As the nation braced to confront the fallout of a racially-charged grand jury decision in Missouri, two prominent figures in New Haven’s African-American community called on successful black males to take the lead on rebuilding.
The call came during a discussion at WYBC (94.3 FM)‘s studios. WYBC host Juan Castillo interviewed city cop Shafiq Abdussabur about an upcoming summit of local black males, and how it fits into the fallout from a grand jury’s decision about whether to indict a white police officer who on Aug. 9 shot to death a black 18-year-old named Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
Social-justice activists nationwide are planning protests against an anticipated decision not to prosecute the officer. Law enforcement agencies nationwide have been planning for potential unrest in the streets. In New Haven, Chief Dean Esserman has ordered top brass to be on call just in case this weekend, when the grand jury decision is expected to be announced. “I will not order riot gear. I will not order gas,” he said Thursday at a weekly police managers’ meeting at 1 Union Ave. “We will guard our cities. We will guard our oath to the Constitution,” including the people’s “right to protest.”
Meanwhile, Abdussabur, the immediate past present of the National Association of Black Law Enforcement Officials, and WYBC’s Castillo urged successful African-Americans—a group known in previous eras as “the Talented Tenth” —to focus instead on recruiting young people to strengthen the black community, on their own, as voters, as cops or lawyers or builders. Abdussabur called that a lesson of Ferguson, where African-Americans are a majority of the population but rarely vote, and therefore do not police the streets or make public decisions. (Click on the video to watch highlights of the conversation.)
“People have manned the streets for 100 days [to protest Brown’s death] and put a lot of energy into letting the world know what has been going on in Ferguson. Now,” Abdussabur said, “the black community needs to take that same amount of energy and put it into rebuilding black America. ... We cannot expect as a black community for everybody else to come and invest in our rebuilding. We have to rebuild ... ourselves.”
He made a pitch to a group that previous generations called the “Talented Tenth”—African-Americans who have realized professional success—to reach out to another group often overlooked in discussions about urban problems: The young men who haven’t landed in jail, but who may be slipping through the cracks.
That’s been the goal of a three-session “Black Man’s Think Tank” attended by dozens of successful New Haven African-American business and professional leaders. Participants have ranged from Yale Police Chief Ronnell Higgins and funeral service owner Howard K. Hill to homegrown businessmen Miguel Pittman and Yul Watley. (Click here to read more about the group and its plans, which have developed with support from the state’s African-American Affairs Commission.)
Abdussabur said the group aims to prepare a written “blueprint” from young men with detailed specific advice about how to pursue higher education or enter professional careers.
“What we’re trying to do is figure out what is going on with young men black men in American right now between the ages of 18 and 28 years old,” Abdussabur told Castillo and his WYBC listeners. “The ones who have finished high school, may be in college for two years, may have finished college—we find them just idling. They’re not police officers. They’re not corrections officers. They’re not applying to the post office. They’re not pursuing careers in real estate. ...
“Young black men between 18 and 28 really should be the ones that are thirsting for master’s degrees, the ones that are pursuing professional careers that would even inch up to a baseline of a six-figure salary. For some reason there seems to be a disconnect. ... People got to go school and get an education. People have to participate in the voting system. People have to look at becoming police officers and prosecutors and lawyers”
That call resonated with Castillo (pictured), who turned his life around after a troubled youth and became a parole officer.
“Parole officers, DOC [Department of Corrections] personnel, doctors, lawyers, prosecutors, we need that,” he said. “We need to grab our young men and young women to be a part of that in order for the disparity to change.”
Then he urged listeners to participate in the third and final session of the Black Man’s Think Tank. It takes place at Gateway Community College from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 6.