On Saturday (Aug. 3), 200-plus African American men from throughout the Memphis region came together for the second time in as many weeks to address a variety of issues specifically relating to African American men.
Radio and television talk show host, Thaddeus Matthews, initially called the gathering. The response to that call was substantially larger and more diverse than most would have expected. Initially coined “The Black Men’s Summit,” the crowd included men from all walks of life. Minister Anthony Muhammad and The Nation of Islam’s Mosque #55 facilitated this second gathering. Local pastors, gang members, business owners and community activists all made their presence known and their voices heard.
Having participated in many political and social gatherings for many years, and having been active in a plethora of community affairs, I listened to these men with an experienced ear toward grassroots organization and a hope that this was not another one-time event that would soon fade into the abyss of egotism and self-promotion. I quickly became aware that this was not the normal fist pumping, over hyped rally that would end with no follow through.
Minister Muhammad opened the gathering with a well-developed audiovisual presentation on the meaning of “movement” and the need for a common goal and purpose. His presentation was followed by an open and substantive discussion from the attendees. The topics ranged from “reaching out to African American youth” to creating a network of men who would intervene and interact with African-American men recently released from regional penal institutions. The level of intellectual discussion was impressive and the promises of continued participation was overwhelming.
Recent national reports on the plight of the African American male certainly justify and under gird the need for such gatherings. The United States Justice Department reports that there is a 60 percent chance that an African-American male over the age of 24 will come into contact with the criminal justice system in one form or another. Similar reports indicate that there are 40 percent more African American men in prison than there are in colleges and universities. With such statistics as a backdrop, the presence of such a large group of men gathered together with a common purpose is nothing less than promising.
Local elected officials and traditional community leaders were noticeably absent from the gathering. One must wonder how such an event could occur in the heart of Memphis’s urban center, with so many men reaching out for answers, yet those persons elected to lead this community either chose not to attend, or were so disconnected from their constituency that they were not aware of the event. In either case, the absence of recognized leadership clearly makes this a grassroots effort.
Memphis has been saddled with extremely high rates of incidents of violent crimes, a juvenile justice system that is bursting at the seams, and an unemployment rate of over 10 percent. It is my belief that a grassroots movement geared toward community outreach by African American men is one particular remedy for these socioeconomic ills. When the common man decides to take charge of his community in such a positive manner, and begins to serve as the protector of his community and its youth, the mission of “saving our seed” is within reach.
I applaud the organizers of this event and those who have committed to keeping it going. There will be another meeting of these men next Saturday at Pursuit of God Christian Church, 3172 Signal Street, in the Frayser community. It is my hope that this third gathering of African American men will be as successful as the prior gatherings, and that the roots of this movement will take hold.
(Javier Michael Bailey Sr. is a former Memphis attorney and current CEO of Javier Bailey Capital Group, Inc. You can find him on Facebook and at javierbailey.com.)