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To Provide and Protect

By Marlon Aldridge, Sr.

I was sitting in my office last week doing some work for a client and a young man approaching 18 years old peeked into my office and greeted me. I responded back and asked him to come in and have a seat, which he did. “I hear you are about to turn 18”, I said. “Yes, sir”, he responded. I asked, “What are you going to do once you become an adult?” He didn’t know.

The College or University Route

I gave him the standard response that adults usually give to young people, “what about college”. He stated that he “didn’t like school”.  I switched my line of inquiry right away because I know personally that higher education is not for everyone and sometimes struggling in early adulthood is the best prescription for figuring out that college or university is probably one’s best option. I see many older adults returning to college after life has knocked them around a little bit. I teach college physics at the community college level where nationally 31 percent of black students start their undergraduate work, so I know firsthand this phenomenon. Even many of them will not complete their degrees. For instance, 68 percent of black men who start college do not graduate within six years, which is the lowest college completion rate among both sexes and all racial or ethnic groups. See Aspirations to Achievement: Men of Color and Community Colleges for more educational statistics and program recommendations that may help men of color graduate from college at higher rates.

The U.S. Military and Other Honorable Professions Route (Which Do Not Require College Education)

Next, I talked to him about honorable professions which did not require a college degree such as joining the military or becoming a police officer or firefighter. I told him about my military experience and that of my sister and brother whom both followed me into military service. We all started as enlisted persons and ended up becoming officers. Officers manage enlisted persons and must hold baccalaureate degrees. Our educations were paid for in full courtesy of the United States government. I also talked to him about the benefits of military service. See a partial list of military benefits. Military pay is substantial when compared to nonmilitary pay without postsecondary education. See basic military pay scale (E1-E9 is enlisted ranks while W1-W5 and O1-O10 are officer ranks). The scale does not include tax free housing and food allowances (or free room and board) or special duty pay.

Police officers and firefighters also make considerable money without having postsecondary credentials. Their benefits are substantial too such as medical, dental, and disability insurance and retirement benefits. It is important for a man to consider these benefits in addition to regular pay. See Dayton Police Officer pay and benefits and Dayton Firefighter pay and benefits.

He was enticed by neither profession.


Normally, when I talk to young men about military service or becoming a police officer or firefighter, I hear preconceptions and misconceptions about each such as apparent danger, bad experiences, or total untruths. In my opinion, these are projections of fear. However, I do not devalue their judgments. After hearing his judgments, I told him that he sounded fearful, which was a quality that I did not expect in him. Also, I told him that a man’s nature was to “provide for and protect” his family as I supposed that he endeavored to have one someday. Fear is something that honorable professions will teach you to overcome. Moreover, fear is not in a man’s nature. If you don’t believe me look at very young children at play. They fear nothing. It is taught to them mainly by their parents.

After about an hour of talking to him, “to provide and protect” would be the statement that he would remember most. Evidently, no one had ever told him this.

Life and the Law of Averages

For some young black men, they would prefer to take the less socially desirable route of selling drugs or engaging in other illegal activities, which will affect their ability to get a good paying job down the road. Another standard discussion I have with young men is the Law of Averages. I asked the young man, “What was the average of 10 and 15?” He couldn’t answer me. This was an indictment of public education, not him. I told him that it was “12.5 or the number in the middle”. After allowing him a chance to redeem himself, I told him that women are keenly aware of the law of averages at least subconsciously. Normally, a woman looking for a spouse will choice one who makes at least as much money as she does if not more. A woman, who makes $10 per hour, increases her standard of living by $2.50 per hour by choosing a spouse who makes $15 per hour. Likewise, a man, who makes $15 per hour, decreases his standard of living by $2.50 per hour by choosing a spouse who makes only $10 per hour.  In this day and age, a man should think no differently than a woman in this regard.

Likewise, the Law of Averages can work to one’s disadvantage especially in the drug trade. For example, you are more likely to be harmed in the drug trade because there are more opportunities to be hurt, i.e., the higher the number of opportunities to be hurt, the higher one’s chances of being hurt (on the average). Consider this. Police officers are less likely to die on the job than all U.S. workers in general. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that despite its dangerous image, police work isn't among the most hazardous jobs in the U.S. The death totals work out to about 1.56 per every 100,000 sworn federal, state and local officers across the country — less than half the rate of 3.5 per 100,000 for U.S. workers in all jobs in 2011. By contrast, blacks died from homicide at a rate of 17.51 per every 100,000 in 2011. See Huffington Post article, Murder Rate for Black Americans Is Four Times the National Average.


Misconceptions and preconceptions about career choices, more exploration of them, and discussions of fear must be addressed among our young people especially among our boys. Moreover, we must have these discussions within the contexts of the child’s experience. For example, we should probably not steer children toward professions which require skills beyond those that they have acquired unless high frequency remedial intervention can be instituted in a deliberate, substantial way. Of course, the better solution would be to address failing public schools, but we are just not there yet.

“David (not his real name), you will do just fine”. Just remember, “provide and protect”.

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