Promoting Black Male Achievement in America: A Guide for City Leaders

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In communities across the nation, black men and boys are disenfranchised. Whether one observes the employment market, the education and prison systems, or family success, black men and boys continue to consistently struggle in these areas in comparison to other groups across the country. As a result, city leaders are seeking to address these disparities.

Understanding this reality, NLC partnered with the Open Society Foundations’ Campaign for Black Male Achievement to seek out cities and communities that were currently addressing these disparities through city-led initiatives and community programs. What they learned led to the Black Male Achievement (BMA) Municipal Action Guide. This guide highlights potential strategies and promising city approaches for reducing the persistent disparities between black males and their peers in the areas of education, work and family.

While the BMA Municipal Action Guide provides an actionable framework to help cities implement BMA initiatives and programs, NLC recognizes the need to work closely with cities to help connect the BMA framework to the structure of local government. In collaboration with PolicyLink, NLC took action in 2010, using the guide to provide support to 11 cities (Charlottesville, Va., Fort Wayne, Ind., Jacksonville, Fla., Louisville, Ky., Milwaukee, Wis., Oakland, Calif., Omaha, Neb., Orlando, Fla., Philadelphia, Pa., Portland, Ore., and Chicago) in a pledge to improve life outcomes for black men and boys by:

  • forming strong local partnerships;
  • using data more effectively;
  • developing comprehensive strategies focused on education, employment, family strengthening and violence prevention; and
  • engaging young black men and boys in civic life and local government.

As these cities worked to create initiatives and programs to improve outcomes for black men and boys, there was also a growing need to help other municipalities identify, adopt and implement BMA policies. NLC recognizes policy adoption and implementation as a critical mechanism for sustainability, given that elected offices trade hands, political priorities shift, and funding streams narrow. In more recent times, the protests, riots and unrest seen in communities throughout the country are evidence of deeply rooted policies that continue to create and foster disparities around the country.

To successfully create and implement new policies in this regard, city leaders must feel equipped to speak authentically about the challenges of race and inequity in their communities. Accordingly, NLC recently launched its new Race, Equity And Leadership (REAL) initiative to provide tools, techniques and resources to strengthen the leadership capacity of local elected officials in addressing the impact of race and equity issues in their communities. The role of city leaders in dismantling the historical, systemic and structural barriers that further inequality and racism is critical to the success and sustainability of improving outcomes for black men and boys.

It is with these goals in mind that NLC plans to provide technical assistance to a number of cities that originally adopted and used the BMA Municipal Action Guide (Charlottesville, Fort Wayne, Milwaukee, Omaha, Orlando and Portland) within the coming months to adopt and implement policies that reflect a black male achievement agenda. Each city’s experience will be cataloged and shared to help other cities create or continue adopting and implementing policies that mitigate and reduce the social and economic disparities that affect black males across the nation.

Policy change is not the only solution to these problems. There must also be a concerted effort to streamline initiatives as resources become more constrained, and a purposeful effort to engage black men and boys in developing those initiatives. Consequently, NLC is also working with Chicago, Jacksonville, Louisville, Oakland, and Philadelphia (the remaining cities from the group that originally adopted the BMA Guide) to share best practices on aligning President Barack Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative, the Cities United partnership, and other BMA initiatives while increasing the engagement of black men and boys in these efforts.

NLC is working hard to proactively prepare city leaders to create meaningful conversations and actions that apply a racial equity lens to policies, initiatives, programs and budget issues. The Black Male Achievement Municipal Action Guide is one of many effective tools elected officials can use to step forward along this path. Click here to learn more about how your city can promote this crucial agenda.

About the Author: Timothy A. Evans is a Senior Associate of NLC’s Race, Equity And Leadership (REAL) initiative.