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No Cavalry Will Come to Save Our Cities: We’re the Leaders We’ve Been Waiting For

December 11, 2015

More than forty years after Dr. King asked, “Where do we go from here?” American society is still grappling with the question.

From Chicago to Minneapolis to Baltimore, our nation is in the midst of a defining moment of racial, social, and economic change. For communities of color, this moment is particularly stark and has been magnified by the courageous #BlackLivesMatter movement, which emerged in response to a long history of police violence and criminal injustice against black men and women.

CBMA_report_The_Promise_of_Place_for_PhilanTopicSocial justice, racial equity, and systems change are critical for today's black men and boys, particularly given the barriers that prevent them from realizing their full human potential. For America to prosper, we must recognize that black men and boys are assets to their families and communities and work to expand opportunities for them and improve their life outcomes.

As we have all come to realize, black men and boys face unique challenges on the path to success in education, work, and life. Statistics about these disparities are widely cited, including those from our Black Male Achievement Life Outcomes Dashboard. For example, 12 percent of black boys score at or above proficiency in eighth-grade reading, compared with 31 percent of all boys, while the black male unemployment rate of 15 percent is nearly double the 8 percent rate for all males.

With these challenging realities as a backdrop, the Campaign for Black Male Achievement (CBMA) — along with its partner organizations and networks, including the Obama administration’s recently established My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) Alliance — has long been engaged in actions to improve life outcomes and expand opportunities for black males and other young men of color.

Cities — where most of our nation’s black men and boys live — represent a critical focus of that work. We must ensure that all cities in America are equipped with the tools and resources they need to help black men and boys succeed and reach their full potential. That’s why CBMA commissioned a first-of-its-kind report titled The Promise of Place: Cities Advancing Black Male Achievement to assess how America’s cities are doing in providing support to black men and boys.

As part of the report, we unveiled the first-ever Black Male Achievement City Index. The Index scores fifty cities that are home to more than 5.5 million black men and boys, representing 30 percent of all black males in the United States. Among other things, the report spotlights the ten highest-scoring cities and provides in-depth profiles of how the top three — Detroit, Michigan; Oakland, California; and Washington, D.C. — are responding to the needs of black men and boys.

Most importantly, the report outlines clear action steps aimed at helping cities make further strides in responding to the needs of our men and boys.

In my travels on the CBMA "campaign trail," I’ve witnessed truly promising work in many cities led by courageous and committed intergenerational leaders. I am thrilled that CBMA has and continues to seed, support, and nurture many of the local initiatives driving the ground game for this nascent field. The Center for Urban Families in Baltimore, the Los Angeles Black Workers Center in South Los Angeles, the Eagle Academy Foundation in New York City and Newark, New Jersey, and Don Bosco Hall in Detroit are just a few examples of organizations doing place-based work that is bringing about change in the lives of black men and boys, their families, and their communities.

To help sustain the momentum, we must rally around these efforts, boost resources for the organizations doing the work, and measure and promote their impact. We must commit, with our hearts and our heads, to investing in and supporting this work for the long haul.

We cannot be complacent. While there are pockets of promise across the country, no city is yet in a position where it can claim full success in its work to improve the life outcomes of black men and boys. Given the often-perilous reality faced by so many black men and boys in America, the challenge before us is to expand the many pockets of promise in our cities so that black male achievement is the norm and not the exception.

How can we achieve this? Cities can and must do better in mobilizing stakeholders, reimagining how black men and boys are perceived, and developing an actionable policy agenda. Our communities will only prosper if all of us — including black men and boys — have real opportunities to reach their full potential and succeed.

The Campaign for Black Male Achievement stands ready to continue its support of what I like to call the "Hometown Heroes" and "Local Leaders" of the Black Male Achievement movement. It is my hope and plan that CBMA's work will serve to strengthen the grassroots leaders of this movement, their organizations, and the networks that support them in order to accelerate black male achievement across the country and ensure that the elevation of black men and boys is a national priority.

Shawn_dove_150_for_PhilanTopicThere is no cavalry coming to save the day. We are the agents of the change we want to see. We are the leaders we’ve been waiting for. It is up to us to transform our cities and communities into places of opportunity for all.

Shawn Dove is CEO of the Campaign for Black Male Achievement, a national membership network that supports more than 4,700 individuals representing more than 2,500 organizations across the United States with resources and services for capacity building, network building, and strategic communications. Dove joined the Open Society Foundations in 2008 as manager of the campaign, which was spun off in 2015 as an independent entity.

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More emphasis and effort must be channeled to changing the policies that impact the places where families of color live.

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