by Daniel Fairley II, Charlottesville Alliance for Black Male Achievement
The idea for the Charlottesville Alliance for Black Male Achievement began in 2012, when a group of community activists started meeting to strategize how to make Charlottesville a more supportive place for young black men and boys.
“We knew there were extra barriers stacked against the support of African American male excellence, so we agreed we needed to assist in changing the narrative,” said Quinton Harrell, one of the original organizers.
The group learned that the National League of Cities was offering 11 technical assistance grants to help cities identify and address ways they could begin to address those barriers in their own communities.
In their application, they wrote: “The history of race relations in Charlottesville is at the core of the problems faced by young black males. It is a story that probably can be told in small cities throughout the South and it is a story for which Charlottesville intends to change the ending.”
Young black men and boys, they reported, were overrepresented in arrests and detentions, school discipline, and academic struggle, and underrepresented in business ownership, city board and commission membership, and positive media representation.
In April 2013, the NLC announced that Charlottesville would receive one of the technical support grants, along with Chicago, Fort Wayne, Jacksonville, Louisville, Milwaukee, Oakland, Omaha, Orlando, Philadelphia, and Portland, Oregon.
Over the next year and a half, groups from the 11 cities participated in meetings and webinars and worked with NLC staff and Rashid Shabazz of the Open Society Foundation to develop concrete plans to address the needs they saw in their communities. They shared ideas and resources and encouraged each other in the work.
Each of the cities faced different challenges: in Chicago and Oakland, overwhelming numbers of young black men were dying in neighborhood violence. In Charlottesville and Portland, educational disparities and disproportionate criminal justice involvement meant that young black men were not getting the same opportunities as their white peers. But in all 11 cities, there was a need to target effective strategies to address challenges, and engage young black men in changing the narrative around what they were capable of.
The trainers emphasized the need to specifically target solutions at young black men and boys. “We looked at the data and found that race is the strongest predictor of one’s success in this country,” said Leon Andrews, now Director for Race, Equity and Leadership (REAL) at the NLC. “Knowing that, the black men and boys work requires taking a targeted approach to close the gaps. This targeted approach needs to go beyond identifying a new program but must focus on the system and policy changes.”
The Charlottesville Alliance convened a “Brothers All Call” in 2014 to generate participation from African American men in the community, and started affinity groups for young black boys (Young Lions) and young men (Circle of Brotherhood). The Steering Committee began to meet monthly, with City Councilor Wes Bellamy and then-City of Promise Director Sarad Davenport as its first co-chairs.
In 2015, they issued a report on their work to date, incorporating information about how black men and boys were doing in the areas of family, education, workforce, health, safety, and the justice system, along with what the Alliance had done to make improvements.
In 2016, the group convened about 30 local nonprofits and agencies to get their written commitments to improving outcomes for young black men and boys.
The Charlottesville Youth Council made a recommendation that City Council fund a staff position to support the Alliance’s work, and City Council created the position of Youth Opportunity Coordinator. In December 2017, the City hired Daniel Fairley, II for the position.
The Alliance Steering Committee has grown to include black educators, police officers, pastors, city leaders and representatives of several local nonprofits. They meet monthly, and continue to work to create opportunity for and visibility of black male success.
And their work is getting national attention: according to the 2017-18 national Black Male Achievement City Index, Charlottesville ranks 9th out of 50 ranked cities based on their level of engagement and commitment to address issues black males are facing.
In the next issue: How the Alliance for Black Male Achievement is moving the needle