As I picked up my registration packet at this year’s "A Gathering of Leaders" conference in Oakland, CA, I couldn’t help but laugh when I glanced down at my name tag. “Ricky Hurtado, Institute for Black Male Achievement Intern, PolicyLink” it read. It felt a little strange to be with my new PolicyLink co-workers, preparing for a week’s worth of energizing and challenging dialogue around the work supporting boys and men of color across the country, in a familiar space that initially nurtured my understanding and dedication to this work. After all, I once sat on the other side of the registration table as a staff member at Frontline Solutions, the host of the conference.
Despite still learning the ropes at PolicyLink, I was warmly greeted by advocates and leaders in the field from across the country. A few of my colleagues asked, “How do you know all of these people already?” I explained that from the beginning, A Gathering of Leaders was created as an intentional space to learn and grow as a community dedicated to justice and equity, particularly around issues facing men and boys of color. Building a movement for impact has meant cultivating relationships across sectors, issues, and geographic distance—regardless of whether you are a young emerging leader or a seasoned veteran in this work. It’s only appropriate that I met Marc Philpart, Associate Director and leader of the Black Male Achievement team at PolicyLink (and now my boss), at last year’s convening.
"A Gathering of Leaders" has become the premier venue for leaders in the boys and men of color field. The call to action by President Obama to act on these issues in the form of My Brother’s Keeper meant that there was an especially significant energy in the air leading up to this year’s gathering. Listening tours, salon and working sessions, and place-based delegation debriefs allowed participants to connect, debate, and strategize around the opportunities and challenges facing young men and boys of color across the nation.
Scanning and listening to the voices in the room throughout these sessions quickly revealed the diversity represented this year. DREAMers shared their work with The Dream Defenders; API community organizers brainstormed ideas with Echoing Green Black Male Achievement Fellows; and community and foundation leaders discussed how to leverage existing federal resources with White House representatives from a variety of educational initiatives. The conference even featured a prominent social media buzz that had #AGoL2014 trending locally in the Bay Area. Clearly, this once intimate, nascent gathering has grown into a mainstream, national conversation.
Tensions in the Field
However, not every session was meant to pat each other on the back and congratulate each other on the victories in the field. Several conversations demanded genuine critique of the work being done and honest debate of the long road ahead. Several plenaries highlighted the fact that there is room for debate in the identity of this movement and underscored the tensions evident in our communities, particularly around the framing of masculinity and support for women of color, the inclusion of young Latino, Native, API, and LGBTQ groups, and engagement with faith-based institutions that may view the moral imperative of this work in a different light.
My Brother’s Keeper
This year’s gathering closed, appropriately, with a chronology of My Brother’s Keeper to date and an opportunity to engage with key representatives involved with the development of the federal initiative. Throughout this Q&A session, many of the themes from this week emerged again. Mainly, how do we ensure that My Brother’s Keeper, and the greater boys and men of color field, also work towards equitable outcomes for young women of color and communities of color? Similarly, how do we ensure that this work is sustainable and builds a society that guarantees an equitable future for communities of color?
The panelists left us with many difficult questions to answer beyond this week. One panelist closed for the audience by stating, “A lot of the concern expressed this week boils down to mistrust. Do you trust that your struggle is my struggle? Are we in this together?” I walked away feeling that working towards this trust will ensure our work continues to evolve and pushes toward transformative change that allows us to be the keepers of all of our brothers—and sisters.