Louisville Stands Up for Black Male Achievement
By Anthony Smith, Director for Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods, City of Louisville, KY
“He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.” — Muhammad Ali
Louisville is proud to have been the host city for Open Society Foundations’ Rumble Young Man, Rumble convening for the past four years. Shawn Dove, CEO for Campaign for Black Male Achievement (CBMA) selected Louisville because we are the hometown of the greatest of all time — Muhammad Ali and the Muhammad Ali Center. Ali’s six core principles and the mission and vision of the Ali Center aligned perfectly with the goals for the Rumble Young Man, Rumble gatherings. In the spirit of Ali, Louisville is uniquely positioned to courageously accept Shawn Dove’s challenge to become the epicenter for Black Male Achievement.
The RYMR convening has served as the building block for Louisville’s Black Male Achievement movement. Since March 2013, local leaders have been have engaged in at times difficult conversations about what it means to be a Black male in our city and what changes need to be made to ensure every young Black man and boy has the support and tools needed to achieve their goals. The conversation started when we decided to respond to the National League of Cities’ request for proposals for “City Leadership to Promote Black Male Achievement.” Our Mayor, Greg Fischer, was invited to join Cities United, a national partnership to eliminate violent-related deaths of African-American males. Mayor Fischer was also an early acceptor of the President’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative and has hosted community meetings to talk about the importance of this initiative.
We have been able to use our involvement in these national initiatives and the backdrop of the RYMR to create the Louisville Cities United Collaboration (LCUC) — a collaborative of over 60 community and faith-based organizations working to reduce violent-related deaths of African-American males, increase educational and employment outcome for young Black men and boys, and change the narrative — we want folks to know their whole story. The Louisville Urban League, Interdenominational Ministerial Coalition, and the Mayor’s Office for Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods provide leadership for the LCUC.
Out of this collaborative, we have created a place based strategy called “Zones of Hope”. Zones of Hope are designed to restore a sense of place and connection for some of Louisville’s most “disconnected” neighborhoods, families, and young Black men and boys. Zones of Hope are built on four core objectives:
HEART: Family & Community Wellness (Healthy in all aspects, participation on every level)
- Increase involvement of young Black males within the family unit and the community on all levels
- Improve economic, mental, emotional, physical, spiritual, social health on family & community level
- Cultivate the concepts of compassion, common humanity, and life affirming associations, and the belief in positive outcomes
- Engage with neighborhood churches/houses of worship to offer services to single mothers who are raising young males who need mentors/role models
HEAD: Academic Readiness & Achievement (K-12, post-secondary and beyond)
- Increase Black male involvement in the educational process as parents, educators and mentors
- Increase school readiness and academic excellence among Black males
- Increase number of Black males pursuing and acquiring post-secondary training and education
- Decrease the number of Black males experiencing disciplinary school exclusion through suspension
- Establish learning centers in 10 neighborhood churches/houses of worship
HANDS: Career Readiness as a Life Investment (Developing expertise that has market value)
- Increase employment rate among Black males
- Provide opportunities to expose young Black males to various workforce environments
- Create more “second chance” employment initiatives for those with felony backgrounds
- Create culture of recognizing and appreciating one’s own skills, creativity and talents and the value those talents
- Perfecting skills and talents
HOPE: Restorative Justice (Mending community harm, reinstating pathways to balance and prosperity)
- Promote responsibility but adopt more non-punitive methods, focusing on prevention and restorative justice
- Coordinate and align “re-entry” with diversity in rehabilitation (jobs, avenues for artistic expression, etc.)
- Create programming to reduce recidivism (money management, conflict resolution, mentoring, etc.)
- Enhance job readiness via volunteer training opportunities, corporate partnerships, etc.
- Work with neighborhood churches/houses of worship to pursue alternative sentencing programs and services for young juveniles
Additional highlights from 2014 include:
- Launched Zones of Hope in September. During our Weekend of Hope, supported by Casey Family Programs, over 300 people learned about our new program. Since the launch, we have hosted monthly meetings in each Zone.
- Received a $226,400 grant from the James Graham Brown Foundation to build out our Zones of Hope
- Co-hosted Rumble Young Man Rumble IV. This was Open Society’s 4th year hosting this in Louisville at the Ali Center.
- Hosted a Zones of Hope Holiday Feast at Baxter Community Center, where about 200 people came out. This will be an annual event.
- Jefferson County Public Schools through their Office Diversity, Equity, and Poverty Programs has:
- Signed the Boys of Color Resolution
- Expanded the “Street Academy” from one to four schools, increasing boys served from 25 to 100
- Hosted ACT Boot Camps, College Application, and Financial Aid/FAFSA workshops
- Hosted two “Take What You Can Tote” events in partnership with the 15th District PTA and the Mayor’s Office, targeting Zones of Hope neighborhoods. Over 850 families were served.
- In partnership with KentuckianaWorks, created “Coding @ the Beech”, a 15-week coding class for high school boys of color from the Russell and other Zones of Hope neighborhoods
We have seen progress as we work to create better outcomes for our young Black men and boys, but we know there is much more work to be done. In 2015 we must create more opportunities for them to engaged and informed, and we must find more resources to continue to build out our efforts.
When we say Louisville will be the epicenter for Black Male Achievement, it does not mean that we believe we have it all together. It means that we are willing to share what we know in a safe space that will create opportunities to improve our efforts in ways that create better opportunities and outcomes for our young Black men and boys.