Community Highlights

‚ÄčThis month we speak with Dr. Doreen Loury, Director of the Black Male Development Symposium and Professor of Sociology and Africana Studies at Arcadia University about the upcoming Black Male Development Symposium, Beyond the Bricks Project and parental involvement.

BTBP: Can you talk about how you got connected to Beyond the Bricks Project; you even recorded a video for us in Philadelphia.  Do you think that sense of community addressing the issues is still an important mechanism for change? 
DL: I think, it was through Open Society Institute.  OSI is one of our funders; they contacted Ouida and she called me. I wanted to make the Beyond the Bricks Town Hall a pre-symposium event but the symposium was cancelled because of construction the first time around. We ended up collaborating with the Community College of Philadelphia later and held a Beyond the Bricks event as a community event/town meeting.
In regards to the 2nd part of the question, I think the challenge is that the community has become afraid of these young men. One of the things I always talk about  is that  you can’t help and love anything that you're afraid of. We’re still in denial of what is going on with these young men.  Our young men have been mis-educated by the educational system, mis-handled by the social criminal justice system, mis-labeled by the mental health system and mis-treated by the social welfare system and they’ve become rejects of society. We as a community are not willing to open our arms and help them. We have to get together as a community and try to figure out what we can do to help them and for them to realize that we’re in their corner. We should walk down the street and not be afraid of them.
BTBP: On May 12, you'll be hosting the Black Male Development Symposium. How long have you been running this symposium? How did the symposium get started? What were the goals when you first started? Have those goals changed over time?
DL: This is the 7th one, it was part of a bigger national event under the guidance of Patrick Oliver and Haki Madhubutti. They came to me in 2004 and asked me to do it in Philadelphia; sadly, we're the only one that is still standing. We have between 1,000 through 1,100 people attend each year.
You know, I used to do this kind of conference for girls but around the time Patrick and Haki contacted me, I started seeing what was happening to my grandsons while walking down the street and the harm that they faced everyday. This made me become more focused on black males. I wanted to help these young men that were like my grandsons. It was providence... here was a chance for me to do something. I had to run with it.
Our overall goal has not changed. Our goal is to provide a safe forum; a place where we can have real conversation, not scientific pontification. Where we can talk about the challenges that African American males face and then come up with strategies and solutions to help them and the community at large.
BTBP: This month, we're talking about parental responsibility and involvement in their son’s success. Have parents been a big part in the black male development symposium? Are there any recurring themes or issues you hear from them?
DL: I'm a sociologist by trade, so I always make sure we get feedback after the symposium. Parents have been asking for more workshops that are more connected to them. This year we have a Parents Institute that will have workshops on homework help, special education, aggressive behavior and working with the school in coming up with a plan to help their child's behavior. We will also have workshops on what needs to be done in order to help a college bound person and how to be a better advocate for your child in school.
BTBP: Is there any advice you want to offer parents or can you recommend any resources they should be taking advantage of?
DL: I always tell parents, in their community there should be a YMCA or mentoring programs. They should look at fraternities or sororities for services they provide as well as a Concerned Black Men chapter in their city or town. They have to do some homework and they need to listen to their kids.
They need to be on Facebook and Twitter with their kids. If they're not on Facebook and Twitter they're missing out on half of their kid's life. We've allowed technology to become the parent, we need to be as engaged in technology as they are. We really need to listen to them, it's hard because the kids don't want to be bothered with it but we need to be persistent. We need to make sure that they're sharing information with us.
Also, children learn from other people's actions, so we have to be an example. You have to ask yourself, would your child want you as a friend? They're stuck with you as a parent.
BTBP: Is there anything else you'd like to let our readers know?
DL: I would love for them to come to the Black Male Development Symposium. We'll have over 50 workshops, a black film festival with all kinds of movies. There'll be a barbershop talk including attorneys, radio personalities and government officials.  We'll also have a health fair and literary pavilion with authors from all over the country. It's a full day but it's a great day.
Online registration has ended but there are limited walk-in spots available. Please call 215-572-8510 ahead of time. If you can't make it to the Symposium this month, there is yearly programming for you to take advantage of.
Thanks so much for taking the time out of your hectic schedule to speak with us Dr. Loury. We wish you much success with this year's Black Male Development Symposium.

The Partnership for Los Angeles Schools serves 17,000 students across 22 schools in some of LA's poorest communities. The Partnership sponsored a Los Angeles screening and discussion of Beyond the Bricks last August, and we are thrilled that their work continues around finding ways to support black male achievement. We recently had a chat with Stephanie Schmier, Coordinator of School Improvement and Ryan Smith, Senior Director of Family and Community Engagement, about a restorative justice and writing class that was launched at Gompers Middle School.

Gompers Middle School, located in South LA is about 65% Latino and 35% black. Unfortunately the school logged 500 student suspensions from September - December of this school year. Because of this, two teachers in the school decided to create "Collective Voices." Students are participating in a restorative justice process with a retired LAPD officer. They are writing and will be publishing their work in collaboration with Inside Out Writers, and are working with volunteers from the Loyola Law School. They also plan to screen Beyond the Bricks for the students and have them discuss ways in which they can work toward solutions in their school and community.

Below is our conversation.

BTBP: Can you describe the participants of this class?
PLAS: Many of these students are students who've had repeat suspensions. The administration of Gompers Middle School chose students that they thought had leadership potential but need to reflect on their behavior. The class meets for one period every day. In total there are 30 students participating in two sections. They come in, sit in a circle and are led through their activity by a teacher, formerly incarcerated person, mentor, writer or law enforcement official. The majority of the children in this program are African-American and split 50-50 boys and girls.

BTBP: Who are the teachers spearheading the program? What do you think the impact of Beyond the Bricks was?
PLAS: There are two teachers who started this program. One of the teachers has always been passionate about the achievement rates of minority students. This led her to Beyond the Bricks when there was a local screening. She has really embraced this social justice issue. Aside from "Collective Voices" she works on this issue with her church and other community organizations. The other teacher actually runs the suspension program and has a relationship with all of the students in the class. We thought it would be a good idea to have him involved so that these children can work with him in a non-punitive role.

BTBP: What does this program hope to achieve?
PLAS: We're hoping to see a decrease in suspensions for these students. We also want them to feel safe in school and class. One of the goals is to build trust and change their expectations; we want to help them navigate their lives in a different way. We want them to have self-efficacy and change any negative feelings they have about themselves. Students will assess their feelings and attitudes at the beginning and end of the program and we look forward to sharing that information with you.

Lastly, we are very aware that we also need to work with the teachers about how they work with students who disrupt class. We need to work on what they can do to shift behavior.

BTBP: Do you have any thoughts for educators in other cities and towns that may want to implement a similar class in their school?
PLAS: Find a way to get students who are leaders and trendsetters at the school. Find the students who are leading the trouble and help them transform so that they begin to lead the good behaviors. This is a life-skill that they'll need forever; the students should learn how their actions influence how people treat them. This is about self-awareness.

Thank you Stephanie and Ryan! We look forward to hearing more about Collective Voices in the future.