See More of B.MORE: An Insider’s Look at the B.MORE Initiative
Interview by Caitlin Schnur, Policy and Research Assistant, National Transitional Jobs Network
Racial inequality is still painfully widespread—with the unemployment rate for black Americans at about double that of white Americans, more than one in five working age black men living in poverty, and more African-Americans on probation, parole, or in prison today than were slaves in 1850, our country needs to stop standing by and start standing up for black men. With support from the Open Society Foundations’ Campaign for Black Male Achievement (CBMA), the National Transitional Jobs Network (NTJN) B.MORE project is opening doors to employment and economic advancement for low-income black men across the country.
Earlier this year, NTJN brought on James Jones as the B.MORE Project Coordinator. James’ previous work experience involved community organizing, coalition building, and advocacy for residents of public housing in St. Louis, New Orleans, and Washington, D.C. While James loved working directly with constituents, he was drawn to the B.MORE Project because he knew it would give him a different lens through which to approach anti-poverty work.
In this interview, the NTJN’s Policy and Research Assistant, Caitlin Schnur, sat down with James to talk about the B.MORE Project’s current work, the importance of collaboration across related fields, and why he can’t get enough of E&L Barbeque in Jackson, Mississippi.
Caitlin: Hi James! You’ve been so busy that I’m glad we’re finally getting a chance to talk. Tell me about your work on the B.MORE Project so far. What have been the highlights?
James: The work we’ve done so far has been focused on relationship building and planting the seeds for our Community of Practice and placed-based work. Chris Warland, NTJN’s Program Quality and Technical Assistance Manager, and I have been working with leaders in the fields of employment, responsible fatherhood, child support, and criminal justice to develop a national community of practice and to form local working groups in six cities that the Campaign for Black Male Achievement (CBMA) has targeted for more intensive efforts. We’re targeting the cities of New Orleans, Jackson, Milwaukee, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Baltimore to grow place-based and integrated responses to supporting employment and jobs for low-income black men.
A highlight so far has been our cross-country travel to build up the Community of Practice. We’ve been to Jackson, Mississippi; New Orleans; Baltimore; Milwaukee; and, of course, Chicago. Every city has been a highlight! Jackson is home to my alma mater, Jackson State University, and there’s a really impressive set of stakeholders there, from the city administration to grassroots organizations, that are excited about the B.MORE project. I think it will make for great collaboration within the working group. New Orleans was also great! There are quite a few programs on-the-ground that are working to serve individuals with barriers to employment, and these programs have support from the city and the Parish. The city of New Orleans has a very rich history and personality. There is a lot of home-town pride within the city. You can sense that pride in the passion the citizens have about rebuilding and restoring their beloved city and connecting their workers with opportunities for employment and economic advancement.
Caitlin: What’s coming up next for the B.MORE Project?
James: In July, we’ll have our first conference call with the Community of Practice. So, that’s a pretty big deal! We’ll start developing our long-term agenda and set a plan for how the Community of Practice can work together to identify and promote promising practices that integrate the fields of employment and responsible fatherhood.
Caitlin: Why do you think it’s important for black male achievement that the employment, responsible fatherhood, and criminal justice fields collaborate?
James: This collaboration is important because there’s so much overlap among the populations served by these fields or involved in these systems. Black men face disproportionately high levels of unemployment and millions of working age black men live in poverty. Many of these men are also non-custodial fathers who, although they may want to be involved in their children’s lives, lack the financial resources to provide for them. Furthermore, one in every three black males born today can expect to go to prison at least once in his lifetime. That is one third of the black male population who will have an even harder time finding adequate employment! In order to ensure positive outcomes for these men and boys we must focus our energies on collaboration across the spectrum of employment, responsible fatherhood, and criminal justice fields.
Caitlin: In the next year, how will the B.MORE project advance the field of black male achievement?
James: Through the Community of Practice, the B.MORE project will create a dedicated space for peer learning and the sharing of ideas and best practices across the employment and responsible fatherhood fields. With the help of the Community of Practice, we are dedicated to producing and disseminating best practices resources to help programs create more and better opportunities for employment for low-income black men. We’ll be able to identify how employment services intersect with responsible fatherhood services and then we’ll be able to lift up and amplify the “bright spots”, or most promising collaborative practices, so that program administrators can learn about and implement these innovative ideas. What’s more, I think that the B.MORE Project will be able to draw from the Community of Practice to identify significant policy recommendations related to how to best combine workforce development with responsible fatherhood services.
Caitlin: How do you get stakeholders excited about the B.MORE project?
James: They’re already excited! I think one of the most attractive aspects of the B.MORE Project is that we’re discussing workforce development from a very knowledgeable point of view. It can be tricky to identify and implement effective employment options for individuals with barriers such as a criminal history or limited work experience, and I think that NTJN’s experience in advocating for populations with the most extreme barriers to employment is well-received by stakeholders.
Caitlin: How can organizations and advocates get involved in the B.MORE project?
James: It’s easy! Go to the NTJN’s website and subscribe to our newsletter so you can receive our resources and materials and updates. Follow us on Twitter or on Facebook, and tell us why black male achievement matters to you.
Caitlin: And finally, I have to ask…in June, you crisscrossed the country to start bringing together the Community of Practice. I know the NTJN team loves to sample regional delicacies, so what was your favorite on-the-road-food?
James: My favorite on-the-road food would have to be barbeque from E&L’s in Jackson, Mississippi. I fell in love with E&L’s as an undergraduate at Jackson State University. The first time I was introduced to the place, I could smell the barbeque in the air from blocks away; it reminded me of a family reunion cookout! Once I had the opportunity to sit down and eat, their secret family recipe sauce was like heaven on a slice of bread. I would recommend anyone in the Jackson Metro area stop by and get a whiff of that mesmerizing aroma.