Not long ago, I attended a high school basketball game between local D.C. rivals. I was absolutely amazed at the level of intensity in which these young men played. Both teams, made up of all young Black males, possessed a strong desire to win, and the level at which they competed demonstrated that it was this desire to be victorious that pushed them all to respect and learn the game.

Both teams ran complicated plays, perfectly executed the directions of the coach and never seemed to tire. When one of the young men made a bad decision, he was immediately admonished by the coach, who exclaimed: “You are better than that!” Nodding his head, as if to show he agreed with the coach’s statement, the young man refocused and played flawless basketball for the rest of the game.

I left this game not only impressed, but full of hope. Here were 24 young Black men competing at an incredibly high level—a group that is often stigmatized as being lazy, unmanageable, slow learners and undisciplined. Many people wonder how a group that has so many problems succeeding in the classroom could excel at a sport that requires one to use the same qualities possessed by a great student.

The answer is simply: expectations. Black men are expected to be exceptional athletes. Such expectations push them at a very early age to cultivate and perfect their skills on the field or court. In the eyes of many, it’s almost a sin for a young Black man to be a poor athlete. He would face belittlement not only from his peers, but society as whole.

Now, for sure, some racists claim that Blacks are simply born with the natural ability to become exceptional athletes. However, such an argument has no merit. While it may be true that on the average, Black men are physically larger than other races, size and strength play only a minimal role in determining one’s success as an athlete. To compete at the highest level of any sport takes a tremendous amount of discipline, because the athlete must devote energy and time to perfecting such skills as dribbling or passing.

In addition, success hinges greatly on the athlete’s intelligence. He must not only commit large amounts of information to memory, but must also be able to adapt to the play of his opponent. If the athlete is unable to think analytically, his jumping abilities and speed will prove useless, as he will simply be outsmarted by his opponent. The fact of the matter is, young Black men excel at sports because they work at it, and they work at it because they know that it will be held to a higher standard than all others. The coach who reassured his young player that he could play better did not really have to say anything at all; he already knew he was better, not out of any sense of false pride, but from understanding that he had adequately prepared himself to excel in such an atmosphere.

If we juxtapose public school coaches’ expectations of Black male players with public school teachers’ expectations of Black male students, the difference is night and day. Young Black men are expected to fail in the realm of academia. Consequently, most of them do. Go into any inner-city public school and you will witness excellence on the basketball court and failure in the classroom. Public schools reinforce society’s low expectations of Black males. The abysmal test scores among this group of students are largely a matter of social conditioning. If held to a higher standard, Black men would work just as hard to perfect their writing as they do their jump shot. However, unlike coaches, teachers don’t admonish Black males; they accept their failure and even reward it by passing them on to the next grade. By the time they reach high school, most Black men are so far behind, they simply give up. And those who do go on to graduate are hit with the stinging realization that their abilities as an athlete will not help them gain employment, unless, of course, they are one of the exceptional few who make the pros.

Young Black men must be compelled to compete in the classroom if they are ever to achieve success in life. However, the only way public schools will be compelled to lift Black men from the depths of academic despair is if they themselves are forced to compete with private schools. This can be achieved with school vouchers that would allow parents to put their children in schools that will hold them to higher standards in the classroom.

Such policy has not taken off because teachers’ unions vehemently oppose vouchers. They recognize that vouchers would mean fewer teachers, fewer membership dues, the likely defections by public school personnel to privatized systems that have traditionally resisted centralized unionization and the birth of competing collective bargaining entities. For the teachers’ unions, the idea of competition only means giving up leverage. Nevertheless, if faced with such competition, public schools would be forced to push their young Black men to succeed in the classroom just as they push them on the basketball court.

With that said, perhaps what is even more important than the expectations of teachers and society as a whole are the expectations of parents. According to the Center for the Study of Sport and Society at Northeastern University, a poor African-American family is seven times more likely to encourage a male child in sports than a white family. Sadly, many Black parents believe their children are unable to compete academically, so they push their child to develop athletically, and public schools simply reinforce this devastating mentality on a daily basis.

Will we ever reach the apex in this country where we are no longer hyphenated or balkanized Americans? We may all have come here on different boats, however, we are on the same ship now, and we are to either sink or swim together.

The term “minority” has been widely used in American political discourse over the last 30 years. The underlying idea in this term is that members of a particular race, ethnic group or religious sect are somehow different. It suggests that, because a person’s skin color is Black, or because their native language is Spanish, somehow they are not full participants in the American experiment. The minority label traps individuals into identifying themselves on the basis of their differences rather than shared values. The notion of a minority class, or race, has to be erased in order for America to live up to its true potential as a place where liberty and happiness can be achieved by all.

The so-called minority groups in the country have been growing by leaps and bounds over the past decade, with Asians leading the charge. According to the 2000 census, the Asian population grew by more than 72 percent over the previous 10 years, making it the fastest growing ethnic population, followed by Hispanics at almost 58 percent and Blacks at 21 percent. White non-Hispanics were the slowest growing population, with 8.6 percent growth over the previous decade. These rapidly changing demographics beg the question of what type of America will exist in 2010 or 2020. How will people view themselves and who, in fact, is a “minority”?

In the case of Blacks, a legacy of racial discrimination and economic marginalization has been their defining characteristics, almost to the exclusion of more closely held values and beliefs they share with all Americans. Indeed, Blacks find themselves trapped into identifying themselves as victims of racism rather than victors in the American struggle for equality. This makes them vulnerable to all kinds of promises to relieve their perceived racial suffering, often in exchange for the core values that strengthened and sustained Blacks since they arrived on America’s shores.

American Blacks share conservative Christian beliefs, but find themselves politically aligned with the ACLU, feminists and the secular left, who endorse abortions, stem cell research and the celebration of same-sex unions—ungodly practices in the eyes of most devout Christians. Whereas mainstream America is turning away from the left, American Blacks find themselves more closely aligned with it than ever and thus relegate themselves to the fringes of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party.

“As long as … groups are fragmented along racial lines,” writes Harvard sociologist William Julius Wilson, “they will fail to see how their combined efforts could change the political imbalance and thus promote policies that reflect their interests. Put another way, a vision of American society that highlights racial differences rather than commonalities makes it difficult for us to see the need and appreciate the potential of mutual political support across racial lines.”

While modern liberalism promised Blacks relief from segregation, unemployment and other forms of publicly sanctioned oppression, it did so at the price of American Blacks’ legacy of unwavering commitment to Christian principles. Blacks were duped into forsaking closely held values of family and hard work in exchange for entitlements from government programs that, in the end, weakened and encouraged the breakup of the family. Before 1960, 78 percent of Black households were headed by two parents and out-of-wedlock births were nearly nonexistent. However, since that time, the Black community has experienced a legendary decline in two-parent families, making this the age of the single Black mother.

Unless this country moves quickly to address the issue of absentee fathers in the Black community, we will have allowed ourselves to raise an entire generation that has no concept of fatherhood, family or moral values, which are the true foundations of the greatness of our nation. To address this problem will take no less than the full moral intellectual, culture and financial resources of this great nation. If terrorists were doing to America what we allow the inner culture of irresponsibility to do to our young people, we would have declared war on this problem ages ago.

What are we waiting for?

Armstrong Williams is the author of the brand-new book “Reawakening Virtues.” You can find more content on RightSideWire.com. Come join the discussion live 4-5 p.m. EST at www.livestream.com/armstrongwilliams or tune in 4-5 p.m. EST on S.C. WGCV, Sirius/XM Power 110, 6-7 p.m. and 4-5 a.m. EST. Become a fan on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.