Seven of them were Black.
They told a story that was all too familiar to many in Chicago and across America—one that included a fatherless childhood, a home overcome with poverty and a neighborhood drowning in crime and gang violence.
In the middle of the despair, is the Black male, the most vulnerable, incarcerated, underachieving species among any ethnic group in America. For the longest time, they have also been, perhaps, the most forgotten or so it seemed until Congressman Danny K. Davis began the State of the African American Male initiative (SAAM).
Congressman Danny K. Davis first introduced SAAM to the United States Congress and the nation in 2004. The purpose is not just to conduct studies or town hall meetings that echo the problems we already know exist but also to establish a formal entity that would address the specific concerns of African American males that come out of these conferences with legislative action.
This was inaugurated with a national conference in Washington D.C., and subsequent regional meetings and conferences in Chicago, New York, Houston, Miami, Memphis, Detroit, Atlanta, Los Angeles and Oakland. It was followed by a major conference in Chicago, in collaboration with several hundred organizations and groups, and was attended by more than a 1,000 stakeholders over two days.
Since then, the Congressional Black Congress has worked with hundreds of organizations across the nation to address issues concerning education, criminal justice, employment and health.
Among the first national legislative solutions introduced was funding through the Second Chance Act for ex-offender programs administered through faith-based groups and an amendment to a Head Start bill was attached by Rep. Davis to increase males of color teaching Head Start.
There have been other initiatives.
Hopes were high on February 27, 2014 when President Barack Obama made the historic announcement in the ornate East Room in the White House. There, Obama launched of My Brother’s Keeper, “a new initiative with leading foundations and businesses to help Black males overcome poverty, despair and social barriers that have kept many out of work, jailed or six feet under.”
It was a historic moment for Black America. Never before had there been a sitting president who used his power and influence to address a social problem on such a national scale. While the announcement drew scrutiny from media organizations, Black newspapers gave the story front-page coverage and the faces of Black single mothers across the North American continent lit up with hope.
Today, Obama is no longer in the White House. My Brother’s Keeper initiative is hardly ever mentioned. The plight of the Black males has largely been forgotten. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel pledged to funnel millions of dollars into a mentoring program to help Black males, but its critics believe that’s not enough to correct decades of damage the city’s social ills have had on men of color.
Last month, Rep. Davis joined by Illinois State Rep. LaShawn K. Ford (D-8th); Cook County Comm. Dennis Deer (2nd); and Phillip Jackson, executive director of the Black Star Project, in calling for reforms in school suspensions and graduation requirements.
“We all know that education is an absolute key to being successful in this highly technical and highly service- oriented society,” Rep. Davis said. “Education is not only desirable, but is absolutely necessary.”
According to the Schott Foundation for Public Education, in Illinois the Black male suspension rate is nearly 14 percent compared to 5 percent for Latino males and nearly four percent for white males. In Illinois, the graduation rate for Black males is 30 percent less than for white males.
“If people were taught better, they would have a much better view of what the rationale is for their utilization,” stated Rep. Davis. “So, we hope the conference is an eye-opener, door opener, stimulation pusher, and idea implementer to make lives better in local Black communities.”
In recent years, several studies have shown that unemployment among Blacks in Chicago is the highest in the country. But according to a 2016 report from the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Great Cities Institute, 47 percent of 20 to 24-year-old Black men in Chicago were out of work compared with 20 percent of Hispanic men and 10 percent of white men in the same group.
With high unemployment in Gary, IN, Black males have struggled to find work in the predominantly Black city for years.
Then there is discrimination. A story last year in the Chicago Crusader showed how many Chicago temporary staffing agencies—a foot in the door for many Black males—shut out Black job applicants for assignments at the request of big-name clients.
In Chicago, Black males are the majority of victims falling to gun violence. Last year, Davis’ 15-year-old grandson, Javon, was killed in his home by robbers, who wanted his gym shoes.
In courtrooms in Chicago and everywhere, men of color have netted more convictions and jail time than any other gender or ethnic group. With little skills and social barriers, the problems facing many Black males are getting worse under President Donald Trump.
It’s among the problems Cong. Danny K. Davis (7th) aims to address at its State of African American Male Conference, which will be held Friday and Saturday, Sept. 8-9 at the University of Illinois at Chicago, 725 Roosevelt Road. The conference will kickoff with an opening session Friday night at 7:00 p.m., and open Saturday at 9:00 a.m. with workshops and discussions on unemployment, drugs, mentoring, bullying, housing, and many other topics and concluding with recommendations and solutions for change based on the input from attendees.
For more information visit http://www.stateoftheafricanamericanmale.org.