In late January of this year, on the pages of The Philadelphia Inquirer, I advocated for a makeover at the Mayor’s Office of Black Male Engagement (OBME) due to what I believed were unremarkable outcomes.
Jack Drummond then had just exited as the Director of OBME and accompanying his departure was a pledge from the City that, in the future, the office would be more action-orientated and public facing.
Six months later, the city’s assurance proved true, prompting me to offer now a panegyric about the small and unassuming office on the ground level of City Hall.
Mr. Eric Westbrook now sits in the seat once occupied by Mr. Drummond.
And while both men were once personnel of Community College of Philadelphia’s Center for Male Engagement, they’re unalike in their approach to the role at OBME.
One of Drummond’s first priorities when taking the reins of the office in 2016 was to create a mentoring program between college students and the volunteers on the Mayor’s Commission on African-American Males (MCAAM), a permanent advisory body that functions within OBME, which also operate the local chapter of former U.S. President Barack Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative.
In contrast, Mr. Westbrook, who joined the office in April, is focused firstly on forming unique partnerships and introducing direct services to the often-overlooked neighborhoods in Philadelphia.
“We can’t keep meeting in safe spots … we got to get public and go where they are. We’ve got to be seen … our office has to be seen,” Mr. Westbrook told me last Thursday afternoon, during his first-ever media interview since joining the ranks of City Hall employees.
Next month, OBME will launch MBK Action Academy, an enrichment opportunity that will set-up in schools, churches and recreational centers near the gun violence hot-spots identified by Operation Pinpoint, a tech-heavy strategy employed by the Philadelphia Police Department which provides a more crystallized view of where crime occurs.
MBK Action Academy will pilot late next month in West Philadelphia and continue as a bi-monthly offering until next year.
Lowering gun violence is the desired outcome for MBK Action Academy, which is the brainchild of Mr. Westbrook but whose name is credited to his boss, Ms. Ajeenah Amir, Director for the Mayor’s Office of Public Engagement.
A former probation officer, Mr. Westbrook said he spoke with residents who told him that they don’t want any more talk, just action.
“Our young boys are dying. We deal with guys who were walking yesterday and we’re burying in a few days,” Mr. Westbrook recalled one local man saying to him.
The focus on engagement for Mr. Westbrook is, in part, a result of his faith and upbringing.
His father and grandfather were both pastors who, like the place of worship he currently attends, expressed a strong sentiment of operating beyond the four walls of the church.
In this case, the church is City Hall and Mr. Westbrook seeks to extend himself beyond the ornate dwellings of the more than 100-year-old Center City Philadelphia building in order to engage Black men and boys where they live.
Regarding MCAAM specifically, The Seattle-born Mr. Westbrook defines success in terms of the policy recommendations put forth by the commission and how often they’re adopted by Mayor Jim Kenney, who welcomed the father and husband to his administration with significantly less fanfare than Mr. Drummond.
“If you can change policy, then you’re not just changing what’s happening today, you’re changing what’s happening for the rest of time, even when people come behind us. So, it’s really important to me that MCAAM and OBME work together to get recommendations to Mayor Kenney, because that’s what we’re here for.”
Mr. Westbrook isn’t widely-known yet but that may change.
The public-facing agenda Mr. Westbrook is pursing, if executed correctly, will endear himself to the news media and his target audience, whose life expectancy is shorter than other demographic groups: 69.1 years, more than five years less than other men and 10 years less than women, according to Brotherly Love: Health of Black Men and Boys in Philadelphia, a report issued earlier this year by OBME.
So far, Mr. Westbrook is saying and doing the right things. But only time will tell whether he can fully actualize his aspirations.
I wish him God speed.
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Thanks for reading! Until next time, I’m Flood the Drummer® and I’m Drumming for Justice!™
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Photo courtesy of Mr. Eric Westbrook