For the last four years, The Urban Congress on African American Males has been gathering to keep the conversation going about how we move things forward for black men and boys in Baton Rouge. Led by Raymond Jetson founder of MetroMorphosis the organization that convenes that Urban Congress, work groups have met over the past few years all over the city of Baton Rouge doing the hard work of data collection and partnership building. It is no secret that there are disparities in Baton Rouge. We discuss those issues at nauseam, but we don’t always come up with a plan to address the problems. That is the work that’s being attempted by the Urban Congress.
Let me be the first to say, that I am tired of pointless meetings. There are groups all over Baton Rouge that meet, and meet and meet. Yet little is done on the back end of the meetings. What I’ve seen from MetroMorphis first hand is they take the feedback from the community, and begin to build pathways to accomplish sustainable change. In the area of workforce development for instance they took a group of small business owners through a course and have began the process of connecting those business owners with opportunities to grow and expand their business. That’s taking meetings from conversation to tangible change.
I write this column because I think the value in what we see with the Urban Congress convening is their consistency. The months of meetings allowed data collection to take place. I live by the motto, “In God we trust, everybody else bring data” and so does the business world. Far too often we address the issues that we very well know exist without the data to support it. Which doesn’t give us strong footing when talking to executives about how these issues impact their ability to do business effectively in the market. Knowing that we have a high dropout rate for young black males is one thing. Understanding how we got there is what’s critical, and that has been the work of the Urban Congress. Identifying the systems and structures that prevent collective progress and forming plans for how we address the issues is critical work.
The mission and vision of the Urban Congress alone speak to the potential change we can make. The mission is to, “establish long term, systemic progress towards enriching the state of African American males in Baton Rouge.” Followed by the vision of a, “Baton Rouge where African-American males are valued by the community as integral assets and are productive, connected, healthy, and safe.”
This years convening featured Baton Rouge Mayor – President Sharon Weston Broome, and Governor John Bel Edwards as speakers. Mayor Broome has been a supporter from the beginning, but having Governor Edwards this year was a new and needed face. Gov. Edwards did what any politician does during an election year, which is talk of the work he’s done to address the issues of the constituency he’s talking to. However while listening to the governor speak, I realized he’s listening. I must be clear, that doesn’t mean he will overnight solve the issues facing black men and boys in our state, but the first part of creating change is having the needed conversations that lead to policy change. Change bubbles from the bottom up, and having the governor understand the need to address these issues is critical to being able to see policy changes happen from start to finish.
For some, the Urban Congress is another meeting. In my eyes, it’s a key part of how we change the future of our city and state. The consistency of the group Jetson has assembled gives me hope that as they begin the work of addressing the policy changes around education and continue to their work to help empower black men and boys economically — we will see change. The group has been up front and honest, that this is a seven to ten year plan. The slogan they have adopted “Moment or Movement” is fitting, because a moment doesn’t require consistency, movements that create change do. Consistency is the key.