National advocacy organization Campaign for Black Male Achievement (CBMA) released a report last month ranking U.S. cities on their level of commitment to empowering Black men and boys.
The report is the second of its kind from CBMA. The first, published in 2015, ranked Philadelphia eighth out of 50 American metros counted, just behind Charlottesville, Va. The most recent report has Philly ranked 10th, eclipsed by New York City and Jackson, Miss. and once again trailing Charlottesville.
Philadelphia’s “city score,” measured by indicators such as CBMA membership, demographic mix, funding and commitment to black male achievement, has remained unchanged since 2015. CBMA indicators are informed by city-level commitment to educational attainment, employment, public safety and health.
When the first report was published, the Philadelphia Office of Black Male Engagement, housed within the city’s Office of Public Engagement, was a nascent public office under the leadership of Erica Atwood, who was appointed director by Mayor Michael Nutter in 2014.
“We were building the ship while we were flying it,” Atwood said. “We were able to develop some really strong national relationships. The bulk of what I did was around convening and being nosy — finding out what’s there and making connections.”
"The bulk of what I did was around convening and being nosy — finding out what's there and making connections."
Atwood, who had worked in the Nutter administration since 2009, built a strong framework for what was then an unprecedented type of city office dedicated in part to expanding upon President Barack Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative, which sought to improve outcomes for young men of color via a “cradle-to-college-career strategy.”
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But leadership changes can come with setbacks, and the outsized focus Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration has placed on aligning city policy and institutional investment around public space initiative Rebuild and early childhood education has influenced the Office of Black Male Achievement’s agenda in a few ways.
“During the transition of administrations, things got pushed to the back-burner,” said Director Jack Drummond, who succeeded Atwood in early 2016. With regard to My Brother’s Keeper, he said, “we weren’t sure where the initiative was going to go.”
Drummond said the office is still dedicated to four fronts: criminal justice, health, economic empowerment and education for Black men and boys. The city’s Rebuild and early childhood education efforts, though, have had an impact on how the fight on those fronts is fought.
“We’re really an education-heavy commission,” said Drummond. “We know that [Black males] are certainly capable of reading, writing, thinking and computing at levels that are competitive, but we have not systemically been able to really increase the academic performance for men and boys of color in this city.”
"We're really an education-heavy commission."
Drummond said that a new partnership with Drexel University has his office back on track with a My Brother’s Keeper revamp, and the initiative is currently seeking more buy-in from institutions.
Meanwhile, Drummond said his office and the Mayor’s Commission on African American Males, the channel through which the Office of Black Male Engagement is able to inform local legislation, are working to make sure the bids of Black-owned businesses and contractors are taken into consideration by Rebuild stakeholders and that Black communities are properly engaged through the initiative.
Both Drummond and Atwood credited the work being done by the city’s Office of Violence Prevention under the leadership of Shondell Revell, whose office is sharing data with the Office of Black Male Engagement that Drummond said will be used to inform policy in the city’s most violent districts.
On the employment front, Drummond expressed enthusiasm for an emerging partnership with the National Workforce Opportunity Network that will look to place Black men with criminal records in stable jobs.
Regarding the CBMA report, Drummond was skeptical of its metrics and stressed that his office is wired to make an impact by engaging the public and informing policy.
“There’s a lot of work to be done with this demographic,” he said. “We are policy-oriented and that’s what we need to continue to do well.”-30-
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