In 2011, a number of community organizations hosted meetings, conferences and workshops dedicated to improving conditions in the Black community and addressing issues such as Black-on-Black violence, education and various social inequities. One such event was Community Empowerment Association’s October conference “Mitigating the Impact of Social & Psychological Trauma to the Social Fabric of the African American Community.”

WALK THE WALK—Beyond CEA’s meetings, conferences and workshops focused on community activism, the organization also runs several youth programs.

But what happens at the end of these conferences, after the closing remarks and next steps? The New Pittsburgh Courier talked with CEA Founder T. Rashad Byrdsong to discover what progress the organization has made since the conference to positively impact the Black community and address the problems presented.

“There were four theme areas that we were addressing at the conference: criminal justice, economic justice, education and mental health. Those four theme areas were the four areas that have the most impact on African-Americans in the Black community. What we attempted to do was look at some of the social problems we had in those areas,” Byrdsong said. “We have had two follow-up meetings since then and we have decided we’re going to have four town hall meetings to discuss those four areas.”

The first of these meetings will be held Feb. 11 to discussion education issues. Topics to be addressed will include how zero tolerance policies at schools negatively impact African-American boys and the importance of training for middle class White teachers who may not be familiar with Black culture in the inner-city.

The results of these meetings will be used to craft an urban policy agenda. But in order to see these finding implemented, Byrdsong says the government needs to start grant research funding to leaders in the Black community, instead of the academic outsiders who study it.

“There’s multimillions of dollars earmarked for academic policy institutions that never impact the community. Allegheny County has a lot of services but at best they’re fragmented. The research will legitimatize the science behind our argument. This is a strategy, we all know what’s going on in our communities but no one is addressing it,” Byrdsong said. “In this research it’s the community that gives voice to the issues, not the researchers. We’ve been doing what we need to do. If you look at the history of CEA, not only do we talk the talk, but we walk the walk. We get a lot of calls from other up and coming non-profits and community activists who are inspired.”

In some areas, such as economic justice, CEA is already working to implement concrete solutions. To decrease high unemployment in the African-American community, CEA has been working with Community College of Allegheny County to increase training opportunities in trade fields.

“We have CCAC which has state of the art training facilities (in outlining areas), but none of them are located in the inner city,” Byrdsong said. “So we’re working on getting CCAC to bring some of this training to Homewood and Downtown.”

CEA also operates several youth programs such as the African American Leadership Institute and Students Aimed for Excellence Truancy program. The organization’s activism work is part of a partnership with the Peace Alliance Network, a collation of several community organizations now known as the Commission for African-American Affairs.

“Most of those people who were involved in the Peace Alliance Network are now members of the Commission for African-Affairs. A lot of the information that came out of those initials meetings was brought to the conference,” Byrdsong said. “The commission is going to really begin to look at what is the impact of trauma on the African-American community. One of the things we know we’re going to have to do is change legislation. Our policy makers need to legislate and we have a lot of people running for office now who should be presenting an urban agenda.”

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