If a black boy is born in the US today, he will have a 33 percent chance of going to prison in his lifetime. Stated another way -- one in three black boys born today will face prison time. It has become a sad normality, almost a backwards rite of passage, for black young men to enter the penal system and never return to our communities. And if we are "lucky" enough for them to return, they usually are much hardened criminals than they ever were before. Black men represent 8 percent of the population of the United States but comprise 3 percent of all college undergrads, 48 percent of inmates in prison and are five times more likely to die from HIV/AIDS than white men. 50 percent of black boys do not finish high school, 72 percent of black male dropouts in their 20s are unemployed and 60 percent of black male dropouts are eventually incarcerated.
To respond to this deepening crisis, the Open Society Foundation founded by George Soros developed a grant-making fund to improve black males' life outcomes. This fund is called the Campaign for Black Male Achievement (CBMA). While CBMA has had great success in building initiatives around fatherhood and family, education, living wage, and other areas, the campaign recognizes it needs to invest more in strategic communications to promote positive messages and frames about black men and boys. CMBA and the Knight Foundation are partnering with the American Values Institute (AVI), founded by Alexis McGill Johnson, to create a conversation on December 7 and 8 called "Black Male: Re-Imagined," to explore opportunities to invest in art, culture, and communications to change the negative perceptions of black men. The questions guiding this conversation are: If we could create a campaign or set of campaigns that would change the way we look at black males over time, what would that look like? What is "Black Male: Re-Imagined"? "Black Male: Re-Imagined" is a two-day, invitation-only, closed-door, summit of 60 of the most thoughtful and creative media influencers, foundation executives, and the organizations they fund. We are gathering together to consider what kind of real financial investment can be made to influence media and culture to change perceptions about black males. We are honored to take part in this. Our goals will be to: 1) discuss campaign strategies to "rebrand and re-imagine" black men. 2) explain the business models of various communications methods so that foundations can invest wisely. 3) Develop a working group to continue the conversation.
We have built brands our whole lives, that is what we do. It is time we reinvent the brand of the black male and stop the cradle-to-prison pipeline and replace it with a world that is much more hopeful and optimistic for young black men. For no child should ever think that they have a one in three chance of going to prison. There has to be another choice on the test.
Co-authored with Andre Harrell. Andre Harrell is founder of the record label, Uptown Records, who signed Mary J. Blige, Heavy D amongst many others. Harrell also served as president/CEO of Motown Records.