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#BlackLivesMatter: The Ambiguous Commission On African-American Males

Art work credited to Michael White

*This is part of a series showing support to the Movement for Black Lives, which consist of various activist groups & organizations, such as Black Lives Matter, actively fighting for black liberation and social mobility. We give thanks to Dream DefendersRace ForwardBlack Youth Project 100BlackbirdMillion Hoodies, OBS: the Organization for Black Struggle, Ferguson Action, Southerners on New Ground, Project South, and countless other collectives fighting against social and economic injustice: 

Black males in Philadelphia are disproportionately poor, unemployed, under-educated, unhealthy and incarcerated. It’s statistical. The problem is real and has been diagnosed. The next step is clear: finding a way to counteract this slippery slope on which so many men are trapped. When Philadelphia voters participated in the presidential primaries they decided to take that next step, as they voted to confirm the permanence of the Mayor’s Commission on African-American males.

The next question is, what exactly will the Commission do?

The necessity of the Commission, and the Black Lives Matter movement under which it falls, is not in question. And the fact that the Commission will be manned by African-American males is a paramount accomplishment. After all, if these problems are the ones that are befalling the black community disproportionately, then black people should be given the tools and vantage points to fix the situation. The Mayor’s Commission on African-American males will keep at least three members between the ages of 18 and 35 on the commission at all times so that they can address the problems of the day with contemporary minds through real solutions.

Whether the Commission aligns itself under the Black Lives Matter movement or not, their messages are perfectly in step. Both promote a race-wide advocacy. Both are fed up with the way that things are, and both seek change. Both seem to be saying “we are not going to let white people tell us how to run our own shit any longer.” And those statements are well deserved. If the prison population or the unemployment lines represent a vastly different racial cross-sections than the legal benches who pass down the laws or the television panels that critique them, then it’s about time that the under-privileged and under-served get a chance to enjoy some equality.

Further it’s not the job or place of anyone outside of the movement to broadly dismiss the necessity or relevance of the Black Lives Matter movement or anyone under the umbrella, simply because it is out of their understanding. Gone are the days when protestors could be forced to voice their message in a specific, demure way. And while the protests can be grating at times, or worse, make people uncomfortable, they still have a place from here on out and have earned a right not to be discounted. In fact, making people uncomfortable might be one of the most successful protesting techniques employable. When people are forced out of their comfort zones, that’s when they can really grow, not only on a human level, but even on a government level.

Some of that growth that we are seeing on the government level manifests itself through organizations like Philadelphia’s Mayor’s Commission of African-American males. Still, it’s important to keep on task, which might stand to be a tall order on its own. So again, what will they do?

The Commission will be headed by Jack Drummond, who heads the city’s Office of Black Male engagement. They have a twitter account set up, but it has fallen into disuse. And that is the potential pitfall that could befall the Commission; that the account was set up but no one’s doing anything with it. The Commission should be careful not to fall into a lull now that they have been approved, and actually carry out the actions they see necessary to better the lives of African-American males.

The actions that have been carried out to date seem to be a slew of meetings and listening sessions, but not a whole lot in terms of proactive services towards a specific betterment. Among their listed accomplishments that have merited the Commission:

  • Conducting Listening Sessions throughout Philadelphia
  • Launched the “Rebuilding the Village” series in three neighborhoods, which is a series of symposiums.
  • Co-sponsored Black Caps Philly along with 6 other organizations, a already-existing group that celebrates black college graduates.
  • Supported local initiatives (a pretty nebulous accomplishment)
  • Revised the executive order about the commission (they’re really listing revisions made to a document as a chief accomplishment?)
  • Released a recommendations report
  • Co-sponsored the Black Male organizations 2015 Mayoral Forum

Admittedly, a lot of the accomplishments are worded in a way that one has to do a bit of digging to see the actual mechanisms going on to better the community. Listening sessions and commissions, co-sponsoring and supporting, while important, seem to be more esoteric steps rather than concrete initiatives taken.

On the other side of the coin, however, these might be the only initiatives that are possible. Sweeping legislative reform might not be possible, and even if it were, it might be unclear what laws could be changed to positively affect the African American community, especially a community that has been conditioned to place limited trust in the law.

The conversations, the encouraged listening, the co-sponsorship, those all could be steps that are aimed at building the community from within, strengthening bonds within neighborhoods to promote self-policing and to create a community that promotes the ideas of smart money, hard work, a dedication to education, a commitment to health and a respect for the law. If those values are instilled across the community through conversations and a spirited dialogue, it would render the need for sweeping legislative reform as useless.

The Commission is committed to “finding more opportunities for Black men and boys.” Opportunities are usually code for gainful employment, which not only solves the job problem, but it could also remedy the financial situation, the incarceration situation, as well as secondarily remedying the lack of real world education; this could in turn lead to healthier life-style decisions. So if gainful employment could solve so many of those problems, maybe the rub is finding businesses that will willingly hire while simultaneously reversing any negative stigmas about jobs and the job market.

The problems don’t have a direct answer, and they will take an evolution of the way the communities think as a whole. Those changes might only come from having these conversations. The pitfall, however, when it’s “only” a conversation would be if things descended into a lull of apathy, or if ideas were permanently in a incubation stage of idea-forming.

The commission is there to make positive changes happen. Conversations could facilitate that, but now the onus is on the Commission to take the next step.


article by Adam Ferrone

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