City Leaders Gather in Portland to Hear From Black Male Millennials

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This past week, city and community leaders gathered in Portland, Ore. to hear from black male millennials, learn about racial equity’s connection to black male achievement (BMA), share strategies on sustaining BMA, and gain insights for adopting/implementing comprehensive employment-focused policies.

(photo: National League of Cities)
(photo: National League of Cities)

All eyes were on a group of black male millennials from across the country sitting around a table in the center of the room.  Local elected officials, community leaders, and city staff leaned in to hear the conversation – listening intently to gain insights on the black male experience and understand how the society they live in impacts their daily lives.

As people peered into the “fishbowl,” the following question was raised, “What would our country look like without racism?”  The millennials sat for at least a minute in silence. One wonders: Could they even envision a society without racism?

Slowly, the young black millennials began to share their vision for a country without racism. One millennial mentioned that based on his experience, he could not envision a country without racism. He and some of the others struggled to see an equitable or hope-filled future where black men would not have to fear the police or be treated differently because they are seen as if they do not belong.

This opening conversation with millennials set an important tone for the convening NLC hosted in Portland, Ore. With generous support from the Campaign for Black Male Achievement and the Open Society Foundations, NLC convened six Black Male Achievement (BMA) cities – Charlottesville, Va.; Fort Wayne, Ind.; Milwaukee, Wisc.; Omaha, Neb.; Orlando, Fla.; and Portland, Ore. – in Portland, Ore. to share their progress, commitment, and hopes for changing the life outcomes for black men and boys in this country.

Over the three-day convening, NLC showcased the racial equity and BMA work in the city of Portland (site visits, NPR broadcast, press conference, and reception), brought national organizations to help support cities’ efforts to adopt and implement comprehensive employment-focused BMA policies, highlighted city examples of leveraged partnerships to sustain BMA, and centered the conversations on how to engage black men and boys. The objective was to facilitate the space for cities to develop actionable steps to create a healthy, thriving and inclusive community that includes black men and boys.

(photo: Anthony Smith)
(photos: Anthony Smith)

INSIGHT #1: Engaging Black men and boys should not be an option, but a requirement

Throughout the convening with the support of the Portland BMA Steering Committee and Cities United technical assistance providers, black male millennials were provided a space to lead discussions and drive the conversation with city and community leaders. Placing black males at the center of the convening helped to enforce the importance of black men and boys’ leadership and voice in the conversation.

Action Step: Cities should intentionally create sustained leadership and engagement spaces for black men and boys.

INSIGHT #2: Applying a racial equity lens is important for BMA Cities

Cities heard from the city of Portland, Multnomah County, and NLC’s Race, Equity And Leadership (REAL) on the importance of applying a racial equity lens and understanding its connection to BMA.

Action Step: Cities should apply racial equity lens to their work and clearly understand the connections to their BMA efforts.

INSIGHT #3: Sustaining the BMA work takes an “Inside-Outside” strategy

On the final day of the convening, PolicyLink led a discussion with BMA cities and CBMA on identifying strategies to sustain BMA within cities. This topic is critical to BMA cities as they are continuously forced to balance competing priorities and allocate resources accordingly. BMA city leads must be ready to justify the impact of explicitly focusing on black men and boys. As leadership and priorities change within a city, BMA should be integrally connected to the community and leveraged as a community-driven priority as part of a city leadership-“Inside-Outside” Strategy.

Action Step: Cities should develop internal and external capacities the allow BMA to continue beyond the political and economic constraints and/or changes.

INSIGHT #4: Adopting and implementing comprehensive employment policies create sustainable opportunities to improve the economic viability of black men and boys and their families

City leaders with expertise from the National Employment Law Project, the Council of State Governments, Justice Center and Cities United discussed how to adopt, implement, and enforce policies and strategies that provide economic opportunities for minority-owned businesses, small businesses, and returning citizens. Despite these policies not explicitly identifying black men and boys, they disproportionately impact opportunities for the target population.

Action step: Cities should determine how to create, update, and change employment-focused policies (Ban the Box, local/targeted hiring, contracting, etc.)

BMA cities during the three days were able to gain critical insights that helped them to take action, strengthen their peer network, and leverage strategies to sustain the BMA work locally and increase their engagement of black men and boys.  It is important for city leaders to take actions that continue to convey the fierce urgency to respond to the outcry we heard from the young men who cannot see a future without racism and who are holding on to the glimmer of hope filled with opportunities and unlimited potential. The convening in Portland offered powerful and tangible reminders of the importance for city leaders to work together with millennials and the community to impact the change they need to see in their communities.

To learn more about NLC’s BMA Initiative, contact Timothy A. Evans at or (202) 626-3014. To learn more about NLC’s REAL initiative, contact Leon T. Andrews, Jr. at or (202) 626-3039.

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