"Potential is not casual; it is not randomly distributed in the universe. It is a sacred gift and a trust to all organisms by primal consciousness which lives at the beginnings and is never ending." -- from "Potentialities" by Wilfred Cartey

As Father's Day approaches this year, I find that many black men with whom I speak are feeling under siege.

It's easy to understand why. After all, how long can you be called "an endangered species" without its having an impact?

But despite today's alarming negative statistics in such measures of economic well-being as income, health, employment and education, I have reason to be hopeful for the future.

This, then, is my Father's Day message for black men.

Remember that the past half-century has been one of progress, but also one of great paradox and tragedy.

After overcoming legal segregation and total disfranchisement, blacks entered the 1970s somewhat optimistic about achieving political, educational and financial parity.

But that did not happen. "For the most part, African Americans made few gains after the early 1970s," David H. Swinton of Jackson State University in Mississippi testified at a recent congressional hearing on the economic status of blacks.

"And as we enter the 1990s, most indicators have declined to pre-1970 levels," Swinton told the Joint Economic Committee's subcommittee on investment, jobs and prices.

Dwindling economic opportunity has helped to undermine fully one-third of African Americans today.

Tragically, for example, black people were just painting a firm place in the American economy as the economy was losing its cutting-edge competitiveness.

"With the decline of industries like auto and steel, textile and apparel, rubber tires and electrical appliances," Eleanor Holmes Norton testified at the same hearing, "hundreds of thousands of black workers {mostly men} have lost the jobs and opportunities that should have been their passports to economic security and upward mobility."

The point made by Norton, a candidate for D.C. delegate, was that while doors opened for those fortunate enough to have higher education and to find jobs in offices, they slammed shut for those who expected to work in the country's factories and machine shops.

And so we must fight for economic parity even as we remember the limits of materialism.

In America, success equals money, not humanity, love or caring. Thus there is a correlation between America's representation of success and its effects on black men.

Lacking material wealth, they have been psychologically painted as being less. Some of them feel that even the success of the black woman is being used to further damage their ego, spirit and self-esteem.

To counteract the feelings of being under siege, black men must read history and prepare for intellectual survival by reclaiming their importance in the world.

Then they can fully occupy their own place and not be overcome by events in the larger world. That means moving beyond the grips of negative images and the fallacy that every black man's face is a criminal face. Then society's branding will be irrelevant.

Black men must believe in themselves, their families and communities. They must be responsible and walk tall, and in that way they can protect the children, the elderly and the sufferers.

Finally, keep living, loving and enjoying. Let nobody take away your capacity for joy.

As the Trinidadian-born poet Wilfred Cartey reminds us in "Potentialities": "Each single self then is in an organic state of empowerment . . . . All life is vital . . . to the gift and the glory of your potential." And I add: You are needed in the world.