By Christopher D. Brown
Photo by Christopher D. Brown
The plight of the African American male was the theme of the mayoral candidate forum held on Sept. 28 at Dillard University’s Georges Auditorium. Mayoral candidates who attended the forum included: former civil district court judge, Michael Bagneris, District “B” City councilmember, LaToya Cantrell; former municipal court judge, Desiree Charbonnet, businessman, Troy Henry; and accountant, Tommie Vassel.
Jonathan Wilson, president of 100 Black Men of Metro New Orleans Inc. moderated the forum. Wilson’s questions directed the candidates to respond to issues affecting black males such as high unemployment, barriers to education, crime rates and mass incarceration.
According to data collected by the U.S. Department of Education, only 54 percent of African Americans graduate from high school, compared to more than three quarters of white and Asian students. The data goes on to show that high crime rate and low employment are results of poor education. The mayoral candidates said they agreed that the value of education must be taught at a young age.
“We have to get in there early,” Vassel said. “Second, third, fourth grade … to teach these kids the importance of education. Seventh grade is when these kids begin to drop out,” Vassel added.
Businessman Troy Henry said he felt that times are changing. Without an education, young men can only earn a minimum wage, not a living wage, which limits their options, he told the audience.
“If you drop out of high school today there is a high chance you will do something dishonest, immoral or illegal,” Henry said.
About 44 percent of working-age black men in New Orleans were unemployed last year, according to a City Hall analysis of census data. All of the candidates acknowledged the work of organizations in New Orleans such as Boys To Men and 100 Black Men that work to change the prospects for black men in this city.
There was consensus among candidates Charbonnet, Cantrell and Vassel that the city needed to dedicate more resources to programs that help children and families. “Right now we spend about 63 percent of the city’s budget on public safety,” Vassel said. “We only spend about 3 percent on families and children,” he added. Spending that money on education, he believes, is a key to solve the crime problem.
Bagneris told the audience he believed in education but wants to address the city’s crime problem first. By hiring 300 new police officers, increasing their wages, making it a more desirable job, Bagneris said these measures will lead the way to better opportunities for young black men in the city.
Charbonnet said she feels that more officers could lead to more arrests and the imprisonment of more black men. She wants police officers to play a more positive role in the community, showing young black men they are there to help, not just to make arrests. She explained that one of the reasons that she gave up her position as a judge and decided to run for mayor is because she was so disheartened by the number of black men who appeared before her on criminal matters as a judge.
“A young man told me, I love my city but I feel like it doesn’t love me back,” Charbonnet said.
“Giving these young black men an education, employment, and a sense of community can only improve on past efforts.