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“Times New Roman”><SIZE 10><GTABS $>Thanks to the recent spate of articles across this country, America has discovered what some of us have already known: the black man is in trouble.
Sick and tired of being sick and tired, there are those among us who have stepped forward to offer healing. Witness the numerous events commemorating this year’s Father’s Day – the Second Annual Black Fatherhood Summit in Harlem, the Black Empowerment Convention and the Black and Male in America meeting, both in Brooklyn.
Long before these needed efforts came into being, the Congressional Black Caucus began looking for solutions. Over the past several years, the CBC has been holding hearings across the country entitled State of the African-American Male.
According to Congressman Meeks (Queens), New York/New Jersey Regional
Director of SAAM, the impetus for this initiative was [and still is] study after study recounting the dire condition of African-American males in this country. “We wanted to hold hearings to interact with the community, let our concerns known and elicit testimony from the public. The goal is twofold: to allow black males, their wives and families the opportunity to express their frustrations, as well as to create a clearinghouse for solutions. We want to offer space where ‘best practices’ are presented as a unified group.”
According to Congressman Meeks, the Congressional Black Caucus chose to work city by city, as each city will have its particular issues with specialized solutions available.
In New York City, SAAM’s effort is being co-sponsored by the Community Service Society, headed by David R. Jones, the first African-American to lead the society as its president and CEO. The CSS was chosen because of its 160- year history of working with the poor in New York City.
Each city will have its own Web site. New York City/New Jersey regional efforts can be viewed at www.iamsaam.org. Meeks reveals the Web site is a skeleton of what is it is envisioned to become. “In about one and a half months, the site will be fleshed out with information about New York City area ‘best practices’, for instance, the Male Involvement Institute at Medgar Evers College, as well as information on health and job availability.” Other areas of concern are education, criminal justice and civil participation.
Dr. Divine Pryor, director of the NuLeadership Policy Group at Medgar Evers College, points out that Medgar Evers has consented to guide the criminal justice section of SAAM. Commenting on Kevin Powell’s recent Black and Male in America meeting, Dr. Pryor states he reached out to Powell. “Medgar Evers College is in the forefront of dealing with black male issues. We have reached out to Powell to offer participation in next year’s Black and Male in America National Conference.”
Giving a brief history of SAAM, Richard Boykin, chief of staff for Rep. Danny Davis (Illinois), recalls the Congressional Black Caucus wanted to formally establish an entity that would address the specific concerns of African-American males in this country via the legislative process. Among the CBC’s legislative initiatives in the Second Chance Act designed to provide funding for local and faith- based groups to assist ex-offenders with reintegration into the community by providing job training.
Rep. Davis attached an amendment to this year’s Head Start bill aimed at increasing the number of African-American and Hispanic males who teach in Head Start. Considering the dearth of black male teachers in every level of education, Chief of Staff Boykin feels it is extremely important for black boys to have male role models in the classroom. According to Boykin, “You will be what you see.”
Other SAAM initiatives include exploring how more military- style schools can be structured into a national legislative action and prostate cancer awareness. Black males are disproportionately affected by prostate cancer.
The SAAM’s kickoff hearing was held November 2003 in Washington, D.C. The two-day conference attracted 2500 people. Among those in attendance were the late Ossie Davis, Hon. Minister Louis Farrakhan, Kwesi Mfume and the Congressional Black Caucus. When told that Kevin Powell was considering running in New York City for Edolphus Towns’ congressional seat, Boykin was surprised. He himself had invited Kevin Powell to be on a panel during SAAM’s kickoff hearings. Kevin said no, he wanted to be a keynote speaker, and wanted to get paid. Boykin declined Powell’s proposal.
Dr. Bobby Austin serves as chairman of the Planning Committee on the Status of African-American Men convened by Congressman Danny Davis. Dr. Austin credits Rep. Davis with being the first to seek a public policy approach to the condition of African-American men. According to Dr. Austin, national legislative initiatives began in the late 1980s on Capitol Hill when then governor of Virginia, L. Douglas Wilder and the Congressional Black Caucus held its first national meeting on issues related to African-American men.
The next incarnation was Dr. Austin’s work in the mid-1990s at the Kellogg Foundation in Washington, D.C. Dr. Austin’s work there culminated in the publication of <I
>Repairing the Breach: Key Ways to Support Family Life, Reclaim our Streets, and Rebuild Civil Society in America’s Commu<P
>ni<I>ties<P> (out of print).
These efforts led to the Congressional Black Caucus’ national State of African-American Male hearings, which began three years ago in Washington, D.C.
In addition, a major conference was held in Atlanta, GA, focusing on AIDS and Black Men under the leadership of Dr. Benny Prim and in collaboration with Morehouse Medical Center. Dr. Austin was a major participant. According to Dr. Austin, sexuality, criminality, incarceration and health are interrelated. “When black men commit crimes, they are incarcerated, where things happen. These men come home and black women are naïve.”
Dr. Austin reports there are 8 to10 cities in the United States where the Congressional Black Caucus chose to focus SAAM’s work, including Memphis, Washington, Chicago, Miami, Detroit, Atlanta, New York City, Newark, Oakland/ San Francisco and Los Angeles. Forthcoming is a report of the CBC’s national findings. Congressman Danny Davis, the national chair of SAAM, is expected to issue the national report this year.
The New York/ NJ regional Web site, www.iamsaam.org, will eventually have links to all the other cities participating under the SAAM umbrella. Anyone wishing to have their community-based initiatives posted on the SAAM Web site should contact Walter Fields, VP of Intergovernmental Relations and Political Development at the Community Service Society. His phone number is (212) 614 – 5453. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Fields states SAAM is not an organization, instead a collaboration. Commenting on Black and Male in America, Fields encourages initiatives. “We need new leadership with a voice that can speak to young people. CSS is willing to help Kevin with the national conference next year. Just as SAAM is focusing on African-American men, I wish similar efforts would be developed for young black women.”
Fields is 100% correct. If our black men are hurting, we all are in pain. When large numbers of our men are incarcerated, girls, as well as boys, experience “daddy hunger”. Our voting clout is also diminished. When our boys disproportionately don’t finish high school, they cannot provide for a family, reducing black girls’ marriage prospects. When black men experience inadequate health care, we all are affected.
We must be careful when popular media reports dire statistics regarding African- American men. These descriptions sometimes become commandments, giving our boys no hope. We must demand that media report successful stories of resilience. Demand stories of community-based corrective actions. The Congressional Black Caucus’ State of the African-American Male initiative is an effort we all can be proud of.
Dr. Austin wrote in<I> Repairing The<P> <I>Breach<P>. In the final analysis, boys and men in trouble, or headed toward trouble, must decide for themselves that they wish to change. Using a momentum similar to that created by the Million Man March, these boys and men must assume personal responsibility and be held accountable for their actions. Parents also must decide to parent in order to give these young people a chance.
To begin to address the many issues surrounding African-American men and boys in today’s society, public policy and activity must become aligned with repairers of the breach and restorers of the streets.”
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