At a community meeting Thursday night to find strategies that would help improve the lives of African-American men, some raw stories of the plight of black males emerged.
Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who passed legislation last year creating the task force to address issues affecting the African-American community, might well have been stunned by some of these stories.
What would he have told the woman who asked for help for her son who was sent to jail at age 16 and is expected to be released soon at the age of 47.
“What am I going to do?” she asked. “What is he going to do? Who can I turn to for help?”
One man who described himself as an ex-convict got a college education while in prison but cannot find employment, despite his desire to change his life.
“What do you feel is needed in your community, in line with the bill,” asked Dana Travis of the Department of Corrections.
Along with Curtis Thompson of the Illinois Deprtment of Transportation and Lee Carter of the local Department of Health and Human Services, Travis led the meeting which sought to get the views of the community and any solutions they may offer. It was hosted by the Rev. Tony Pierce of Heavens View Christian Fellowship.
Senate Bill 776 established the first statewide task force on the Condition of African-American Men in Illinois. At a series of forums, the community is encouraged to speak about incarceration and parole rates, high school and post secondary education, economic earnings and health.
Several of the audience of about 40 people in Peoria on Thursday night said it was necessary to create jobs for youth.
“We’re not talking about college degree jobs,” said Agbara Bryson, who teaches at Illinois Central College. “We need jobs for individuals who are ex-offenders, whether it be in construction or something else; some training with GED that leads to employment.”
Generally, African-American youth need mentoring, because of the lack of male role models in their family, some said.
Apathy is another major setback for the African-American community, said Herschel Hannah, associate superintendent of District 150.
The word “fatherhood” also is a big issue and the community needs to find a way to help the black men find their way toward discharging the duties of that role, he said.
“Those of us who have had some success, we run as far away as we can from the ‘hood instead of going back and helping out,” Hannah said.
Racial profiling still is prevalent said one pastor who said he was stopped three times this year by police.
The task force is a step toward assisting men in the African-American community get better access to the state services available. But as some pointed out, although there are many resources in existence, not enough people are aware of them or know how to access them.
The task force has to report its findings to the governor and the General Assembly by Dec. 1