I feel honored to have been invited to moderate a panel at an important summit of young people, educators, geeks, activists, artists, nonprofit professionals and foundation executives titled: “Black Male: Re-imagined”.
My panel on Wed called “Old School Organizing Meets New Media” with my friend James Rucker from Color of Change plus Rashad Robinson of GLAAD, Cheo Tyehimba of Forward Ever Media and Kevin Weston of New America Media. Today some famous folks like George Soros, Spike Lee, Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest, dream hampton, Geoffrey Canada, Warrington Hudlin and Maria Hinojosa are stopping by. The conference started Monday with a bang; TheGrio was there:
Close your eyes and think of a physician, judge, or family man. If the image in your mind’s eye is not of a black man, it’s no coincidence. Even in 2010, in the so-called “Age of Obama,” mainstream media still miserably fails to offer diverse portraits of African-American life, especially when it comes to black men.
On December 6th in Harlem, several so-called “media influencers” and others will gather at “Black Male: Re-Imagined,” a town hall and national summit to address the negative perceptions and associations of black men and boys in American society. The summit, hosted by the Open Society Institute, will include a conversation with panelists such as hip hop mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs, playwright Anna Deavere Smith, actor Nick Cannon, Rev. “Run” Simons and others.
What are the new iconic possibilities beyond the rapper, athlete, or gangsta personas that pervade both traditional and online media? What role can public figures play in transforming and challenging the misperceptions of black youth and our own self-image?
Questions like these seem to pop up almost perennially at black male conferences around the country these days, and there are never a shortage of answers: confront rampant media bias, develop new, empowering cultural archetypes for black males to aspire to (i.e. the college nerd instead of the rapper), challenge Hollywood to recruit more black writers and directors, and so on.
But in my estimation, none of these potential solutions will ever be sustainable without one thing: youth voices. For it is the voice and transformative vision of young brothers all across America who, despite crumbling schools, poor neighborhoods, and an ever-widening “achievement gap” wake up everyday and do the unexpected: they succeed.
To me, there’s never been a better time or frankly a more urgent time to re-boot how people in the U.S. think about African-American men and how they see themselves. We have incredible ambassadors across the spectrum now at the top of their game whether it’s science, tech, education, film, music, government, sports, medicine, business, finance, literature, you name it. Yet more black men and boys seem at risk than ever, despite the psychological impact of the first black president and especially given the economic & educational backslide happening in the African-American community. On top of that, most whites according to the data we’re being presented here don’t want to see themselves as racist, even as we still see ambivalence, denial and antagonism both on a human level of day-to-day discrimination and on a national level with the Tea Party backlash. We must promote positive images of African-American men in American culture but it also makes a difference to show how much in common whites, blacks and indeed all Americans actually have. You may want to check out a book called The Black Image in the White Mind or one called The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation, which talks about the truths American people, including white swing voters, do and don’t hear. Because I’m all about making sure that we all really hear each other — it’s the only way that positive change will actually happen.
I’m proud to be a part of this effort and I promise to keep you posted…
In the meantime, I want to hear what you think — how can we as a nation begin to re-imagine Black Men and what’s at stake if we don’t start now? People are interested to know that you and the JJP fam are thinking and recommending…The Black Male is not gonna get re-imagined overnight and it ain’t gonna happen without you.
Cheryl Contee aka "Jill Tubman", Baratunde Thurston aka "Jack Turner", rikyrah, Leutisha Stills aka "The Christian Progressive Liberal", B-Serious, Casey Gane-McCalla, Jonathan Pitts-Wiley aka "Marcus Toussaint," Fredric Mitchell
Special Contributors: James Rucker, Rinku Sen, Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, Adam Luna, Kamala Harris
Technical Contributor: Brandon Sheats