HomeGrown STL Summit Aims to Better Lives for Black Males in St. Louis

Faculty; Research; Social Work

The HomeGrown STL Inaugural Summit, held February 9, 2017 at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis, drew about 120 passionate locals committed to improving the lives of black boys and young men in St. Louis City and County.

Sean Joe, the Benjamin E. Youngdahl Professor of Social Development at the Brown School, leads the HomeGrown STL initiative and organized the summit, Examining the State of Opportunity for Black Boys and Young Men in St. Louis City and St. Louis County. He outlined the barriers facing young black males, with consequences including higher mortality rates, higher unemployment, and lifelong lower wages. He emphasized the economic and moral benefits of improving the well-being of black men, stressing the importance of a strong community effort.

“We will be able to do something as a region that no other region has been able to do, and that’s to close the economic disparity gaps between one segment of the population and another. How powerful would that be?” Joe said. “We’re talking about changing the experiences of 60,000 individuals.”

HomeGrown STL, based at the Brown School’s Center for Social Development (CSD), is a group of researchers, providers, funders and advocates working to strengthen and support the health and development of black boys and young men in the St. Louis area. Focusing on data-driven evidence and community collaboration, participants seek to boost the ability of black boys and men ages 12 to 29 to attain a better quality of life than their parents over the next decade.

A collaborating network of resources and support was a theme throughout the day. The panel “Black Boys and Young Men Speak Out” featured a high school junior at Hazelwood East, a history teacher at St. Louis University High, a young father with college aspirations and a college graduate who works with LGBTQ young people of color. They discussed their experiences with organizations in the HomeGrown STL network and what they had gained: positive role models, leadership opportunities, problem-solving skills, and educational aspirations and tools to achieve them.

When asked what they feared most, each named failing and disappointing others. “It’s not by chance we all fear failure,” said Darius Rucker, 25, representing the nonprofit Williams and Associates, Inc. Black boys are too often expected to assume the responsibilities of men without receiving the time and support for the transition, he said. The panelists stressed the deficit in opportunities for black males in St. Louis and the positive impact that more educational, professional and leadership opportunities could have.

In the afternoon, summit participants broke into eight working groups to concentrate on health and well-being, housing and homelessness, school to work/living wage and financial capability, civic engagement and participation, public safety/corrections/justice, faith and philanthropy, parenting and family, and East St. Louis (to explore the feasibility of a collective-impact strategy for black males in that city).  Afterward, facilitators reported to the whole meeting.

Allison LaMont, director of expansion and implementation support at Parents as Teachers, said the summit made her realize “the extent to which our community resources are siloed: We are all doing separate work and not sharing our resources and knowledge to work together to touch more families.”

Since 2015, HomeGrown STL has held quarterly networking breakfasts at the Brown School, and today more than 90 organizations are members of the group. Going forward, HomeGrown STL will hold an annual summit to, among other things, measure progress.

“Know that we are committed to finding the resources to work with each and every program and organization over the next 10 years,” Joe said in remarks about next steps. “This is a rare opportunity. There is real work to be done.”

CSD has gathered a full event recap, including links to presentation videos, as well as information on how to get involved with HomeGrown STL.