After a three-day conference of organizers working nationally to better the outcomes for Black men and boys, the general mood was one of urgency as organizers prepared to return to their respective cities.
Thirty-five representatives from six cities convened in Portland from Oct. 14-16 to discuss the Black Male Achievement and different strategies to better effect, the program’s four core areas of concern: education, employment, family stability, and ending the disproportionate representation of Black males in the criminal justice system.
As the conference came to a close, on the top floor of the Marriott hotel downtown, many participants commended the Portland conference for what they viewed as progressive work on the front of restorative justice.
Local Black Male Achievement organizer, C.J. Robbins cautioned that there is still much to be done in the city.
“There are [schools] that are struggling with implementing restorative justice with any kind of fidelity. There are organizations that just pay lip service. And as you go further out [in East County], you’ll see more of the hurting. It’s just like any other gentrified area, where people are being pushed out to an area where they are not welcomed,” Robbins said. “I just want to be honest about what Portland is facing.”
Mayor Charlie Hales, who interacted with the conference intermittently during the three days, agreed with Robbins adding that the City has underinvested in African Americans for decades.
Activist and author Eric Grimes, of the New York faction of Black Male Achievement, said there must be innovation in how Black lives are not only bettered from a policy level, but perception as well.
“The achievement gap is no different than police shootings. The only difference is the weapon,” Grimes said during his presentation. “There is no difference in the death of the mind -- that happens as a result of miseducation that manifests as the achievement gap -- than Amadou Diallo, Trayvon Martin, or Eric Garner.”
Grimes put forth a call to action: “Black male achievement has to happen in cities whether we are 4 percent of the population or 86 percent of the population and everything in between.”
Despite the relatively small Black populations in both Portland and the state of Oregon, conditions for African Americans tend to follow national statistics.
Grimes likened Oregon’s founding, as a state to exclude Blacks, to a mentality reflected in greater America.
“The moment you talk about Black male achievement in the context of a White utopia, which is what this nation was created to do, then we’re have a whole new conversation,” Grimes said. “Brand new conversation requires brand new ideas. It requires the elders, and the young. It requires the brothers and the sisters. It requires the rich, and the poor. It requires hip-hop and Jazz. And it might require to the extent that the consciousness is true and the intent is poor, Black and other.”
Nearly one-third Black Portlanders live in poverty. The graduation rate for African Americans is 60 to 75 percent, and statistics show a disproportionate rate of discipline and skewed discipline rates for Black pupils in Portland Public Schools. Incarceration African Americans are also disproportionately represented in Oregon’s corrections system.
The adoption of the Black Male Achievement program in Portland came in part as a response to a resolution passed by the 2013 US Conference of Mayors in Washington D.C., in which they stated every city should strive to promote achievement among black men and boys through both opportunity, policy, programs and strategies.
Locally, the program is helmed by a host of representatives who’ve been involved in Afro-centric civic work years for decades and different city and educational entities including, the Urban League, NAACP, Portland African American Leadership Forum, Self Enhancement Inc., Portland Police Bureau, The City of Portland and others.