My Brother’s Keeper Philly – next steps

Last fall, Mayor Michael A. Nutter publicly accepted President Obama’s challenge to create environments that would be more conducive for black and brown boys to be successful, given well-documented statistics that bear the sad reality of poor outcomes for too many of them, be they in Philadelphia or elsewhere in the nation.

With the launch of My Brother’s Keeper Philadelphia came a series of brainstorming sessions and conversations to assess what this city would need to strengthen in order to better guide these young men to a productive adulthood that’s starting to bear fruit. MBK Philly expects to issue its recommendations and action plan by the end of the month, unveiling it locally and presenting it to the White House. In many ways, it will further the efforts of the Mayor’s Commission on African-American Males.

“One of the unifying themes that came from these meetings was the need for a coordinated communications strategy with two ends,” said Erica Atwood, the city’s director of Black Male Engagement. “One, is to promote the positive stories of young men and boys of color by asking them to tell their stories, and two, that Philadelphia create an ‘Act or Fund’ campaign to encourage each of us to find a way to impact this work.”

At the center of that work are six areas that would allow black and brown boys — indeed all children here — to thrive better:

  • Entering school ready to learn
  • Reading at grade level by third grade
  • Graduating from high school ready for college or work
  • Finishing post-secondary education or training
  • Entering the workforce successfully
  • Reducing violence and providing a second chance

In the wake of strained police-community relations noted most recently in a report to President Obama on 21st century policing needs and increasing media reports indicating black and brown men tend to fare worse during such encounters, finding ways to stem those negative interactions earlier on is critical. It also brings greater urgency to initiatives such as MBK Philly.

Since the beginning, PCHR has been in the mix in helping how to think through and achieve these goals — lending insights on the issues and assisting some of the ensuing meetings as facilitators.

CRD representative Jonah Roll helps lead a conversation during a session at City Hall.

CRD representative Jonah Roll (c.) helps lead a conversation during a session at City Hall.

In fact, PCHR Deputy Director Randy Duque serves on the MBK Philly working committee, a group of some two dozen people who work throughout city government. The committee took the lead in convening additional listening and informational sessions with interested organizations and individuals willing to offer sound ideas on addressing the challenges outlined. And productively guiding conversations among diverse stakeholders is a tailor-made role for the Community Relations Division (CRD), a seasoned team trained in facilitation and conflict resolution skills, Duque said.

“I had proposed to the steering committee that the CRD could help keep everyone focused on the task at hand, and they did,” he added. “We got overwhelmingly positive feedback from the steering committee members and participants on how CRD brought people through the discussion topics.”

CRD representative Tierra Thompson makes sure the thoughts of the group are captured during a City Hall session.

CRD representative Tierra Thompson (c.) makes sure the thoughts of the group are captured during a City Hall session.

CRD representative Patricia Coyne clarifies a discussion point during a City Hall session.

CRD representative Patricia Coyne (r.) clarifies a discussion point during a City Hall session.

The series of targeted meetings that followed the initial kickoff ranged, from talking with leaders the School District of Philadelphia to those within Latino communities. Committee members also gleaned thoughts from young people, including those at the Juvenile Justice Services Center, those engaged in programs such as YouthBuild, PowerCorpPHL and the Youth Desk of the Liberian Ministers Association, among others.

Of course, unveiling the action plan will be another step along the journey, not the final destination. It will take more to accomplish those outlined goals, Atwood said, citing one young man’s view that applied aptly to students and adults alike.

“He said, ‘In order to make this work, we must be willing to be vulnerable. We must be honest, willing to acknowledge our shortcomings, our gaps in performance, our failures and our missed opportunities.’ And he’s right,” she added. “We all must be willing to work hard to reach a better outcome.”

For more, visit MBKPhilly.com.

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