The Paradox of Promise and Peril for America's Black Men and Boys

The past year has been a profoundly paradoxical one, mixed with ample doses of both progression and painful reflection for the Black Male Achievement field.
05/02/2016 12:35 pm ET Updated May 03, 2017

The past year has been a profoundly paradoxical one, mixed with ample doses of both progression and painful reflection for the Black Male Achievement field. On the one hand, there has been a groundswell of activity and investments that have encouraged and challenged us all to stretch even further in our mission to ensure the growth, sustainability and impact of leaders and organizations committed to uplifting Black men and boys.

Yet, on the other hand, the ghosts of America's past have continued to dominate our present and threaten to derail our hope for a promising future. Racism, concentrated poverty, police violence and systemic injustice have become more magnified in cities and communities across the country. The murders over the past year of Freddie Gray and Sandra Bland; the shocking truths revealed behind the killing of Laquan McDonald in Chicago; the conviction without jail-time of the officer who murdered Akai Gurley in Brooklyn; and the unchecked demagoguery and hate-fueled rhetoric dominating the national election cycle have each served as one perilously stark reminder after another that the path towards building Beloved Communities for the majority of Black people in America remains long and winding.

This week in Birmingham, the Campaign for Black Male Achievement will join hundreds of leaders from across the U.S. at Cities United, a national gathering of mayors, city representatives, philanthropic and community leaders to address the epidemic of gun violence that continues to rob Black men and boys of their promise and potential at an unrelenting rate. At a time when homicide is the leading cause of death for Black males age 10-24, this year's convening -- aptly themed "The Fierce Urgency of Now" -- underscores that our vigilance and exigency in finding solutions to curb this violence must be even more unrelenting.

As I have said many times before, the Cavalry is not coming; we are the iconic leaders we have been looking for.

I believe that where there is challenge and adversity there is also promise and hope. The formation of the Executives' Alliance to Expand Opportunities for Boys and Men of Color in 2013, as well as the launch of President Obama's MBK Alliance almost a year ago, injected more mission fuel into a movement already galvanized by thousands of "Hometown Heroes and Local Leaders" who have been working hard for social and racial justice in their cities and communities for decades. We've also witnessed the releases of books like Reach: 40 Black Men Speak on Living, Leading, and Succeeding and Question Bridge: Black Males in America, along with films like "3 ½ Minutes, 10 Bullets" -- all of which CBMA is proud to have supported, and which have contributed significantly to the discussion about shifting narratives and public perceptions around Black males in America.

This feeling of promise and hope is palpable at gatherings like Cities United, where young Black men and boys are given a platform to express themselves in a safe space, and to talk about the pain and trauma they struggle with in their cities and communities on a daily basis. It exists in the cross-sector investments being made to build the field and expand opportunities for Black men and boys to achieve and reach their full potential. It's demonstrated in the place-based strategies taking place in cities across the U.S., -- cities like Baltimore, Oakland, and Detroit -- which are pushing back against perilous events and conditions in their cities and are laying the groundwork for Black Male Achievement nationwide. And it's embodied by the individual stories, like that of Harvard-bound teen Ethan Ambrose, which signal hope for so many of us in the BMA movement who seek to elevate and recognize Black men and boys as assets to their families and communities. .

These efforts and truths remind us that there are no silver bullets to solve the many problems we are fighting to solve, but there are certainly golden opportunities in places across the nation that we all must act upon with increasing urgency in order to maximize and leverage the change CBMA and its many partners are collectively striving for.

Over the past eight years, through capacity-building support, movement-building activities, and strategic communications aimed at elevating asset-based narratives about young males of color, CBMA has been equipping nearly 5,000 individuals representing more than 2,700 organizations with the framework and even more importantly, the data critical to launching their work into future. Whether it be national organizations like Color of Change, the Opportunity Agenda and the Coalition of Schools Educating Boys of Color (COSEBOC), or local place-based strategies like the Center for Urban Families in Baltimore, The Yunion in Detroit, and the Eagle Academy in New York, the love and dedication with which they have all approached their work have the power to drive results and create true, lasting impact.

The changes we are seeking in this nation must be ushered in through courageous leadership and a massive commitment to building and supporting an infrastructure of leaders and organizations that are on the ground actually making change happen. This is why the Campaign for Black Male Achievement exists.

Now, especially in times of peril, it's up to all of us to remember the promise that exists in our communities and within our Black men and boys, and to hold on tightly to the truth that there's no cavalry coming to save us because it is already here.