Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake called for a community dialogue on reducing African-American homicides and increasing the number of mentors available to young Black males in Baltimore City. “My goal is to convene community leaders and experts and let us all work together to discuss what’s working, what we need to improve, and hopefully have a conversation about new ideas and approaches that will be helpful,” Rawlings-Blake said during a March 16 press conference at City Hall.

The conversation the mayor referenced will begin Tuesday, March 24 at the Rev. Dr. Jamal Bryant’s Empowerment Temple. The forum’s speakers include Bryant; Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts; Councilman Brandon Scott (D-2nd Council District); Selwyn Ray, senior vice president of community engagement for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Chesapeake; and Munir Bahar, founder of COR Community and the 300 Men March Movement.

The mayor also announced that the city will be recruiting men to serve as mentors, tutors, and job training coaches in order to connect them with existing organizations looking for additional help. “We want to have some large conversations and some small ones at homes and community meetings all throughout Baltimore’s neighborhoods,” said Rawlings-Blake. “Individually, none of us have all the answers, but I believe that, working together, we can make a real difference in our community. This issue is too important for us to fall short.”

During the press conference, the mayor avoided references to ‘Black on Black crime’ contained in her mention of this effort during last week’s State of the City address. Rawlings-Blake received some criticism for characterizing the problem of violence in Baltimore in those terms, with some arguing that language blames Black people and ignores broader, structural issues that contribute to or drive violence.

Batts, joining the mayor at the press conference, said, “There are over disrespect. When you don’t have a lot to hold onto in the world, and those little things are taken away from you, you hold onto them tight and it results in violence. And I think those outcries, or those acts of violence are outcries of pain, and there’s pain in different parts of our community, so how we address that becomes critical.”

Scott also spoke at the press conference, directly addressing criticism of the mayor, saying, “We know there are lots of other issues, of course. I’m a young Black man in America, I know that racism still exists. I know that every day when I wake up I have to be 10 times better than my White counterparts in the same age group. But, with that being said, it doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive. We can work on both issues, and this issue is just as important as the other.”

Speaking to reporters after the announcement, Scott said part of the reason mentorship initiatives geared towards Black males are so important is because structural racism has made Whites the principal and problematic source of depictions of Black masculinity for many Black youth. “What we have to realize, and this is something that folks don’t like to talk about – especially with these young Black men – the images of Black men in America have not changed since Birth of a Nation, right?” said Scott. “And Black men aren’t in control of those images. Folks believe that Black folks are in charge of Hip Hop, but they’re not. Folks believe that Blacks are in charge of the images that they see on TV or hear on radio but they’re not. And the question has to be asked, why is it that those images haven’t changed, they’ve just been modified? . . . It’s the same image just redone overtime and systematically it keeps the belief to these young Black men, they grow up thinking that that’s all they can be.”

The Mayor’s forum begins at 6 p.m. March 24 at Empowerment Temple, 4217 Primrose Ave., Baltimore, Md.