April 14, 2016

We recently sent our very own Rich Robinson, staff mentor at Summer Search New York City, to the Campaign for Black Male Achievement Bold Goal Planning Session, a national conversation focused on generating ideas for improving the life outcomes of black men and boys in America. Here is what Rich learned, in his own words.

On March 15 I arrived in Baltimore, Maryland to participate in a strategy session for the Campaign for Black Male Achievement (CBMA), a national network of nonprofits led by friend of Summer Search, Shawn Dove.

“Is your goal bold enough?” was both a proclamation and the guiding question posed to all the attendees. When Ron Walker, Executive Director of the Coalition of Schools Educating Boys of Color, challenged us with this question, I felt the weight of the gauntlet laid down before us.

Over the course of eight hours, I joined an awe-inspiring team of analysts, educators, and community activists from across the nation — a collection of visionaries driven to achieving equity for black males. Together we discussed the reality of the crisis facing black males in this country. #CBMABoldGoal

Rich-Claude-AskaPhoto: Rich Robinson (right) with Claude Aska (left) of the Campaign for Black Male Achievement.

The conversation would have been familiar to me if I had simply engaged in passionate theoretical discussions, reeling off sobering statistics that often leaves me (and everyone) feeling deflated and hopeless. The truth in this room, however, was the opposite.

Yes, we discussed lofty ideas and we disagreed about metrics and indicators, but at each and every moment, we were guided with intention and purpose to chart a course for an actionable plan that would effectively fulfill the promise of black males in the “right now” and the hereafter. Each discussion was underscored with the reality that if you are working to undo racism, but not working to eliminate discrimination, to decimate white supremacy — you are not actually working to achieve equity.

I left Baltimore reflecting on my individual and our collective efforts as Summer Search staff striving for equity for black males. For me it starts with hard questions:

Do I perpetuate a narrative that my students’ only option is to leave their communities in order to be successful, or do I guide them into seeing the value in where they come from, as well as the value in where they are headed?

Do I push my students to view their summer experiences as learning labs so as not to create a narrative of them being missions to play savior to the “downtrodden”?

Do I avoid difficult conversations of race, class, gender, sexuality or other societal inequalities because I don’t have all the answers, even if it means ushering my students into environments where they are unprepared when confronted by these realities?

Do I push students out of their comfort zones while remaining safely nestled in my own?

Rich-Working-Group-BoldGoalPhoto: Rich (upper left), with his discussion group.

I see my role and Summer Search’s role in this work as pivotal, and our responsibility as consecrated. We are entrusted with the social-emotional development of the future leaders of the country, and are offered the opportunity to be leaders in the field of social-emotional development.

Everyone agrees, social-emotional learning is important and necessary, but few know how to go about capturing or creating the magic. So here we are, with a chance to both join a chorus of those striving for equity and to solo with the reasoning for why character must be paired with capability in order develop responsible leaders.

Specificity, however, is needed. I left Baltimore knowing that you cannot create a more just and equitable society by accident, it can only be done with stated purpose intended to combat stated ills. Let us be clear in our message, let us be bold in our mission.

At Summer Search we are taking bold steps toward this shared goal by focusing on how we can improve experiences for our Latino and African-American boys.

Over the last three years, we have increased the number of young men of color served in our program by seven percent. We are committed to doing more to better serve these youths. For example, in December we launched a national Males of Color Initiative (with a contribution from AT&T) where we are developing enhanced practices and new partnerships designed to strengthen the outreach and support we provide these students and their families.

We are inspired by CBMA’s leadership and bold call to action – and we stand together with those working toward creating equity for all. Our hope is that by helping create more college-educated leaders who are males of color, they will have a bold impact with a ripple effect that chips away at the current inequities. Our commitment to ongoing learning and sharing will be driven by asking ourselves “are these goals bold enough?”

Learn more about the work going in to our Males of Color Initiative »

Read Summer Search Boston Executive Director Liz Marino’s op-ed about combating racism in schools »

Photos courtesy of CBMA.

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