May 15, 2014 Press Conference – Omaha African-American Male Achievement Collaboration with Mayor Jean Stothert, Empowerment Network, National League of Cities, PolicyLink and Community Partners. Photo by: Surreal Media Lab
With President Barack Obama’s recent announcement and launch of his “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative, the interest in Black Male Achievement is at an all-time high. And, on the heels of the Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis tragedies and verdicts, the awareness of the challenges and issues facing African-American boys and young men has been brought to center stage across the country. The negative statistics concerning African-American males are constantly highlighted. The barrage of images of black men as victims and perpetrators of gun violence, high school drop outs, and high levels of involvement in the justice and prison system are broadcast on a daily basis. Major projects are now underway to address these issues on a larger scale.
Over the past five years, on the national level, philanthropic organizations and others have been refocusing attention and aligning investments to target specific efforts on Black Male Achievement. The Casey Foundation developed a comprehensive report on the state of graduation rates for African-American boys. The Open Society Foundation launched the Black Male Achievement Campaign with Shawn Dove as national president.
In 2013, the National League of Cities with the support of the Open Society Foundation and PolicyLink created an eleven city cohort referred to as the Black Male Achievement Initiative.
During the spring of 2013, the Empowerment Network and City of Omaha made an application to the National League of Cities to become part of their Black Male Achievement Initiative. Omaha was notified in May of 2013 that it was one of 11 cities selected to move forward with a technical assistance grant to develop a comprehensive plan focused on the success of African-American boys and young men in Omaha. The Empowerment Network Collaboration, a seven year nationally recognized initiative, includes all of these goals and has active collaborations and measurable results in each area identified as priorities by the National League of Cities.
Mayor Jean Stothert agreed to continue the city’s participation with the initiative in partnership with the Empowerment Network and assigned Cameron Gales and Barb Farho as the cities representatives. Willie Barney, President and Facilitator of the Empowerment Network, is the community leader and facilitator. One of the requirements for the NLC initiative is the active involvement of elected officials as stakeholders. The Omaha project includes a number of elected officials including African-American leaders: City Councilmen Ben Gray and Franklin Thompson; Douglas County Commissioner Chris Rodgers; Douglas County Treasurer John Ewing; School Board Members Justin Wayne, Marque Snow and Yolanda Williams (for a complete list of stakeholders and partners, please visit empoweromaha.com). The focus of the initiative is five-fold: strengthening African-American families; improving educational outcomes; improving access to quality health care; connecting AA young men and men to employment; and reducing involvement in violence.
The planning team worked with a group of community partners during the summer of 2013 to develop an initial action plan which was submitted to the National League of Cities to qualify for a year of additional technical assistance. As a part of the process, over 40 representatives from various entities worked on the plan, and 20 signed letters of intent and agreed to participate formally to:
1. Engage in planning with other Stakeholders
2. Participate within an agreed upon structure
3. Collect and Share Data
4. Align Strategies as part of a Comprehensive Plan
5. Actively Engage Youth in Decision-making
Now, over 50 organizations have agreed to participate with the plan as it continues to move forward and others are joining in each month. The group has also hosted two community meetings to gather additional ideas and recommendations for the strategies.
In Omaha, working together to address the plight of African-American young men is not a new phenomenon. One of the early initiatives of the African-American Achievement Council was the Greeters program. The goal of the highly successful Greeters plan was to get African-American Males reengaged in the education system. Paul Bryant created a leadership initiative focused on making learning “the cool thing to do”. The 100 Black Men launched mentoring programs focused on African-American young men. The Urban League followed with the Urban Youth Empowerment Series. The Empowerment Network and other partners launched a summer jobs initiative to engage young men and women in positive employment opportunities. The Network also launched Impact One, the Omaha 360 Collaboration and other initiatives to reduce gun violence. These are just a few of the initiatives that have made a positive impact on African-American boys and young men. Together, the 100 Black Men, Urban League and Empowerment Network are in their 5th year of hosting the Black Male Summit featuring 50 positive African-American male role models and 150 African-American 9th graders from Omaha Public Schools. Collaboratively, the Network partners have worked to address many of the issues related to employment, education, housing, health, violence and neighborhood revitalization.
Other efforts directly targeted at AA young men have also been launched. Black Men United annually hosts “Fathers Take Your Children to School” and “Take a Young Black Man to Church” day campaigns in partnership with the Black Star Project. In November of 2013, the Center for Holistic Development brought the American Promise documentary to Omaha for the first time and has launched “Keepers of the Promise”, an African-American Leadership program for young men. NETV has developed a documentary about African American males in Nebraska that will debut in August 2014.
Collectively, these efforts and others like them are producing results. The graduation rate for African-American young men has increased from 49% to 68%. The goal is to increase to a minimum of 90%. The gun violence rate in North Omaha has been reduced by 43% between 2008 and 2013. The percentage of African-American males taking Advanced Placement classes, the ACT and attending post secondary education/college have all increased. In addition, the number of young men engaged in summer employment, internships and accessing health care have all increased.
To learn more or to get involved, please visit empoweromaha.com or call 402-502-5153.