This year’s theme, “Unification of Purpose for Direct Action” addressed the areas of criminal justice and economic justice. Through a series of panel discussions and workshops, the more than 100 Black men who attended the event throughout the day were focused on “moving towards an urban agenda.”
While the day’s discussions included topics such as public policy, entrepreneurship and the prison system, many speakers kept returning to the importance of guiding today’s youth. As he has done personally, CEA Founder and CEO Rashad Byrdsong said it is important for Black men to reach out and serve as mentors to the youth around them, whether they are related or not.
“It’s kind of an untold story about how many Black men raise other people’s children,” Byrdsong said. “Often times we don’t give recognition to our children. We need to support our children. We’re talking about blood family and extended family.”
The men in attendance demonstrated their commitment to mentoring by bringing young African-American males to the event. While many of the young men were surprised to learn about the statistics facing their peers, others have already set their sights on overcoming the odds stacked against them.
“If 60 percent of Black men are in prison that pertains to me and my people,” said 14-year-old Melvin Johnson. “Most of that 60 percent didn’t graduate so I think I’ll get out of it if I’m a success.”
Throughout his address on educating Black men, Willie Kimmons, a lifelong educator who rose from public school teacher to college chancellor, highlighted problems in underperforming schools and the unique challenges of raising African-American boys.
“We need to get back to the basics. Spare that rod; spoil the child,” Kimmons said. “Save our children. Save our schools. Never give up. Our children are our greatest resource.”
In a later session on economic justice, Kimmons advocated for self-sufficiency, independence and ownership.
“My generation has to teach the younger generation to invest. The second thing is ownership. We have to teach them. Another thing we have to teach our young people is we can do things without White people.”
Throughout the separate discussions on economic justice and criminal justice, there were overlapping solutions. Many agreed the Black community should be at the forefront of making decisions for their communities instead of having outsiders make the decisions for them.
“One aspect of economic justice that we experience in our neighborhoods are the changes, but many times we aren’t directing those changes for our best interest,” said Carl Redwood, convener of the Hill District Consensus Group. “It’s one thing to say we have to control things, but there are people who don’t want to give that up. We have to have an analysis of why things are the way they are in our communities. In the Hill District, our analysis is that they are trying to shape the neighborhood for people who aren’t us.”