Earlier this week, I shared the first part of my conversation with Tracey Wallace, founder of Black Men Against Violence. He formed the group shortly after the shooting death of 19-year-old Justin Murray in late November. Since then, he and his group have held several meetings, and now he’s trying to put some of the group’s ideas into practice.
Click here to read the first part of our conversation, or read on for the second part, when Tracey Wallace talked about some of the programs he hopes to implement.
Conception To College
In his vision, Black Men Against Violence will tailor programs and services to every life stage. He imagines a team approach, in which 25 people are committed to an individual for support.
“If you are an unwed teen mother,” Wallace says, “we have to surround you with love and support. Let’s make sure you have everything you need. We could build an entire nation of people going to college.”
The 25 people committed to one individual would share two to three hours here and there, creating a “village” of support.
Parenting is Key
Wallace shares a sentiment he recently posted on his Facebook Page. “If you want to hide something from black people, put it in a book.”
“My dad couldn’t read,” he says, “but my mom and dad knew the importance of education. My dad didn’t go to every conference because he was working, but my mom worked in the school I went to [Central School, now Park School]. I was in the first desegregated class in 1967. She worked in the cafeteria. When I went to Nichols Middle School, she worked in the cafeteria there.”
Wallace’s mom also worked at ETHS when Wallace went to high school. He graduated in the class of 1980.
“If I walked on the wrong side of the hallway, she knew about it,” he says. “It was that commitment to raising me.”
After he graduated, his mom went on to work at longtime ETHS rival New Trier, Wallace adds. “I wasn’t too happy about that.”
Wallace clearly wants to help parents raise their kids right. “Every parent loves their child,” he says, “but not all of them know which aspects to invest in to ensure success.”
Working with the Evanston Jr. Wildkit Football program, Wallace sees single moms arriving late to morning practices with their sons. “Some of these moms say to us, ‘I was out partying last night and couldn’t get up.’” He recognizes parents in these situations need to make time for themselves, but believes that they often don’t realize how significantly their actions can affect their children.
“We have to spend time with these kids. There has to be a comfort level. We can’t be afraid of them,” he says. That way, Wallace adds, we can “guide them in a better way.”
How Community Organizations Can Help
The Jr. Wildkits is a good example of how a program can step in to help kids, Wallace says Wallace, who is a coach and assistant director of community relations.
“Believe it or not, the program’s not based on football,” he explains. “It’s academics, character and teamwork for 4th through 8th graders, and football’s the carrot.” The current enrollment includes about 60 kids on scholarship, Wallace explains, with an overriding focus on discipline and respect.
“If there’s a senior in the high school who was a Jr. Wildkit, it’s always, ‘Yes, Sir. No, Sir.’ And we’ll always ask these guys: How are your grades? What are you doing in school these days? They respect us as mentors and know we support them. It helps to guide them.”
Wallace points to the many and varied youth groups in Evanston and hopes to see more of them adopt a similar and collective approach.
“We have to emphasize that if you care about these kids, you have to be there for them,” Wallace says.
While many programs attempt to serve disadvantaged youth, Wallace believes that some are falling short. “For lack of a better phrase…we’re calling them out.”
How does he plan to call them out? Wallace plans to form a Youth Organization Summit to bring youth groups together and work collectively toward supporting at-risk kids in the community.
Employing The Unemployable
Perhaps most importantly, Wallace says, young adults need jobs. He talks about young men feeling they must “live fast and die young. If you’re surrounded by that, you believe it.”
“We talk so much about unemployment but not enough about the unemployable,” Wallace continues. “You’ve got these guys walking in for jobs with their jeans hanging around their butts and a toothpick in their mouths saying they want jobs, but you won’t get one like that.” He also points to attitudes like showing up late or not showing up at all.
“Even a minimum wage job,” Wallace says, “gives a sense of accomplishment; a feeling that they won’t shoot me.”
Clearly, there’s much work to be done. But Wallace appears energized and up to the task.