Expanding Opportunity for Black Boys & Young Men in Orlando, FL
Over the past several months, PolicyLink, in partnership with the National League of Cities, has supported 11 cities to develop and implement strategies to promote black male achievement (BMA). As part of that work, last week I traveled to Central Florida to help the City of Orlando launch a bold, new initiative focused on expanding opportunity for black boys and young men.
The work was more than important, for me it was personal. I grew up in Orlando. As a young black man, I remember being suspended from school for subjective reasons; being told I shouldn’t apply to competitive colleges because they were ‘out of my league,’ seeing police cars pass me by, then turn and follow me home. I also remember seeing the great work the City of Orlando initiated to address these challenges, leveraging the City’s Department of Families, Parks and Recreation to build the Parramore Kidz Zone – a cradle-to-career pipeline of support for children living in Orlando’s poorest neighborhood.
With this in mind, Leon Andrews, Program Director at the National League of Cities, and I spent three days in Orlando meeting with the City’s BMA action team, the Mayor’s Cabinet, school district administrators, agency leads, community partners and black male youth to discuss how they can work together to promote black male achievement with solutions such as banning the ‘box’, diversifying hiring, recruiting black male mentors, and reforming school discipline policies. Our visit culminated in a Black Male Youth Summit, where over 50 black male youth — ages 14-24 from across the City — attended to voice their concerns and offer solutions directly to local elected officials and leaders at the school district, police department, and other City departments. Several youth elected to form the nation’s first Black Male Youth Advisory Committee, supported by the City, to inform the City’s BMA strategy and to take the lead in implementing their own solutions, including organizing a police/youth basketball game and developing a youth-led system of documenting and reporting police misconduct directly to the Chief of Police.
While just the beginning, Orlando has embarked on a journey that will undoubtedly impact the lives of young black men in the City and provide solutions for the broader field of black male achievement. I’m honored to have the opportunity to continue supporting that work.