Wednesday, 22 June 2011

The dawning of a new approach - Black Men In the Community

The dawning of a new approach [1.5217391304348]

On a rainy Saturday morning I attended the Black Men In the Community Conference wondering what would be the focus of such an event and whether they could avoid the trap of yet another long discussion on the problems faced by black men with very little focus on practicable solutions. It's refreshing for me to attend events at which I have the opportunity to sit back relax and reflect.

The conference took place in a lovely church and 350 people attended the event. Organized by Paul Lawrence and Tony Harrison of the Life Skills Training Consultancy the event was extremely well managed and ran on time.

Reflecting the degree of general concern within black communities the event was standing room only. The debate focused on the empowerment of black men in a society where racism, poverty and disadvantage act as barriers to success.

I did not get the complete overarching narrative that I had hoped for. There was very little in the way of broad context setting and no real discussion on the impact of the economic downturn on communities or any detailed economic analysis of the situation faced by black men. None of that was really evident although one of the speakers Bishop Wayne Malcolm hit the nail on the head when he urged that ” If the man wont give you a job then create a job of your own”. For me the conference, despite the lack of clear political narrative. nevertheless was an overwhelming success.

Despite this I have to say I was very impressed by the all the speakers who referenced their contributions with power point slides quoting everyone from Malcolm X to Henry Highland Garnet
The presentations were excellent and on point all emphasized the need for collective action on the issues of the day and expressed a determination to work together to address the challenges faced by black men.

Matilda McCattram from the Black Mental Health UK gave a powerful tour de force of the issues facing black people within the field of mental health. Her presentation was one of the best I have seen in recent times. Concise to the point, packed full of information and a clear political agenda for change.

Bishop Wayne Malcolm was irrepressible and his dynamic presentation of his convictions and core beliefs was a joy to behold. The Bishop offered simple solutions of “do for self “ variety and personally challenged the audience to develop economic opportunity as means of addressing the serious challenges we face. He repeated the mantra that we need to move beyond rhetoric and adopt a paradigm shift ensuring we unlock the latent black entrepreneurship in the community.

Katherine Birbalsingh probably one of the most high profile speakers tapped into the audience concerns about the parlous state of some state schools and the miseducation of black children. Her delivery was crisp, she executed the delivery extremely well and the audience for the most part loved what she had to say about the necessity of parental responsibility and the need for a school that catered for the needs of black boys.

Sonia Brown was a revelation speaking directly to the brothers in the house she laid down a serious challenge for conscious black men to “ reclaim your mind, reclaim your dignity and your place in family”

Ray Lewis, Boris Johnson’s right hand man gave what has to be said a typical Boris type performance. He is a master communicator and effectively set out the challenges facing black men in a way that was both engaging and entertaining. His comments showed great insight , were erudite and very funny.

Viv Ahmun gave the conference clear direction outlining his belief about the necessity of building strong communities by ensuring that we work together to maximize economic opportunity and provide real leadership to our young people. He introduced Levi Blake a fabulous young man who had left the ‘road’ to change his life around and appealed for adults to positively support young people by providing them with more examples and opportunities of economic and political success.

Principally one of the core objectives focused on pulling together national consortium’s of organizations and individuals that will bid for public sector contracts. The rationale was that only by encouraging economic independence can the issues under discussion be sustainably addressed.

Announcing the formation of the “Black Men in the Community Group” the organizers want to champion collaborative working and promote the importance of ensuring communities play a key part in developing and delivering their own services. In short, the entrepreneurship of black communities, black organisations and black individuals, is central to the group’s collective vision of a healthier and safer environment for future generations.

Going forward the group hopes to provide a link between the commercial sector, third sector, grass roots organisations and large third sector providers. It further aims to play a leading role in enabling black communities to develop the hard and soft skills needed to successfully operate as a business collective.

Finally, it aims to challenge unemployment amongst black men by highlighting the key pitfalls for any entrepreneur and by encouraging fresh approaches to training and education within the family and community.

All in all a brilliant day. I thoroughly enjoyed the conference and will be supporting the work of this important group going forward. Working in unity across party political boundaries is a real necessity and I have to say that the conference did much to dispel my concerns about being a black Tory event. What I found were people committed to the cause of raising up black men and in that regard these issues are too important to be caught in the cross fire of party politics. I will be supporting the work of the group going forward I hope you will too.

Lee Jasper

(First published at OBV - Operation Black Vote: the home of black politics)