The Community Empowerment Association’s Black Male Day of Solidarity brought together a cadre of African-American men from all corners of the community. Some were staples of CEA events and other were newcomers, looking for a way to give back.
“It is time to reclaim our historical Black manhood and move collectively to confront the ills that plague our families and communities,” said Rashad Byrdsong, president and CEO of CEA. “The time is now for all Black men to embrace the ‘Brother to Brother movement’ to form a united front, to become change agents and to begin building a collective voice and in unity develop an agenda for investing in Black men and boys. We know the problems; we have the solutions. It is up to us.”
The fifth annual event on June 18 was themed around “Moving Towards an Urban Agenda—Investing in Black Men and Boys.” The day began with workshops and roundtable discussions and concluded with a classic car and motorcycle show and basketball tournament.
“I’ve been very active in the community for some years and we’re still here discussing the same issues. There is no magic formula. If you came here to learn what your responsibilities are then you’re in the right place,” said Walter Samaad. “The biggest issue here is esteem. Once you feel good about yourself, you see your proper place.”
During the opening roundtable discussion “Game Changers –Black Men Who Flipped The Script,” youth in the group heard from positive African-American male role models who serve as leaders in a variety of sectors in the community.
“I see a whole audience of game changers. You all have the power,” said Austin Davis, former chairman of the McKeesport Mayor’s Youth Council. “I think it’s important that you as young people step up to make changes in your community.”
The men examined the causes of Black-on-Black violence and tried to steer the young men in the audience away from violent lifestyles. Since those youth most in need of hearing this message might not have been in attendance, the men pledged to reach out and mentor local youth.
“This is how we achieve. Each one, teach one. And it’s so bad now, each one has to teach ten,” said Zhyier Allah. “I’m mentoring young men and women.”
“Respect does not mean picking up a gun and killing someone,” said Jay Gilmer, coordinator of the Pittsburgh Initiative to Reduce Crime. “Respect means listening to the men you have heard from this morning who are doing positive things to build up the community.”
Those on the panel with careers in academic fields emphasized the importance of education to the young men.
“This conversation should not be with my colleagues or my peers who know this; it should be with the youth who we’re trying to attract. There are 900,000 Black men in prison. There are a lot of reasons for that and part of it has to do with the labor market,” said Larry Davis, dean of the University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work. “While it’s probably a drag, you need to stay focused on school. You’re going to have to have something to go into the labor market with.”
Others took a look back at the days of legal segregation to show the opportunities the young men now have open to them.
“If I live till August of this year, I will be 70 years old. I grew up in the south where there was legal segregation,” said Rev. Johnnie Monroe. “Society says some of us are going to be statistics, but I want you young men today to decide to prove society wrong.”
“Make sure you don’t get cheated out of your blessing which you’re entitled to as Americans,” said Robert Hill, vice-chancellor for public affairs for the University of Pittsburgh. “The assembly in this room is not much different from assemblies in the south when I was in school. We’re no better off in that regard than we were when we were legally segregated. As a community we probably can make our best progress if we’re not corralled into our little villages.”
The workshop topics included criminalization of the Black community, educational attainment for Black boys, building wealth and economic self sufficiency, warriors conflict – developing a code of culture, and raising boys to men and relationships.