A young, idealistic and dedicated professor, at Emory University has launched a nationwide grassroots campaign to empower African-American men.
Dr. Gregory Ellison, 36, an assistant professor in the theology faculty, kicked off the initiative on Saturday in Emory’s Center for Ethics.
The program, titled Fearless Dialogues, included live music, spoken word poetry, and Dr. Ellison reading extracts from his new book to a packed audience.
The event, which was free and open to the public, brought together a team of experts from parents, ministers, educators, counselors, elected officials and community activists.
“There is nothing like this that supports this type of conversation with thought leaders in the community,” says scholar and first-time author Dr. Ellison.
As part of the program, participants were divided into smaller groups to grapple with pressing issues facing black American youth. The main focus for their conversations was excerpts from Dr. Ellison’s Cut Dead but Still Alive: Caring for African American Young Men.
The book chronicles the real life stories of six young African-American men Ellison encountered working as a counselor. He charts their development from a sense of feeling invisible to gaining understanding about themselves and the world around them.
“The crux of my work is serving those who are invisible and giving a voice to the muted,” he says.
Cut Dead illustrates a call for action and a blueprint for response to disenfranchised youth who have been pushed to the margins in society.
It took Dr. Ellison seven years to pen the book, which has already sold out of its initial print run weeks after its release date in June. He says his book and the upcoming tour in cities across the country will give people practical strategies “to see the beauty and humanity of others and not just to objectify them as a future statistics.”
He adds, “The aim is to have candid conversations about how we can see, hear, and change the way we interact with young African-American males in our communities.”
“It was very uplifting and touches home base for black men like me,” says Nicholas Johnson, 24, a college student, who attended Saturday’s launch.
“Prejudging is the worst thing for mankind. A lot of people look at black men as if to say, ‘what are you doing here?'”
“It was very inspirational,” Jamaya Powell, 17, a high school student in Atlanta, “I think a lot of black men can learn from this experience. I brought my younger brother so he can learn from this.”
Shawn Garrison, assistant professor in the psychiatry department at Morehouse School of Medicine, believes we all have a responsibility to be accountable and connected to those around us.
Ellison, a product of Atlanta Public Schools, recalls “a lot of young African-American men growing up in the public schools system as being passed over. Not perceived as good students but hoodlums.
“I went to a really rough school and there was a guy who slept in the class,” he adds. “The teachers just let him sleep.”
Following an undergraduate degree at Emory, Ellison completed a masters degree and PhD program at Princeton Theological Seminary. And he describes the college town as a “utopian bubble.”
Though, he says, “if you drove fifteen minutes in any direction” you would be privy to a completely different type of life.
In fact, it his work with young men transitioning from prison in nearby Trenton and Newark that helped Ellison piece together his book.
He notes that his work is even more relevant in the aftermath of Trayvon Martin murder trial verdict. “Zimmerman only saw Trayvon as a perpetrator. Not as a gifted young man. He never gave him the benefit of the doubt.”
Ellison is part of a new movement of young African-American scholars (such as Columbia University’s Dr. Dorian Warren) not content to sit in their ivory towers but to actively engage in grassroots activism and fight for equality for future generations.
Indeed, all of the proceeds from Cut Dead But Still Alive will until May 2014 be divided evenly between: the Bobby Tillman Foundation, The Fund for Theological Education and the Fearless Dialogues Community Empowerment Tour. The next tour dates takes place in Nashville, Tennessee, in August 2013.