At a two-day conference hosted by the Community Empowerment Association Oct. 26-27, a series of workshops, sessions, and speeches aimed at addressing issues in the African-American community, revealed the interconnected nature of education, mental health, the economy and the criminal justice system in relation to Black-on-Black violence.


“A lot of the time in the work I do, people ask me why I’m not focusing on the issue of violence and I say, I am,” said Celeste Taylor, director of the Regional Equity Monitoring Project, a non-profit that looks at equity in employment, contracts and workforce development. “Poverty is the greatest form of violence.”

The conference titled “Mitigating the Impact of Social and Psychological Trauma to the Social Fabric of the African American Community,” found local community advocates mixing with experts and scholars from across the country. Together they examined how inequity in education, mental health, economic and criminal justice systems has contributed to the prevalence of violence in the Black community.

“What we see on the corner is a war over resources and the people fighting are using the resources they’ve been given,” said Carl Redwood, convener of the Hill District Consensus Group, in reference to the rampant drug trafficking in many Black neighborhoods.

“We don’t need any more programs. What we need is systematic change and economic development and we need to demand it,” said Marcia Sturdivant, deputy director Allegheny County Department of Human Services, Office of Children, Youth and Families. “Our kids are living in toxic environments.”

Bringing the public health approach of eradicating violence to the forefront, keynote speaker Deborah Prothrow-Stith likened the treatment of violence to lung cancer by following the progression of the disease from prevention to treatment. As a physician working in Boston she also related how the city’s violence reduction model has begun to lose steam due to the reduction of outreach workers.

“I really think this is an issue we have to own. When you hear, we don’t have enough money for summer jobs, the question you need to ask is, but if someone shoots that kid, can we spend $300,000 on the hospital,” Prothrow-Stith said. “It’s not enough to have a healthy child and a healthy family when you have an unhealthy community and unhealthy children.”

While each speaker showed a clear understanding of the problems facing the African-American community, many also brought solutions to these problems as they illustrated small-scale models of programs already working to reverse violence and social inequities. Among them was Anthony Mitchell, project director of the African American Male Mentoring Program, whose program raises the bar of achievement for young African-American males by presenting them with positive role models.

“A lot of our young children are very smart,” Mitchell said. “However they’re experiencing a lot of stereotypical treatment from some of these adults; they call them teachers.”

Beyond the idea of changing the structural inequities facing African-American children, speakers like Joy DeGruy said it was important to change the way African-American children are viewed, not only by others, but also by themselves. In her book, “Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome—America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing,” looked at the prevalence of low self-esteem and internalized racism in the African-American community.

“I believe that every person needs to be treated with respect and dignity,” DeGruy said. “It’s unfortunate that our history, politics, and social behavior have led to people treating others without the respect and dignity they deserve.”

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