PHILADELPHIA — Numerous organizations intent on reversing alarming disparities in high school and college drop out and incarceration rates among Black males gathered in Philadelphia this week for a Call to Action Summit, sponsored by the Presidents’ Round Table of African-American CEOs, a group of Black community college presidents. Summit participants were tasked with developing concrete action plans to remedy what many call a Black male “crisis.”
“The Presidents’ Round Table thought it was critical that we bring individuals together to make certain that we recognize and understand the critical need for us to move,” said Dr. Charles A. Taylor, convener of the Round Table and president of Thomas Nelson Community College in Hampton, Va. “I don’t want to be here five years from now and continue to talk about the crisis. … We have all the statistics, we have all the research, now is the time to stop talking and start doing,” he added.
Andrew Jones, Round Table secretary and Dallas County Community College District vice chancellor for academic affairs, added context to the discussion in his remarks before the assembled crowd, which included community college presidents from across the nation.
“In most of our major cities in this country, less than 50 percent of African-American males graduate from high school. In some cases, 80 percent of the state prison population is African-American males, where you might have as little as 4 percent in the general population,” Jones said. “We know that it’s not the kind of thing to lay the foundation for healthy economies, a healthy society and a safe society. We’re here today to help us galvanize our efforts and make sure this never again becomes typical,” he added.
During the summit, participants were broken down into six groups tasked with developing recommendations on how to address various key components of the Round Table’s Black male initiative. The groups developed action plans on establishing a central clearinghouse of information on Black male initiatives nationwide, identifying funding resources, enhancing data collection and collaboration, launching effective marketing campaigns, and influencing public policy.
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter (D) joined the public policy group discussion and then gave a heartfelt address to summit participants delivered without prepared notes or a teleprompter. During his speech, he laid out some sobering statistics, noting the city of Philadelphia has a 45 percent overall high school drop out rate. More than 50 percent of Black males in Philadelphia high schools drop out, and nearly 60 percent of Hispanic males drop out, he noted.
Nutter said high drop out rates only help feed Philadelphia’s violent crime rate, ranked highest among the 10 largest cities in the United States. Critical to stemming crime is boosting access to education, Nutter added, outlining his reasons for proposing a $4 million dollar community college funding increase.
“Not by the dollar amount, but by the percentage, community colleges will receive the largest percentage increase of any department or agency that the city funds, because I do actually believe in putting our money where our mouths are,” he said.
Nutter said strong community college vocational programs are a vital resource for struggling youth who see no prospects and are heading for a life of crime. He added that community college automotive technology programs, for instance, produce mechanics commanding top wages as they are trained to deal with the ever-increasing technological sophistication of modern cars.
When stuck on a highway after his almost-brand-new Acura lost power recently, Nutter said he was faced with the reality that at that moment, “I didn’t need a doctor. I didn’t need a lawyer. I didn’t need a Wharton economist. What I needed was an ASE certified mechanic to come and take my butt off of the highway. There’s nothing wrong with being a mechanic,” Nutter said to the murmur of approval from the numerous community college presidents in the room.
He added that automotive technology “is a very serious profession, so you can either work for someone else, and make some decent money, or you can open up your own shop, and take care of yourself. So we have to broaden, not narrow, the kind of opportunities that these young people can see out there for themselves.”
With a nod towards the hotly contested Pennsylvania Democratic presidential primary election on April 22, Nutter added, “I think getting in touch with local elected officials is an important component of driving this agenda. It’s very difficult for federal officials, at times, to ignore the leaders of the major cities across America because they know some how, some way, they have to come back.”
Nutter also told summit attendees to continue to fight against the apathetic attitude towards education plaguing many Black inner-city communities.
“This whole notion that somehow, some way, if I talk a certain way, if I study hard, if I get good grades, somebody might be able to say to me ‘you’re trying to act White — no, I’m trying to act like I’ve got some sense, and move on with my life and do something with my life,’” Nutter said to smatterings of applause.
Among the organizations and federal agencies represented at the Black male summit were Alpha Kappa Alpha, Inc. sorority, Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. the National Alliance of Black School Educators, the National Council on Educating Black Children, the National Black Child Development Institute, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Urban League of Philadelphia, the Lumina Foundation for Education, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Community Relations Service and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Founded in 1983, the Presidents’ Round Table of African-American CEOs is an affiliate organization of the National Council on Black American Affairs, an affiliate of the American Association of Community Colleges. For more information, visit www.ccc.edu/roundtable. For more on this story, see the May 1 issue of Diverse.
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