African-American males are nearly seven times more likely to be incarcerated than white males, according to the National Urban League.
Across the nation, one of four African-American males between the ages of 20-64 did not work in 2003, according to some studies.The problems facing black males nationwide and in Illinois are overwhelming.
Is there a solution? The state wants to give it a shot.“The most difficult part of this is that some of the issues we’re addressing are systemic problems,” said Terence Mitchell, who is coordinating the statewide task force tackling the issues.
The task force, which held its final town hall meeting last week, will deliver its recommendations for improving the lives of African-American men to Gov. Rod Blagojevich by Dec. 31.Large crowds, some as large as 400, showed up at the seven town hall meetings held around the state starting last month. The forums were open to the public and encouraged youth, parents and others to voice their concerns on issues such as high incarceration rates for African-American males.
Anwar Daniels, 24, who grew up in Englewood and attended the town hall at the University of Illinois at Chicago last week, said black males are under enormous pressure in this country.“I got the flyer for this [town hall] and I was here in a flash,” Daniels said. “The education problems, jail population is just too big to ignore for [African-American males].”
Some in attendance who were previously skeptical about forums that discuss issues impacting African-Americans, say this task force is different, because of the state mandates.
“Through my own fact-finding, I feel the state is actually being held accountable,” said Dr. David Stovall, associate professor at UIC. “The [task force] needs to lay out, ‘here’s what we can do...’ as opposed to giving lip service.”
The state legislation that created the task force set five specific mandates:
Vincent Stokes, who works for the state’s Department of Human Rights said the task force’s town hall approach was a positive step.
- to determine the causal factors for the conditions of African-American men
- to inventory state programs and initiatives that serve to improve the condition of African-American men
- to identify gaps in services to African-American men
- to develop strategies to reduce duplication of services
- to maximize coordination between state agencies, providers, and educational institutions, including developing benchmarks to measure progress
“That’s where the need is right now, involving our youth,” said Stokes, who tutors high schools students in math at his church, Trinity United Church of Christ. “Addressing the issues here, at town halls, is fine, but we need to address these issues at other places like church or work.”
Once the task force presents its report at the end of year, the real work begins.“Maybe [progress] means a decrease in school expulsions by ‘x’ percent, or funding after-school initiatives that some schools have requested,” Stovall said. “[The task force] won’t prove itself different until they actually roll out some outcomes and put forth an action plan.”