Even as Baltimore city officials and community activists came together to plan “next steps” at Tuesday night’s Call to Action Inaugural Dialogue, they were forced to acknowledge many of their efforts do not reach the struggling young black men whom they wish to impact.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake sponsored Tuesday night’s meeting to discuss last year’s troubling homicide statistics: In 2014 there were 211 murders; 189 of those killed were African American males.
The dialogue drew several community partners determined to affect change in their neighborhoods. Although the room of about 700 audience members was buzzing with activity, Baltimore City Public Schools Deputy Chief Academic Officer Dr. Theodore Thompson confessed there’s a lot of great things happening but they’re not trickling down to young black boys.
Thompson’s point was made painfully obvious when Empowerment Temple Pastor Jamal Harrison Bryant tried to corral together unemployed black men for a job training opportunity. Looking into the audience of about 700 attendees, Rev. Bryant asked all the unemployed black men to stand. When only two older gentlemen stood, Bryant noted that the people they needed to reach were not in the room.
As Thompson stated during the panel discussion, Baltimore is rich in resources. Unlike Sanford, Florida and Ferguson, Missouri where the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown ignited a national movement to bolster the value of black lives in America’s collective conscious, the majority of Baltimore’s leaders including its police commissioner are African American.
Yet the city’s black population is still struggling.
According to Baltimore Sun, nearly a quarter of Baltimore’s African American population lives below the poverty line. Although teen pregnancy (an indicator of future violence, poverty, and homelessness according to data compiled from the U.S. Department of Education and the Census Bureau) has decreased throughout the city in the last few years, black teen pregnancy rates are still significantly higher than those of Hispanics and whites.
Tuesday night Thompson announced two initiatives that he has formed – The Engagement Center and My Brother’s Keeper – to reach out to disengaged students and provide a network of employment opportunities for Baltimore’s high school graduates who are not college bound.
African American Police Commissioner Anthony Batts said that he and other police officers regularly read with city students in an effort to improve and promote literacy.
District 3 Baltimore City Council Councilman Brandon Scott and the other Call to Action panelists praised peer mentorship as a way to help black boys recognize their true potential and identity.
Additionally there was much recruitment of men to mentor young black males, independent business owners to offer Baltimore teens summer employment through the Youth Works program, and of community groups to share their initiatives to the eager audience.
But as Thompson summed, these efforts, for now, do not appear to be reaching those who need it most.
Stephanie Samuel is a freelance reporter who has nearly nine years of experience covering national and local Maryland politics, faith, and religion in the DC, Maryland area. You may contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org