When the production staff of the Bev Smith Show chose the topic for the third part of their series of town hall meetings on “The Disappearing Black Community,” they didn’t know how relevant the topic would be to current events.
At the third installment, held at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture on June 17, a panel of national and local experts, analysts and activists, were tasked with exploring the theme “The Endangered Black Male.” Among them was Pittsburgh resident Jordan Miles, whose violent experience with three police officers has shed light on the conditions facing African-American males living on the right and wrong sides of the law.
“When I talk to the Black officials in Washington, the buffoons who represent us, there is very little interest in anything for Black men,” said Boyce Watkins, author, economist, political analyst, and social commentator. “Black men are the cockroaches of this country as far as the government is concerned.”
Throughout the town hall meeting, the panelist agreed the key to saving African-American males was to change negative perceptions of them. However, they also agreed that negative perceptions could not be reversed if negative behavior is not reversed. “There’s four times as many Black men in college as there are in prison. Our young men can succeed, not just if they have role models, but positive role models. The key is to find a way to expand our impact. One of the things we can do in Pittsburgh is to change the discussion from self destruction to self construction,” said Albert Dotson, national chairman and board member of 100 Black Men of America. “What if all of the Black men here and all the Black men who are not in this room went around saying Black men care. These are the things we can do that don’t cost any money.”
At the heart of the discussion was the idea that outward perceptions and expectations of Black males, have invaded their personal psyche through the media, movies, and music, particularly hip-hop. Today’s youth, male and female, have lowered expectations of their self worth and what they can accomplish, yet desire materialistic wealth beyond their reach.
“They think the world owes them because they want instant gratification. I’m talking about what I see everyday. We do have to find a broader based way to see where people are and change their expectations. Too many of our children still want too much, too fast and without much effort,” said Esther Bush, president of the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh. “If you’re touching five kids we’re asking you to touch 8. If you’re touching 25 kids, we’re asking you to touch 30. I know how powerful we can be if we work together.”
Prior to the panel of experts and analysts, Smith sat down with Miles, his mother Terez Miles, and Black Political Empowerment Chairman Tim Stevens. Miles is currently in a legal battle with the city over an incident on Jan. 11, 2010 when he was allegedly beaten by three police officers.
“(One of the officers) said whenever we see a young man walking at night in Homewood, they’re pretty much always doing something wrong,” Stevens said. “These incidents present a psychological event on the entire community. This has touched so many people. In my 40 years as an activist, I have never seen more people react to an incident, other than Jonny Gammage, the way they’ve been reacting to Jordan Miles. Luckily he’s alive to share his story.”
Host Smith was not as forgiving in her comments as Miles and his mother who have repeatedly said they do not pass judgment on all police officers for the actions of the three involved in this incident.
“What do you mean you have to prove intent? The intent was to kill this boy,” Smith said of the federal decision not to prosecute based on the lack of evidence of the officers’ intent. “Because of the relationship, not every officer, because there are some wonderful police officers, but because of the attitude of many White officers, when they see us, they always think we’re doing something wrong. When we as African-Americans, when we see a police officer pull up behind us, we have a certain feeling. Anywhere you’re Black in the world, it’s assumed. In Pittsburgh, we had three White officers killed by a White man and I did not see a mark on his face.”
In a show of support for Miles, there were more youth at the third town hall meeting than previously. However, the crowd had noticeably dwindled in size since the last installment that featured controversial leader Min. Louis Farrakhan.
“Let’s give a hand to these young people for coming out,” Smith said. “It is time for us to wake up. This auditorium should be packed. If we were talking about a party, it would be. If we have controversy, our seats are full.”
The audience also heard from ex-offender turned celebrity chef, Jeff Henderson who gave them insight into what pushes a person into a life of crime. He also explored how the effects of drug dealing and drug use have made a lasting impact on the Black community.
“Before I was Chef Jeff, I was a crack dealer. It wasn’t until I went to prison that I developed a dream. I’m here tonight because it’s not about me; it’s about we,” Henderson said. “We have a generation of people who were not supposed to be here. We have the crack babies; we have the hustlers’ babies.”