Re-established four years ago today, The Mayor’s Commission on African-American Males has no major accomplishment to tout but has received a pledge from the democratic nominee for Mayor of Philadelphia to extend the executive order and in City Council is a bill that could lead to its permanency.
Four years ago today, it was quite the emotional moment for Mr. Bilal Qayyum, a lifelong Philadelphian, and two-time Philadelphia City Council candidate who now describes his life’s work as a movement for liberation.
It was September 15th, 2011, and Mr. Quyyam, wearing a pinstripe suit, was standing at the podium in the Mayor’s Reception Room in City Hall. Behind him were two men, one of them was the Mayor of Philadelphia, Mr. Michael A. Nutter.
Mr. Nutter was preparing to sign an executive order to re-establish the Mayor’s Commission on African-American men, which was originally created by Rev. W. Wilson Goode, Sr., the first black mayor of Philadelphia. Rev. Goode was in attendance, too, and was equally emotional.
Mr. Qayyum, who was among those individuals that inspired the formation of the commission thirty years ago, thanked Mr. Nutter, for it was he, unlike the two Mayor’s before him, who found value in having what Rev. Goode called an “apparatus to intentionally deal with the African-African issues.”
Rev. Goode – appointed that a day a co-chairman along with Mr. Qayyum and Mr. Jamar Izzard, then an on-air radio personality – also thanked Mr. Nutter, saying humorously, “If the Mayor didn’t voluntarily appoint me, I would’ve begged to join.”
That day, right after the press conference, I caught up with Mr. Nutter in the hallway outside his office for an exclusive interview.
Mr. Nutter told me the commission would focus on, among many things, education, as that’s what helps people move up the economic ladder.
Everyone that day was quite proud of themselves, but today, four years later, the celebratory climate around the commission has diminished quite a bit, and the successes that the body of black men can tout are, as Mr. Qayyum admits, few in numbers.
“Did we increase the number of black men working in government?,” Mr. Qayyum asked rhetorically. “No,” he answered.”
There “weren’t major successes,” said Mr. Qayyum, because of organizational issues and because the commission wasn’t endowed with finances, something he’s hoping will change with the incoming mayor, who he believes will be Mr. Jim Kenney, a former At-large City Councilman of more than twenty years.
“I believe very strongly that Kenney will support the commission on African-American males,” said Mr. Qayyum.
An email response from the Kenney Campaign said,“he would extend the executive order.”
Mr. Qayyum said that on the road to making the commission a permanent piece of government with a budget, it has to go before the public through a ballot initiative, and having the executive order extended would be the underwriting needed to give the request clout and legs to walk through City Council.
In June, said Mr. Qayyum, before City Council recessed for the summer, 4th District Philadelphia City Councilman, Mr. Curtis Jones, introduced a bill that would start the journey, and the next stop is a public hearing.
Without major accomplishments to leverage before the public to elicit a yes vote, Mr. Qayyum’s strategy appears to be to lift up the grassroot, micro interactions with communities that have influenced the policy recommendations unveiled at City Hall in February of 2014.
In the listening sessions throughout the City, organized by the commission, the most frequently talked about issue is increasing the number of blacks engaged in the tech industry, said Mr. Qayyum.
Solutions on that topic have been wide-ranging, including a black tech incubator housed at a neighborhood school, he said.
All of the community-driven ideas, presented in the past or yet to be birthed, will undoubtedly need financial resources to accomplish, which won’t be likely with the current Administration, which Mr. Qayyum gives an “A” for its overall work to make Philadelphia more marketable, but a “D” in terms of creating a pipeline for resources to flow into the (black) community.
Mr. Qayyum said Mr. Nutter and his Administration have done a good job in organizing government, but didn’t replicate that rigor in “addressing the black community.”
“He could’ve been more aggressive in addressing the needs of the black community,” said Mr. Qayyum, “we’re almost two cities, one for the haves, the other for have nots”
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