S.T. Roach Community Conversations - Rebuilding The Block - A Celebration of Black Male Excellence

Date: Saturday, December 10, 2011 - 11:00am - 1:30pm
Location: The Lyric Theater

By Colleen Glenn

The semester may be winding down, but an important community series at the Lyric is just heating up. “Rebuilding the Block,” the S.T. Roach Community Conversations, kicks off Saturday, December 10th. 

The second annual series is a collaborative project created by UK’s African American and Africana Studies Program in partnership with the Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center. Faculty members from across the University of Kentucky are involved in the project.
“The idea is to broaden access to university professors beyond the campus,” says Frank X Walker, Professor of African American and Africana Studies and Creative Writing. “We wanted to do something at the Lyric that interfaced with the community.”
The 2011-2012 series focuses broadly on rebuilding the African American community and specifically on black male development, with a variety of lectures and discussions designed to present a holistic view of the subject.
Discussing the origin of this year’s theme, Walker explains that he and his colleagues noticed a near absence of positive news about black men in the local media.
“With the recent shooting spree in the Lexington area, the headlines that dominate the press have been generally negative. Even the potentially neutral area of sports had a lot of negative news at the beginning of the semester,” says Walker. “There are a lot of black men doing good things that are not often acknowledged publicly.”
Led by Walker, “A Celebration of Black Male Excellence” marks the beginning of the community talks and will salute individuals and organizations in central Kentucky who are involved in mentoring and developing boys, helping to create responsible and disciplined men.
“Most of the men I’ve talked to have never been honored for this kind of work, but they do it anyway,” says Walker. “Outside of the Boy Scouts, the assumption might be that there are very few programs designed to develop young African American men into healthy, mature adults, but that’s not true. I’ve been pleased with the number of groups that are committed to raising GPAs, test scores, attitudes…They’re investing in and developing young men and not just in an athletic way. But only the sports pages seem to celebrate black men.”
The December 10th celebration will also recognize young men of excellence, who are, as Walker describes, “taking care of business,” and young men of promise, who show potential and may need a little more encouragement. 
Recreating the African idea of concentric circles, the men who attend the celebration will sit in age groups. For example, the warrior class (ages 20-40), the leadership class (ages 40-60), and the sage class (60+). 
“The group not mentioned is the men under 20, and those men are the future,” Walker explains. “Even though they belong to different churches and different schools, they’re part of the same community. I am hopeful that a sense of responsibility to other people and to the larger community will come out of that.”
The overall idea of the series is to foster a sense of community.
“Other than the Roots and Heritage festival, there are very few opportunities for African Americans to be in the same place at the same time in Lexington community. Because of that, I believe there’s a real sense of isolation. So we thought, what if we filled up an auditorium with black men who represent excellence? Doctors, lawyers, policemen, businessmen, teachers, principals…And put in front of them a group of young men who aren’t quite there yet, and let them see potential images of themselves in 5, 10, 15, 20 years.  We believe that will have a positive effect. It’s easier to achieve something if you can see a tangible model right in front of you.”
Key to Walker’s goal for the celebration of black men is that the honorees are not athletes, but working men of every strata of central Kentucky. “To be in a room where that many black men are together and it’s not for anything connected to sports might be the first time that has ever happened in Lexington.”
“Rebuilding the Block” runs from December to June, and each session focuses on a different segment of black male development. For example, in February, UK professor Lynda Brown Wright will lead a session on the mental health consequences of racial oppression and its impact on black manhood, while in March, Professor Jai Gilliam will discuss health concerns specific to black men.
The series will also include talks from Professors Vershawn Young and Arnold Farr on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s hope for black manhood and Jakobi Williams on the Black Power Movement. In May, legal scholar Melynda J. Price will moderate a panel discussion between police officers and young black men.
"A program dedicated to the 'Celebration of Black Male Excellence' is an acknowledgement that is long overdue," says Yetta Young, Executive Director of the Lyric Theater. "The Lyric is proud to partner with the University of Kentucky’s AAAS Department in the efforts to reach the community as a whole, with such a grand gesture to show our appreciation of those, on both large and small platforms, who have committed their time and attention to molding the next generation into honorable citizens." 
The conversations will conclude with a Father’s Day weekend presentation, celebrating the Man of the Year as well as recognizing significant achievements of black men throughout the Lexington community.
“We want to look at the whole person,” says Walker. “Hopefully, we’ll encourage people to come back to each session, so that by June we’ll all have a model to develop a whole person. Ending on Father’s day weekend feels whole somehow.”
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