In the past few years, much of America has woken to a fact that African-American men and boys have known all along. All too often in our great nation, the promise of safe, healthy, and hopeful communities is not being realized for African-American men and boys.
The need to do something about that fact is urgent and must be addressed now. Recently, an important step in that direction took place in Birmingham, Alabama, where Cities United convened its third annual meeting. Cities United is a network of mayors from more than eighty-five cities who are committed to working together to develop innovative solutions and programs aimed at reducing violence and increasing opportunities for black men and boys across the country.
Using Martin Luther King, Jr.'s memorable phrase "The Fierce Urgency of Now" as its theme, the meeting brought together mayors, law enforcement officials, youth, relatives of victims, and community and philanthropic leaders to discuss ways to reduce violence in our communities and highlight promising approaches aimed at improving outcomes for African-American men and boys.
We know, all too well, that the leading cause of death for African-American men and boys between the ages of 10 and 24 is not accident or illness, but homicide. In fact, black males suffer homicide rates more than four times the rate of all other men and boys in the United States. And although African Americans comprise about 13 percent of the American population, they make up, by some estimates, more than 37 percent of the prison population.
These troubling statistics are the result of longstanding inequities, deeply entrenched poverty, and a failure to value and invest in black men and boys as contributing, productive members of society.
As leaders of cities and foundations, we know that government, business, communities, and the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors are key stakeholders in the success of this work and that we all have an important role to play in making all of our communities vibrant places of opportunity for African-American men and boys.
Cities United works to address the root causes of violence and build pathways to greater justice, employment, education, and increased opportunity in cities across the country. It also equips cities with the tools and resources they need to build on — and accelerate — efforts to reduce violence and improve outcomes for African-American men and boys. Doing so strengthens communities, cities, and our nation as a whole.
Ten foundations attended the Cities United convening, reflecting a growing and important philanthropic partnership. Together with the public, business, and nonprofit and community sectors, philanthropy can play an important role in this work by becoming involved and targeting resources, leadership, and influence to the neighborhoods where our most vulnerable citizens live.
Working together, we can scale what works. Working together, we can encourage other cities to join the Cities United network and forge innovative partnerships and approaches that make a positive difference in the lives of African-American men and boys. Working together, we can help ensure that black men and boys do not face hopeless futures predetermined by their ZIP code, but instead see a future filled with opportunities that enable them to reach their full potential.
Black men and boys are critical to the long-term health and success of our families and communities. It is time we came together, as a nation and across sectors, to increase opportunities for them and invest in their hopes and dreams.
Dr. William C. Bell is president and CEO of Casey Family Programs. Clarence Anthony is CEO and executive director of the National League of Cities. Mayor William A. Bell, Sr. serves the City of Birmingham, Alabama.