What actions has Warren taken that have caused others to accuse him of raising his sons "too white"? What is his response to these accusations? What are some aspects that you identify with black culture? What are some aspects that you identify with white culture? In your opinion, what can white and black cultures learn from each other?

5. According to Devah Pager, what are some reasons why black applicants are about "half as likely to receive a callback or a job offer as equally qualified white applicants"? What do you think are some factors that may help someone become financially successful? Do you think racism has any impact on a person's ability to achieve financial success? Explain.

6. What do you think Jonathan Warren means when he says that, "If you're black, and you get an education and you study, you are a sell-out or you are a white boy"? Do you agree with his statement? Why or why not? Why do you think that some people might feel this way? Is education important to you?

7. Why do you think Michael Dyson says that being darker skinned "has a very negative effect"? Do you think that Everett Dyson's skin tone played a role in his conviction? Why do you think that he and his brother lead such different lives? Do you think that light-skinned black men have any advantages over dark-skinned black men? Explain.

8. According to the program, what percent of black children are raised without a father? How are families with and without involved fathers portrayed in the program? In your opinion, what are some of the reasons why some fathers are not involved in their children's lives? What do you think are some of the negatives of being raised without a male role model? What influence have adult male role models had on your life?

9. What do you think advertising executive Malcolm Gillian means when he says that, "I may not be black enough for [black] people"? What do you think he means when he says that, "I can't go around... wearing my resume on my chest"? To what does Gillian attribute his success? What are some factors that you think are important for professional and financial success?

10. What are some positive and negative images of black men that you have seen in the media? According to the program, which of these types of images are more prevalent? Do you agree or disagree with this claim? Do you think that these images influence the impression that people of other races have about black men? Explain.

11. What are some of director Spike Lee's successes in the film industry? According to the program, what are some of the challenges he has had to face? Why do you think Lee says that, "To be a black man in this country is walking around with a target on your back"? Do you agree with his assessment? Why or why not?

12. According to Angela Burt-Murray, what was the original purpose of hip-hop? What different facets of hip-hop culture are presented in the documentary? How do you think that hip-hop culture has influenced America's youth? What is your opinion of hip-hop culture?

13. How have some people from the program broken the "poverty cycle"? In your opinion, what might be some of the causes of disparities between blacks and whites in terms of educational, financial, professional and personal achievements? Do you think that blacks have to work harder than whites to attain the same level of success? State your rationale.

14. Has this documentary affected your impression of black men in American society? Explain.

Black in America Discussion Activity

Ask your children: What factors can you identify that may have led to the success of some of the individuals featured in the program? What factors may have led to failure for some of the individuals who were featured? Have your children draw three columns on a sheet of paper. In the first column, ask them to list the factors for success that they see in their own lives. In the second column, have them list the negative factors that exist in their lives. In the third column, help them brainstorm a list of strategies and resources that can help them focus on the positive factors and overcome the negative pressures that they listed. Examples of resources could include family and community members, teachers, government entities, faith-based and community organizations, books and Web sites. As another way to promote success, consider developing a contract with each of your children that defines basic rules for them to follow, consequences of failure and privileges awarded for success.

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