A new community coalition will be hosting its first conference Saturday in an effort to focus attention on the issues facing black men in Columbia.
Nathan Stephens, spokesman for The Black Men United Coalition, said the meeting, The State of Black Men in Columbia, will address the sense of discrimination he feels is pervasive in the community.
Resolving that problem would be a big step forward for the entire city not just the black community, he said.
Also on the agenda at the conference are discussions of health problems faced by black males, the lack of religious participation in the area and the role of hip-hop music.
The coalition and the conference began taking shape after a November event sponsored by Delta Sigma Theta, a black sorority at MU. The meeting centered on black males and their role in the family and community.
Chauncey Spears, a panelist at the sorority event, pulled together his Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity brothers and other groups afterward to begin putting the ideas he heard there into action. The coalition has been meeting weekly since March to plan Saturday’s event, which is timed to coincide with Father’s Day weekend.
The Black Men United Coalition is composed of members from existing groups such as the First Ward Ambassadors, Minority Men’s Network and the Frederick Douglass Coalition. It is hosting the conference from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at the Armory Sports and Activity Center, 701 E. Ash St..
“We felt that individual groups trying to do things individually were not getting enough accomplished. We decided to address issues from a unified front,” said Stephens, who also works as a mentor for young black men.
The Black Men United Coalition will meet monthly to monitor the progress of issues vital to black men and the black community, Stephens said, adding they’re trying to “keep it very grassroots; everyone’s going to have a voice.”
Stephens said he expects at least 250 participants. While passing out leaflets promoting the conference at Douglass Park, Stephens said he felt the attitude among black men there was, “‘I have something to say, and I’m glad that a unified group has come together to address the issues.’”
Racial profiling and minority students’ lagging test scores are two other topics the conference will address.
The group said it hopes to form concrete strategies that yield solutions for these and other problems faced by the community.
“We’re going to create a political watchdog group,” Stephens said.
He said the group plans to set goals and follow up by issuing a report card that will assess the quality of the efforts made by the Columbia Public School District and police.
Cultural matters will also be on the table. Spears said the coalition wants to “grasp (hip-hop’s) creative energy and cultivate it, make it productive.” At the same time, he said, controversial elements of the hip-hop lyrics and music videos such as misogyny, hedonism and violence also need attention.
The keynote speaker will be Spencer Holland, founder and executive director for Project 2000 Inc., a not-for-profit organization based in Washington, D.C., that provides mentoring to young African-American males.
“One of the major problems with the African-American community is the undereducation of its boys,” Holland said.
A priority for Holland is the encouragement of men in the African American community to become involved with children.
The conference won’t just be for men though, Stephens said.”
“Historically, women like Wynna Faye Elbert, Sarabelle Jackson and (First Ward Councilwoman) Almeta Crayton have held down the fort in the black community because men have not stepped up en masse,” Stephens said. “Therefore the role of the women in this conference is to offer their support by attending and bringing with them their teenage sons, husbands, fathers, brothers and other males. We would like our women to take heart and know that black men are stepping up.”
Columbia’s conference is seeking to emulate similar meetings that have been held in Baltimore, Philadelphia and St. Louis.
“Black men coming across class lines, professional lines and religious lines is something that hasn’t come along in Columbia for a long time,” Spears said. “For me, it’s very exciting.”
- 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. — Registration
- 10 to 11 a.m. — Keynote speech by Spencer Holland, founder and executive director of Project 2000 Inc.
- 11 a.m. to noon — Educational Achievement Gap: Preschool to Grad School; Black Men’s Health Issues
- Noon to 1 p.m. — lunch
- 1 to 2 p.m. — Criminal Justice System Issues; Adam Where Are You: Why Black Men Don’t Go to Church?
- 2 to 3 p.m. — Hip-Hop: Reality or Romanticism?; Economic Empowerment: Finances in the Black and Gettin’ Paid
- 3 to 4 p.m. — Freedom to Fatherhood
- 4 to 5 p.m. — Hollerin’ at Young Playaz: A talk with young men in Columbia
- 5 to 5:30 p.m. — Black Men United Coalition’s commitment to Columbia