By Catherine Pugh,
Special to the AFRO
Though Martin Luther King Jr.’s life was cut short by an assassin’s bullet, his work is continued through organizations and leaders across the world that have taken up his cause.
The Mayor’s Office of African American Male Engagement (MOAAME), under the leadership of Dr. Andrey Bundley, has developed several partnerships in the Baltimore community to make change. It follows the mission: “To facilitate positive and constructive engagement that moves African American males to their excellence—Awareness. Access. Accountability.” One of those partnerships is with the organization We Our Us.
Andrew “Captain” Muhammad, executive director of We Our Us, founded the group, which he speaks of as a movement, in 2019, along with Dr. Bundley.
“I believed that what the city needed was an organization that is committed to being in the streets in various parts of the city,” he said, adding, “and were not only able to identify problems but gained the confidence of the community to mediate conflicts without involving the police and keep them from escalating to more death in our streets.”
The message, as described on the We Our Us website, states that the movement is a shared vision of men from Baltimore and the vicinity, who focus on consistent and collective action to strategically assist people, especially boys and young men, in obtaining resources to help guide them to productive pathways and move their goals forward from a unified energy.
In addition to building programmatic practices, the goals are: to serve as connectors in order to guide boys and men to appropriate resources; to serve as protectors by mobilizing young men and boys to embrace prominent roles in communities as models of positive and constructive behavior; to serve as mediators by addressing and helping reconcile conflicts between individuals; to serve as messengers by describing the work of the movement in the community and through various media outlets.
“We have a ‘Stop the Beef Hotline.’ It is one of the efforts we are proud of because when someone calls, we respond,” Muhummad said.
When they first started out, he said, they did not record the mediation sessions or the dangerous activity they were able to stave off. This year, however, they are keeping numerical records of all their activities, so as not to compromise the integrity of their efforts or the confidence of the community. No names and addresses are collected. Areas of altercations shall be noted.
“Collecting data is important. It is a way we get to measure our success and progress. We know that what we are doing is crucial. We just want to do more, and we invite the community or anyone who is interested in our efforts to join us,” said Muhammad.
He explained they also engage the families of those who are involved in the conflicts. This helps develop a support system along with the services they provide to guide them to productive pathways.
“When I see some of those people we’ve helped to get a job, steer into a career, push to go back to school—they say, ‘thank you.’ They too believe had we not intervened they could have ended up dead in our streets,” said Muhammad. “By being out here, we gain the confidence of our community that we can help them engage in more positive behavior. I’m reminded of what Dr. Bundley shares with us often, it appears on website: ‘What you do most, you will do best—good or bad.’ We believe that if we are focused on change and solutions, many of the problems our city faces, especially crime, can be dissipated.”
A diverse group of faith-based individuals of all races and backgrounds making a difference
Every Monday at 6 p.m., and Saturday at noon, and once a month on Thursday at 6 p.m., We Our Us walks in neighborhoods around the city. The group has grown, starting out with around 20 guys, and now Muhammad said, they easily number 100 or more. During the walks they often set up resource booths that include drug treatment, food distribution, job resources and training, and homeless and social services.
Muhammad said it’s important that their movement looks beyond the crime issues facing the city.
“We believe we have been contributors to reducing crime especially in the West Baltimore community but that is not all we do. We have developed strong partners in the city. We are not just a Black organization—we are a diverse group of faith-based individuals of all races and backgrounds who believe we can make a difference.”
Partners of We Our Us include Amazon, North America Trade Schools, Baltimore Hotels including the Marriott and Sheraton, Johns Hopkins and University of Maryland Hospitals, Downtown restaurants, Gaudenzia, New Life Recovery, and Baltimore City, especially the Office of Employment and Development (MOED).
“We have faith leaders working in various capacities throughout the city like Pastor Meekins. Marvin M. McKenstry and Dr. Bundley are examples of individuals who walk the streets with us and have been tremendous advocates for We Our Us,” Muhammad told the AFRO. “I am proud of the work we have done thus far led by our Board Chair and Vice Chair Antoine Burton and Bishop Kevin Elliott. We are looking for more partnerships because our male mentoring program needs additional resources. We are planning an afterschool youth league for 12 to 18 years’ old.”
“Our leagues will provide youth who are not on school teams with activities after school that will allow them to still be competitive across the city. We believe this is crucial because the city and the school systems have the facilities, and we should make use of them to ensure we are meeting the needs of our children,” said Muhammad. “All the leagues will have a programmatic component with mentors that assist participants in achieving their educational and careers goals.”
Aside from helping youth, We Our Us also works with adults.
“We encounter a lot of adults on our streets who want to move from mediocrity to opportunity. We believe that We Our Us can help them,” said Muhammad, adding that he would like to create an entrepreneurial training and funded program.
Muhummad said he is excited about the goals We Our Us have established for 2023. They have a full agenda ahead of them, evidenced by the calendar that appears on their website.
“We will continue our Martin Luther King Jr. parade down Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard as we did in previous years,” he said. “We marched even doing COVID-19.”
They ask people to join them on January 16, on the corners of Eutaw Street and Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard. The parade will begin at 12 noon.
On January 20 at 7 p.m. at Patterson High School they will host a Life and Healing Free Concert featuring local and national artists. “We have many activities planned to include our Salute to Black Men in June. All of them will be listed on our website,” Muhammad said.
Significantly, Muhammad noted: “We embrace Governor Wes Moore’s Slogan, ‘Leave No One Behind.’ Our work is aimed at leaving no child in Baltimore behind. We are connectors, protectors, mediators, and messengers, as we say on our website. The earlier and more often we reach our youth, the greater their chances are for success. We believe in Baltimore.”
For further information on We Our Us go to their website www.weourusmovement,org, or follow them on Facebook at WE OUR US and twitter WeOurUS2.
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