The result of last week’s long-awaited presidential election has each of us reflecting on our collective futures. As national and local leaders, we are considering how to both protect and build on the progress we have made to expand opportunity for our communities over the past eight years, and enlist all corners of our community to tackle the persistent challenges we still face.
One of those challenges is creating safe, healthy and hopeful communities for all of us, including our young Black men and boys. President-elect Donald Trump made so-called “law and order” a central focus of his campaign and named “fix[ing] our inner cities” as a top priority in his acceptance speech. We know, however, in order to truly succeed, we must redefine what public safety means for our communities, particularly the communities nationwide that are home to our young Black men and boys.
At Cities United, we are focused on working with mayors and leaders city by city across the country to cut the violence that affects our young Black men and boys in half by the year 2025. We are dedicated to transforming outcomes for our African-American men and boys because we know they are critical assets to our families, communities, cities and our country. We must lift up the most vulnerable to create safe, healthy and hopeful communities for all.
We are clear that real public safety means an all-hands-on-deck approach that doesn’t only rely on law and order to make our communities safer. We recognize that opportunity, education, jobs, health, community building and hope are required for all our young people to be safe and succeed in life. With the partnership of mayors and city leaders across the country, we are coming together to make real and lasting change possible.
The past few years have seen unprecedented attention given to improve life outcomes for young Americans, including boys and men of color—from the national outcry over the murder of Trayvon Martin to the birth of the movement for Black lives after Michael Brown’s death, to numerous national initiatives created by government, business and philanthropy to change the odds for young people of color across our nation.
We have been heartened by these initiatives because they intersect with Cities United’s efforts to bring stakeholders from across our communities together to tackle the root causes of violence against African-American men and boys. And we know there is more work to do.
The leading cause of death for African-American men and boys, age 10-24, is homicide. We experience homicides at more than four times the rate of all other men and boys in the U.S. Black male high school dropouts are 38 times more likely to be incarcerated than their peers with a four-year degree. One in three young African-American men will serve time in prison, if current trends continue.
These numbers point to the need to do even more to make real change. But there is a story about our young people that goes beyond the numbers. Political will and sustained investment aren’t all we need—we need to believe in our young people, too.
We must start by lifting up the leadership of our young people who are intimately familiar with the challenges as well as what’s working to overcome them. We need to join that leadership with initiatives put forward by mayors, city leaders, police departments and community advocates to mobilize entire communities to create opportunity and change the odds for our young Black men.
In Philadelphia, youth engagement initiatives like PowerCorpsPHL and Philadelphia Urban Creators provide opportunities for leadership, social connection and jobs to young people of color, including our young Black men, who have been involved with the justice system or have experienced other barriers to success.
These initiatives recognize that offering hope alongside real opportunity in the form of jobs and training is invaluable. By focusing on re-connecting young people to food, farming and the environment, PowerCorpsPHL and Philadelphia Urban Creators also provide a safe, healthy space for youth to reimagine their futures and explore their potential.
These efforts are part of a sustainable violence reduction strategy because they recognize real public safety starts with believing in our young people and making available the tools they need to overcome longstanding obstacles to education and jobs.
We challenge the next administration to build on the community-oriented efforts of the past several years and continue to support initiatives that make sure our young Black men and boys are able to be full and active participants in all our communities.
To achieve our vision, we must also center on healing—healing our communities that have been wracked by violence, as well as healing our communities that have been divided by the long and challenging election season.
It will take all of us together to bring about our collective vision of safe, healthy and hopeful communities for all.
Anthony D. Smith is executive director of Cities United. Stanley Morgan is a Cities United Young Leader in Philadelphia. Cities United is a national movement of nearly 90 mayors across the country who are successfully leading the way to uplift young Black men and boys. The group equips cities with crucial tools and resources to build on and accelerate efforts to reduce violence and improve outcomes for young Black men and boys.