After a yearlong hiatus, Community Empowerment Association resurrected its Brother 2 Brother roundtable discussion and breakfast. Together with elected officials and government representatives, the organization opened its doors to men and youth of all ages.
“We saw there was a demand. So many Black men said ‘what happened to the Brother 2 Brother breakfast that gave us a chance to network,’” said Rashad Byrdsong, CEA founder. “A lot of the concerns and challenges we mentioned (today) have to do with us. The reason we want to have this initiative this year more than anything else is because we’re in dire straits with the economy. Another thing is looking at the political landscape, we saw the need to really begin building resources from the ground up.”
While the men took turns offering testimony at the breakfast on May 21, the most startling comments came from youth as young as 12 years old. The youth in the group painted a picture of their peer culture where selling drugs is thought of as “cool” and treating women disrespectfully is the norm.
“A lot of these kids think they’re a man, but they don’t really know what being a man is,” said 12-year-old Jomar Davis. “Those kids don’t even graduate high school.”
CEA’s Brother 2 Brother breakfast had been a monthly staple of the organization, bringing together men of different backgrounds to discuss the problems plaguing the African-American community. However, as CEA expanded and increased its involvement in citywide initiatives, the breakfast fell to the wayside.
In its newest incarnation, the breakfast came with the support of the area’s Black representation. District 9 City Councilman Rev. Ricky Burgess, State House Rep. Joseph Preston, and Ed Gainey, coordinator of economic development for the Mayor’s Office, were all in attendance.
“I have been fighting for low and moderate income community for three and a half years. I intend to put my flag in Homewood and to use the development in East Liberty to carry it out to Homewood,” Burgess said. “We need new housing, we need better jobs, and we need businesses. You will see me being super active on development in the next four years.”
Without going into specifics, both Byrdsong and Burgess announced a future collaboration on workforce development. Preston echoed the morning’s harmonious tone by explaining that Pittsburgh’s Black leadership, including District 6 Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle and State House Rep. Jake Wheatley, were unified for the first time in history.
“For the first time ever we have four Black elected officials working together,” Preston said. “In 28 years, I’ve never been able to say this.”
CEA also foreshadowed its Black Male Day of Solidarity scheduled for June 18. Though the event will take a serious look at the responsibility of African-American men, it will also feature entertainment to draw in a larger crowd.
“A lot of fathers are not in the home with their children. We need to get Black fathers to the table to tell them what their responsibility is whether they’re in the home or not,” Byrdsong said. “When Black men take responsibility of this community, young men are going to start engaging but if you tell them to put down the guns, you have to give them an alternative.”
Byrdsong also identified young successful men at the breakfast who have overcome the social conditions he often lists as the causes for much of the Black-on-Black violence. Some of the young men have been active members of the CEA network for several years while others were first-timers.
“We need to begin to talk about the narratives of our story. We know about the homicides; we know about the poverty, but what about the men who are successful,” Byrdsong said. “The spirit of young people, that is the narrative that we need to talk about.”