By Nicole S. Daniel
The Birmingham Times
Jefferson County District Attorney Danny Carr stood before a group of nearly 100 Black men on Saturday at the first annual Birmingham Black Male Summit and “spoke from the heart,” he said.
“To be in this room with a bunch of African American men, and there are no police lights flashing, there’s no one walking in with shackles on their feet with their hands behind their back, there’s nobody name on the pavement, brains blown out, family over there crying, police around trying to find out who did it, just a bunch of Black men trying to figure out what we can do to make a difference … this is monumental,” he said. “But let a shooting happen. Every news station should be here, not because I’m here but because we are here,” Carr said.
The DA was the keynote speaker which drew nearly 100 men to the Hilton Hotel in downtown Birmingham and included Mayor Randall Woodfin, Calvin Littlejohn, President, and Co-Founder of CareerLIFE; community leaders, educators and activists.
“I watch and read the news every single morning and [often] a young brother in our community [Birmingham] passes away,” said Darrell Forte, co-founder of Birmingham Black Male Summit, who hosts the “He Talks” podcast. “Nine times out of ten they’re probably under the age of 25. That should bother you,” he told the attendees.
“My pastor said if you hear death about a young person and a tear does not come out of your eye then you need to question your faith or whatever your beliefs are.”
Forte and Dr. Brandon Brown, co-founder of the Summit and founder of The Leadership One Stop, said the gathering was designed to help Black men navigate the obstacles they face.
Brown said he was “very pleased by the turnout”, but wants even more young adults to participate in upcoming programs.
“It is our hope to reach people and tap them on the shoulders or go to different churches or organizations … we understand there are individuals who are underserved and who are underrepresented … [and we want them to] see what we’re doing, see what we’re trying to do” get more involved.”
Forte and Brown also host Black Male Meet Ups once a month at different Black-owned establishments. Forte encouraged the attendees to spread the word. “If you don’t know anybody here, get to know them, their organizations, and what their affiliations are and find a way to support and help each other.
“We started this in July 2022 and we started with two people,” he said. “Now we have about 25 men every single month. We would love to have you all out not just for this summit but, I hope you get to join us on a monthly basis. We provide a safe space for Black men to engage,” he said.
Support For Young Men
Woodfin said a number of programs are being put in place to help Black males and stem violence that don’t often get the attention of the crime reports.
For example, Page Pals, a reading program designed to produce more effective third grade readers inside and outside the classroom, financial literacy, conflict resolution, mental health, “are some of the high level things we are doing to support our young men,” the mayor said.
Woodfin said the city has also invested in mental health, conflict resolution, financial literacy, and initiatives around reading in recreational centers “but if we don’t do something on the front line for these young boys while they are still locked up [they could] go back to the same thing that got them in the in first place, my belief is we won’t be able to put a dent in all the things we are seeing, and don’t like seeing, in our community.”
The city’s RESTORE Program in collaboration with Jefferson County, Family Court and others, is for young people who have gone through Alabama’s juvenile detention system, he said.
RESTORE is designed to help young people stay out of trouble and part of a broader multi-sector collaboration to focus on root causes of violence in order to enhance the continuance of care to better address prevention and re-entry.
“This program is new,” Woodfin said. “The city of Birmingham has committed close to [$250,000] towards the program and other partners are putting resources in it as well. The whole notion is, those young men who are locked up will be provided wrap around services so that when they exit out [of the criminal justice system] they won’t have to go back,” Woodfin said.
During his keynote address, Carr pointed to a “Reset Jefferson County” program in his office that could help steer low level offenders in the right direction. Instead of appearing to court, offenders attend a weekend program for four hours at no cost. If they complete the program the case is dismissed and expunged as if it never happened. “That is a true restorative justice,” he said.
Carr also said that being a district attorney is not an easy job because “it’s a job that requires you to hold people accountable and most of the time its people that looks like us.”
About six years ago, he was asked by some young Black ladies and men, “how do you live with yourself?” His response: “if you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re probably on the menu.”
The afternoon session was held for young men ages 11-17 and the program was geared towards the next generation of Black male leaders.