The conference “Mitigating the Impact of Social and Psychological Trauma to the Social Fabric of the African American Community,” held Oct. 26-27, used a public health perspective to study the rampant violence of the African-American community. This framework was used throughout the conference to develop an action plan to carry on the work done by the scholars, community activists and spiritual leaders who participated.

“This is the first conference that I know of that was convened by a grassroots community based organization,” said Community Empowerment Association Founder T. Rashad Byrdsong. “We took the science of public health because we think this is the only science that allows us to frame violence as a disease. We’re the first organization that’s really beginning to tackle this issue.”

WORKING TOGETHER—Ramon Rustin, former Warden of Allegheny County Jail with T. Rashad Byrdsong. (Photo by Rossano P. Stewart)

At the conclusion of the conference, Byrdsong said the work done over the last two days should be used to shape public service organizations and social program institutions that claim to serve the Black community. He also said future research should be done by those in the Black community in order to influence how the government uses tax-payer dollars to improve the African-American community.

“We have to identify two or three goals or objectives that we can begin organizing around. We have to have a paradigm shift,” Byrdsong said. “You have all this money going to academic centers for research so once all the research is done, it’s supposed to be used for prevention and intervention methods but it’s not. If these research dollars were used to better the Black community, we wouldn’t be in the state we’re in.”

As an introduction to the CEA led conference on the problems facing the African-American community, Byrdsong compared the childhood of an African-American male growing up 50 years ago to the experience of youth growing up today.

The picture he painted was one where children grew up in households headed by both mothers and fathers. They also attended neighborhood schools in close-knit communities with local businesses.

On the other hand, Byrdsong said today’s children grow up in communities with no recreation centers, no local businesses, and no neighborhood schools. He said economic hardship has forced fathers out of the homes so mothers can take advantage of public assistance.

While Byrdsong said the young Black male of the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s was one who enjoyed school, today’s children don’t feel wanted in educational settings. This drives them to truancy where they eventually can get caught in the school to prison pipeline, ending up in prison industrial complex.

Participants used this narrative to consider the areas of mental health, education, criminal justice and economic justice in the Black community. They came up with concrete solutions to solve problems in these four subject areas and identified institutions responsible for providing the services necessary to implement these solutions.

“If we want to become self sufficient, we have to come up with institutions that serve our people. You have hundreds of millions of dollars coming into the community and if all our agencies were doing what they were supposed to do, our communities wouldn’t look the way they do,” Byrdsong said. “Now we know a lot of the resources we’re talking about are in traditional institutions. Who would know where these resources should go better than us.”

From the mental health perspective they called for increased counseling of those who have committed or been victims of violence. In the area of education participants said it was important to identify culturally relevant services that are helpful for local communities.

With regard to the criminal justice system, they agreed more attention should be paid to re-entry services for those leaving prison. Their solutions to issues in economic justice had a lot of overlapping with other focus areas, but promoted an overall goal of more unity within the community.

The participants also agreed that the funding of programs should be based on evidence of proven results. They said local government should stop funding “feel good programs.”

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