Last month, the Open Society Foundations’ Campaign for Black Male Achievement, Root Cause, and PolicyLink formally launched the Leadership and Sustainability Institute for Black Male Achievement. The LSI is a national membership network that seeks to ensure the growth, sustainability, and impact of leaders and organizations across the public, private, and nonprofit sectors committed to improving the life outcomes of black men and boys through systemic change.
For many of us in the field of Black Male Achievement, the excitement and energy of this moment is a combination of personal and professional pride. This is the moment we’ve been waiting for.
Why Black Males?
I grew up in South Central Los Angeles where the reality of being black, and more specifically being a black male, was painfully obvious. As a youth, I was threatened by gangs; harassed by police; and discriminated against in stores and neighborhoods, where I was feared or not welcome. At the same time, my parents were going through a divorce that caused a split between my father and I that wasn’t reconciled until I became an adult. My views of black masculinity and society were contextualized by these experiences and the gangster rap culture of my time, the murder of Latasha Harlins, beating of Rodney King, and the Los Angeles Civil Unrest.
These factors and others informed my view of masculinity through adolescence and into adulthood. I was angry and disappointed in my parents, neighbors, and society writ large. My hope had been dimmed by my negative outlook and lack of faith in a future.
It wasn’t until I attended Xavier University of Louisiana, a historically black college in New Orleans, that I began to develop a sense of pride in who I was and promise for my future.
Unfortunately, too many black men and boys throughout our country share my experiences.
Black males have abysmal and extremely disproportionate outcomes for many of our country’s most negative demographic categories. We live shorter, sicker lives and are incarcerated and unemployed at higher rates. In the realm of education, the most reliable institution for catapulting upward mobility, black males are more likely to be put on the cradle to prison pipeline. Statistically we underachieve when compared to our female peers and counterparts from other races.
These facts about black male achievement seem almost counter-intuitive to the reality other Americans live. But when we look at the media and the history of how black males have been portrayed, it all makes sense. Negative portrayals of black males have been in existence as far back as D.W. Griffith’s 1915 film The Birth of a Nation.
Why a LSI?
The reality of the black male experience is a complex one. The work needed to realize a world in which black masculinity is valued and black boys and men have access to opportunity is part of America’s unfinished business and a key part of our nation’s racial equity movement. Focusing on black men and boys gives our society another opportunity to talk about and take action on issues that matter to black men and boys, their families, and their communities.
The Leadership and Sustainability Institute (LSI) for black male achievement was developed to support and cultivate leadership, improve the performance and sustainability of organizations working to enhance opportunity for black men and boys, and strengthen and connect the field of black male achievement. An all-inclusive effort, the LSI is a village-wide approach—across race, gender, sector, and socio-economic status—to address one of the most important challenges of our time. The institute brings the talent, voice, and wisdom of community, civic, philanthropic, private, and public sector leaders together to drive a national agenda in support of black men and boys.
Years of experience have proven that this work is challenging to sustain. Yet the country needs the skills and talents of everyone—including black men and boys—to contribute to the nation’s future. The LSI is a critical component of the infrastructure necessary to service the field and ensure that black male achievement is a consistent national priority.
As we begin to implement the work of the LSI, we’ll need the help of a broad set of stakeholders to achieve the society we want—one where all can participate and prosper. Join the LSI today to help us bring about this vision. To sign up, email us at: [email protected] or visit: www.leadershipandsustainabilityinstitute.com.