Building on the momentum established by President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative, the White House brought the issue of boosting Black male achievement to Atlanta yesterday, with a Black Male Summit that asked scholars, teachers, politicians and students to share ideas about changing the narrative and perception of Black males in America.
Organized by the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans, in partnership with Ebony magazine, the summit is continuing today at Atlanta’s Morehouse College—the nation’s top institution of higher learning dedicated to African-American males.
While the speakers and panelists at the summit are certainly aware of the negative statistics associated with young Black men in school and beyond, the summit is attempting to focus on the powerful and successful work that’s being done all across the country to change the outcomes for Black males. Many speakers referred to the president’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative as a rare opportunity to focus the public’s resources and attention on broadening and replicating these successes on a national scale.
Sherrie Dean, executive director of The Admiral Center, a New York City-based nonprofit that works with celebrities on their philanthropic endeavors, told the crowd at a Friday afternoon panel that the president’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative isn’t about spreading around money to the programs and nonprofits that work with Black boys.
She said the $250 million or so the initiative hopes to spend won’t amount to enough funds to make a huge impact when spread across the nation. But the initiative offers “leverage” to those working in the field because suddenly foundations and individuals who didn’t want anything to do with the cause of helping Black boys are suddenly excited about it.
When President Obama announced the initiative at the White House, surrounded by a group of excited young Black males, he said, “This is as important as any issue I work on.”
That sentiment was echoed yesterday by Morehouse College President Dr. John Silvanus Wilson, who said the way this country mistreats Black males in the educational and criminal justice systems was an outrage.
“But not enough are outraged about it,” Wilson said.
One of the highlights of the Friday sessions was a panel consisting of five Black male students from local schools: Thabiti Stephens and Otha Thornton, both seniors at Morehouse; Miles Ezeilo, a freshman at Atlanta’s Grady High School; Keith Slaughter, a sophomore at Westlake High School in Atlanta; and Joshua Young, a student at Atlanta Technical College.
As they described their too frequent and hostile encounters with law enforcement, these young men had the members of the crowd shaking their heads in sadness and anger. But they also had the crowd grinning and nodding enthusiastically as they talked about their efforts to succeed in schools—and to overcome the negative perceptions they feel too many teachers instinctively have of them.
David Johns, executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans, who is playing a key role in shaping Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative, told the audience that one of the main goals of the summit was to “reframe the narrative about Black boys.”
Some of the other panels at the summit included “Supporting the Holistic Development of African American Students,” “Empowering Parents, Guardians and Caring Adults to Support African American Education Excellence,” “The Cost and Consequence of Gun Violence” and “Reflections on Pathways to Success” with two stars of the TV show “The Game,” Hosea Chanchez and Wendy Raquel Robinson.
The entire conference is being streamed live at morehouse.edu.
Summits will also be held later in the year in Jackson, Mississippi; Oakland, California; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. They are being held in partnership with Ebony magazine, which published a ground-breaking series called “Saving Our Sons” in the magazine throughout 2013.