There are few institutions that have contributed more to African-American advancement in Louisiana and New Orleans, and both Dillard University and St. Augustine High School are rising to a new challenge: an epidemic of violence among black young men.
The two schools will host a Black Male Summit on Dillard’s campus next week and take on the huge hurdle to the success of black males in New Orleans.
“Black men have had a complex history with not only law enforcement, but each other,” Dillard President Walter Kimbrough said, and he is exactly correct. For all the tragedies involving such high-profile cases as Trayvon Martin in Florida and Mike Brown in Missouri, the cases of young men assaulting each other vastly eclipse in number the conflicts with law enforcement.
The case of a young immigrant gunned down in Baton Rouge this week, apparently because of an alleged theft of a cellphone by an 18-year-old black male suspect, brings into high relief the complexities in our increasingly diverse society.
The summit at Dillard will bring together New Orleans leadership, including Mayor Mitch Landrieu, to talk about the problems that have dogged our city and state. Police and corrections leadership will be there. That’s vital because law enforcement must be part of the solution and not — because of the cases that so often get the headlines, such as those of Martin and Brown — a cause of more friction on the streets of the city, and cities just like it across America.
It’s also important that the richness of possibility in young black men be on the agenda, for the summit and for the future.
The sheer economic potential of engaging young people has been a part of the history of Dillard and St. Augustine. Behind the shocking numbers of a 2013 Loyola University study about unemployment among black men in New Orleans is a pool of untapped potential.
That report, based on Census Bureau data, showed that gaps in education were driving big numbers; half of working-age African American men in New Orleans were unemployed in 2011.
It’s not an accident that the percentage of black men in New Orleans with an associate’s degree or higher essentially has stagnated at just 15 percent since 1980, leaving the city’s black population at a severe disadvantage as jobs shift away from sectors like manufacturing and transportation to professional services like finance.
Individual tragedies are on the Dillard agenda, but the wresting of a better future from this untapped pool of potential is surely vital to the future of our city and state.