By Jerrilyn Black
On April 9-11, the 11 cities selected to participate in NLC's City Leadership to Promote Black Male Achievement initiative gathered in Oakland, Calif. for their first cross-site convening. The intensive three-day meeting provided cities with the opportunity to learn from peers on how to advance targeted plans to meet the needs of young black men and boys, who experience disproportionately high rates of poverty, family instability, failure in school, unemployment, incarceration and homicide compared to their peers. As part of this initiative, city leaders are working to form strong local partnerships; use data more effectively; develop targeted strategies focused on education, employment, family strengthening and violence prevention; and engage young black men and boys in civic life and local government.
A recent blog post by Cliff Johnson, Executive Director of NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families highlights some of the key themes of the convening, as well as the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for cities and their partners in this important work.
Shared Visions for Achieving Positive Outcomes
City teams comprised of a team lead, a local elected official, a community based organization representative, a faith based leader and a youth member brought diverse perspectives to the table and created an environment conducive to robust dialogue and peer-to-peer learning. City teams shared their visions for how to achieve positive outcomes for black men and boys; identified, developed and targeted policies to further a black male achievement agenda; and discussed challenges, opportunities and best practices across each city. At the close of the convening, each city was challenged with developing a plan to increase engagement between youth and city leaders.
Youth in attendance encouraged city and community leaders to promote black male achievement by instilling hope in communities. Youth also emphasized the importance of mentorship and having caring people in the lives of young black men and boys. Takai Gainwrite, a Youth Commissioner from the City of Oakland, encouraged leaders to change the lives of black males by simply “showing them that we care about them and that their lives mean something.”
Developing Targeted Policies and Programs
Participants had the opportunity to hear from two keynote speakers well versed in developing policy solutions to benefit black men and boys. Angela Glover Blackwell, the Founder and CEO of Oakland-based PolicyLink, provided the keynote address during the third day of the meeting. Blackwell stressed the importance defining universal outcomes for all young people, but highlighted the need to use targeted strategies to positively impact the outcomes of young black males. According to Blackwell, “it is vital that we build a society where everyone can reach his full potential.”
Ronald Davis, Director of the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) at the U.S. Department of Justice, discussed mass incarceration and the importance of decreasing recidivism rates to further community growth. “As resources for community organizations decrease, there is an increase in money being put into building jails. However, mass incarceration is counterproductive, contributes to recidivism and does not prevent crime,” Davis said. Davis advocated for developing programs that strengthen relationships between the police and the community, providing wraparound services for citizens returning to their communities from prison and prioritizing community policing and community-police collaborations.
Leadership from the Bright Side of the Bay
The City of Oakland played a prominent role in making the convening a success. Mayor Jean Quan, city staff and nonprofit leaders showcased city programs that promote black male achievement and touted direct service programs that focus on restorative justice education, gang intervention and youth employment opportunities. Mayor Quan focused on the importance of creating employment opportunities for young black men and boys, and also cited best practices the city has developed to reduce violence. These include the placement of street outreach workers in high crime areas and case managers at the local hospital to provide care and intervention to victims of violence who may be likely to retaliate on suspected perpetrators.
City teams had the opportunity to participate in one of three site visits coordinated by the City of Oakland. Teams could visit the African-American Male Achievement Initiative at Oakland Unified School District, the College Bound Brotherhood Program at the East Oakland Youth Development Center or Youth Uprising. These site visits provided opportunities for cities to observe sustainable models that can be adopted and replicated in other communities.
Participating cities in NLC's City Leadership to Promote Black Male Achievement include:
The City Leadership to Promote Black Male Achievement initiative is supported by the Open Society Foundations' Campaign for Black Male Achievement. For more information about this initiative, contact Leon T. Andrews, Jr., at (202) 626-3039 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Download NLC's municipal action guide on City Leadership to Promote Black Male Achievement, published in the fall of 2012.