A mayoral commission tackles crises facing city’s Black males

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

There are many questions about Black male achievement that the Mayor’s Commission on African American Males wants to answer.

Among them: Are there curriculum changes that can improve high school graduation rates of Black males in Philadelphia? How could the city’s educational system better prepare them for the workforce? Do Black males – and males in general – learn differently from females, and how might differences be addressed?

The commission, a 38-member volunteer group, convened its first meeting November 1 to begin exploring these issues.

First formed under former Mayor W. Wilson Goode Sr. in 1991, the commission was re-established in September under an executive order signed by Mayor Nutter.

Goode is one of three commission co-chairs, along with Bilal Qayyum, president of the Father’s Day Rally Committee, and Jamar "Izzo" Izzard, radio personality for 107.9 FM.

The entire commission plans to meet quarterly, but members will serve on committees – education, health, criminal justice, economic development, and communication – that convene monthly.

Qayyum says the group will discuss challenges among Black males in a number of areas such as unemployment and incarceration, but will make education one of its top priorities, with an eye toward increasing graduation rates.

"I think the dropout rate is what it is because of techniques in teaching males," Qayyum said.

He said the committee needs to address not only whether the curriculum is preparing male students to graduate, but also whether it is "preparing children for 5, 10, 15 years down the line after school."

Starting in 2012, the commission will issue annual reports with recommendations for improvement. The proposals will be based on community input, most likely solicited through public hearings to be held next year, Qayyum said.

Acting Superintendent Leroy Nunery said he is hopeful the commission can make a difference, adding, "We need to keep watching the results [and see] what has happened three years after the [first] report."