On Monday, the Commission on African-American Males will unveil its report for heightening outcomes and extending lives through re-examining and refining local health, education, economic development and criminal justice policies. The press conference announcing its findings will be held at noon.
Mayor Michael A. Nutter re-established the commission, first launched by former Mayor W. Wilson Goode Sr., in 2011. It is intended to explore unique issues and challenges facing the city’s African-American males, with a focus on boys.
Given harrowing statistics – from homicide and gunplay to high school graduation rates – there is ample room for concern. In terms of education, for instance, there were reports indicating both black and Latino males lagged significantly in graduation rates and were overrepresented in dropout statistics. Certainly, this is not solely a Philadelphia issue, as national studies bear. But since African Americans compose 4 in 10 residents, the realities of their quality of life and prosperity – or lack thereof – stand to impact the city directly, heightening the stakes for this commission.
“If you look at black male conditions improving, everybody’s conditions would improve because it would be a ripple effect across the whole society,” said commission co-chair Bilal Qayyum, founder of the Father’s Day Rally Committee. “Unfortunately, African-American males lead in too many negative statistics.”
The reasons for those discouraging figures are plentiful, but often lead back to biases and prejudices codified – explicitly or implicitly – that have never been uprooted, let alone explored, Qayyum said. That’s evidenced in issues such as suspension disparities and unequal sentencing that can tilt the socioeconomic trajectory for boys, then men, and by extension, generations of families, across the city.
“None of this takes away from personal responsibility,” Qayyum added. “As a people and as individuals, we have personal responsibility, because poor choices can lead to mistakes, which leads to problems in our lives. But we’re not going to negate that a lot of the problems that relate to black males relate to institutional racism.
“We were tasked to sit down and be able to come up with recommendations. And once the mayor assesses the commission’s report, we’ll work on the implementation plan. We feel good about this work, because we have a pretty good representation of black males in this city who were dedicated to this,” he said.
That diverse representation ranged from grassroots organizers such as Greg Corbin II of the Philly Youth Poetry Movement and Alex Peay of Rising Sons to seasoned scholars such as Howard C. Stevenson of the University of Pennsylvania to nonprofit leaders such as the United Way’s Steve Vassor to Rev. Goode, who returned to service as co-chair.
While the mandate was to focus on African-American males, this effort is bound to impact others in positive ways, said PCHR Commissioner Saadiq Abdul-Jabbar Garner, who also serves on this commission.
Just as the Civil Rights Movement was launched with the concerns of African Americans largely in mind, in the years since, its strategies and triumphs ultimately have been emulated by other underrepresented populations – from Latinos to people with physical and mental disabilities. And correcting societal deficiencies benefits everyone, Garner said.
“This work puts things into greater context,” he said. “It’s so important for us to start utilizing this type of information to shore up the future, to start preparing and planning for our communities – to better all of our communities.”
For details on the commission’s press conference, click here.