This post was written by Eric Westbrook, Director for the Mayor’s Office of Black Male Engagement.
In September, there was a high school football game in North Philadelphia that was cut short when shots were fired near the packed stadium. Parents, students, and young children were forced to flee in pandemonium, and two young Black boys were injured. Unfortunately, in America we have grown very familiar with active shooting situations; and it is often framed as a phenomenon that takes place outside of urban neighborhoods. This shooting happened in the heart of North Philadelphia, where the population is predominantly Black.
Violence is disproportionately harming Black men and boys
Earlier this year the Mayor’s Office of Black Engagement (OBME), Mayor’s Commission on African American Males, and the Philadelphia Department of Public Health partnered to produce the Brotherly Love Health Report, which highlights the health of Black men and boys in Philadelphia. According to the report, 75 percent of the shooting victims in our City are Black males. That is an alarming number, especially when Black males only make up about 23 percent of the overall population. In fact, Black men and boys ages 16 to 24 without a high school diploma or a job are more likely to be involved in community violence, and twice as likely to be disconnected from school and work.
Connecting to opportunities
There is a famous African proverb that says, “The child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down just to feel its warmth.” As our city continues to grow and change, it is important that Black men and boys know they are being considered for opportunities and connected to that growth.
Existing programs like the Community College of Philadelphia’s Center for Male Engagement and PowerCorps PHL are not just a means to keep Black men and boys away from violence—they are engaging them in developing a vision of themselves thriving.
- Center for Male Engagement: Assists men of color with getting in, staying in, and completing their college degrees.
- PopwerCorps PHL: Engages disconnected young adults and residents returning from the justice system to enter and succeed in career pathways.
The Mayor’s Office of Black Male Engagement is committed to ensuring that Black men and boys have both access and the capacity to take advantage of these and other opportunities.
The My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) Action Academy is an initiative of the Mayor’s Office of Black Male Engagement with a focus on improving the quality of life of men and boys of color in Philadelphia. The Action Academy hosts bi-monthly neighborhood-based community engagement workshops designed to provide the tools and resources necessary to close the opportunity gap.
Taking resources to communities in need
On October 17 the Mayor’s Office of Black Engagement partnered with Councilmember Cindy Bass to bring the MBK Action Academy: Opportunity Forum to North Philly at the Nicetown CDC. This community has been rocked by several tragedies in recent months, including the shooting at a high school football game and this summer’s standoff with police. The Opportunity Forum created a space for successful Black men and boys to extend a hand to their peers by sharing their stories and helping others set and reach new goals.
Learning from peers
PowerCorps PHL and Philly Future Track provided Black male champions who wanted to share their stories with their peers. Some of the young Black men shared how challenging it is finding work because of the lack of skills they had coming out of high school. They shared how once the traditional route of college wasn’t their preferred track success became more and more difficult. Another gentleman shared that he had fallen victim to drug addiction and ended up involved in a crime that led him to prison.
This particular man was able to commit to the City’s RISE program (now part of the Office of Reentry Partnerships) upon release. RISE introduced him to PowerCorps PHL, where he developed the skills to attain and maintain a career. He then shifted to Philly Future Track, where he was placed in the Highway Division of the Streets Department with the potential of having a full-time, salary-paid job after five months.
Attendees poured in looking to be encouraged, and ultimately empowered, to take full advantage of an opportunity. Several of them signed up for more information from PowerCorps PHL and other organizations, and they even took materials for their friends and family members.
What’s next for the MBK Action Academy?
Our city is growing and it is our goal to ensure that as the village grows, Black men and boys feel its warmth through the opportunity to grow as well. The next Academy is scheduled for December.
As we celebrate several holidays this winter season, there are thousands of Black men and boys who do not have the privilege to gather with friends and family, so the Mayor’s Office of Black Male Engagement plans to bring the celebration to Philadelphians experiencing homelessness.
Contact the office at OBME@Phila.gov or follow @OBMEPHL on Instagram for more details on how you can volunteer.