With every passing day it seems the norm is to hear a local or national story about the death of a black man, young or old in America. Whether it be by the hands of the community or the hands of the police the numbers are growing at an alarming rate. Currently the leading cause of death for African-American men and boys, age 10-24, is homicide. More than 1,000 people have been shot in Chicago -- my hometown -- this year, and the majority of victims are African-American.
I sometimes find myself discouraged that the investment in black men and boys was pointless. Over the last three years however, I have experienced a paradigm shift in my thinking. It was in the late winter of 2014 in New Orleans that I got a glimpse into what the future holds.
This glimpse wasn't one of destruction, grieving parents on TV or hateful jargon from empowered trolls hiding behind a keyboard. The glimpse was one of hope, direction and most important, action. This action came in the form of a small group of mayors and city leaders willing to believe when others jumped ship.
This group of leaders from around the country came together for the first ever Cities United convening. Heading into this first convening, I was skeptical. In my mind I was walking into another room of suit and ties who talk a good game but don't do tangible work to improve the lives of black men in America.
To my surprise Cities United turned out to be the opposite. The convening heads put together what many others have left out, proclaiming a much-needed call to action. They also brought together people who are about making real change, whether it was millennial leaders from the ground in Philadelphia to mayors and city officials creating policy and safe havens from the board room.
Now with nearly 80 mayors on board who understand the value of the lives of black men and boys, Cities United plans to make a giant stamp on the city of Birmingham, AL, May 3-5, 2016, at their third convening. Not only are they addressing urgent issues that our cities face, they are also diving into the spaces that many dare not go, the root cause.
Cities United is taking a hands-on approach to figure out where violence in these communities stems from and ways to correct them that are unconventional in the age and times we live in. This is done by creating safe and healthy environments and through healing the open wounds that broken communities and broken people have experienced for entirely too long.
Now a national movement, Cities United is equipping cities with crucial tools and resources to build on and accelerate efforts to reduce violence and improve outcomes. They are proving that bringing mayors and city leaders together with youth, philanthropist and community leaders to put shared ideas and solutions into action is creating winning combination. The relationships that have been built from Cities United have broken intergenerational issues amongst leaders.
This is an all hands on deck movement and we are the change that we have been waiting to see. Cities United gives the opportunity for anyone to invest their time, talent or treasure in order to create a better life for black men and boys. So take the steps to get off the sidelines and put your gifts to use.
It won't be easy. Working to impact the lives of black men and boys can be draining and difficult. As a mentor to youth in Chicago, I know this firsthand.
Being around this national group of critical thinkers and doers has helped me stay focused and bring fresh ideas to my mentoring groups. Through the help of Cities United, I have been able to help my young men better themselves by equipping them mentally, emotionally and physically with a positive alternative to some of the negative lifestyles they have learned since childhood. I have seen a great change in some of my most challenging youth and I'm confident that this change can expand to include the lives of many more.
At a point where many have decided to throw in the towel, Cities United has stepped in and now you can, too. For the mayors who have already joined Cities United, I encourage you to add youth to your team and provide them with a platform to bring about real change in their communities. Our young men can't afford to wait.