At the most recent installment of the Community Empowerment Association’s Brother 2 Brother Leadership Forum, a group predominantly made up of young African-American males, examined the role of Black men in society.
“A lot of the times, the problems in our community come from a lack of strong Black men—positive Black men—mentoring our young men,” said Rashad Byrdsong, CEA founder. “In order for a young man to grow up to be a good Black man, he has to be around good Black men.”
The breakfast on March 24, themed “A Dialog Between Black Men and Boys,” raised questions about how African-American males handle grief. The discussion also drew comparisons between Black on Black violence and the recent death of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old who was allegedly killed by a neighborhood watchman.
“I’d like to see the same rallies going on around the country for brother Martin as for the Black men killing each other. You have historical cases like this that have gone on forever,” Byrdsong said. “Not only do White people say we look suspicious, but we say we look suspicious. White folks have been killing Black folks forever, but we have had more Black folks killing Black folks.”
“Once in a while the truth hits you in the face. a lot of people in America, not just Black people, saw that as wrong. When the next man gets shot in Pittsburgh, we must remember,” said Tim Stevens, chairman of the Black Political Empowerment Project. “When a Black person kills a Black person, they are killing off our society.”
The roundtable served as a time for the young men in the group, with one attendee as young as six years old, to open up about how the violence in their communities affects them. Together with the older individuals, they decided the community needs to create spaces and emotional outlets where Black men feel safe.
“Sometimes I think people respond the way they think they should respond, based on the culture. I think collectively we become desensitized to death. I think all of us, in this room, have become desensitized,” Stevens said. “We have to take individual responsibility to explain how we really feel and you might find out everyone else feels the same way.”
“It’s kind of hard when you have your friends die and there’s no one you can really talk to. There was no talk about what happened and why it happened,” said Lloyd Cheatom. “A lot of Black males don’t have the talking skills and the coping skills to put their feelings on the table.”
As is customary at CEA’s regular breakfast, some of the men in the group reflected on their troubled youth and the moment they decided to turn their life around. Many said becoming a father was a life changing experience for them.
“When my sons were born, I had to break the cycle. I couldn’t be the problem anymore,” said Paul Wheat.
This installment of the Brother 2 Brother Breakfast also brought in women from the community, including Raini Powers who founded the ministry “Gangsters for God.” She too advocated for the importance of parents in a young man’s life.
“We as parents in the community need to stop having such a fear of our young people,” Powers said. “Be the parent; be the role model.”