2014 Harvard Conference: Revisiting RTB

The Harvard University Graduate School and the Annie E. Casey Foundation hosted a twenty-year retrospective on the philosophical roots of the African American Men and Boys Initiative created by Dr. Bobby Austin and funded by the WK Kellogg Foundation. The Harvard conference had four general goals:

  1. To reiterate the principles that are at the heart of Repairing the Breach, the RTB task force’s report to the nation;
  2. To provide a forum to bring together those individuals and groups who have, over the past years, used various portions of Repairing the Breach principles in their work;
  3. To determine if the principles in Repairing the Breach can be used by those currently in the field to bring about community change;
  4. To create the Repairing the Breach task force, on a smaller scale, again.

The conference brought together more than 500 individuals on the Harvard campus and more than 300 online as participants. The conference participants were in agreement that there was still much that could be used from the 20-year-old work. The conference was composed of lecturers, workshops, and primary research work in communities, all of which culminated in the published task force report, Repairing the Breach: Key Ways to Support Family Life, Reclaim Our Streets and Rebuild Civil Society in America’s Communities. Upon its release in 1996, Repairing the Breach was called “THE plan to save America” by Washington Post columnist Bill Raspberry . A new generation now wanted to know if the principles could continue to inform their work, the work of those still in the field, and the work of those seeking philosophical and programmatic input. Unfortunately, conference-goers stated that the report was as relevant today as it was 20 years ago.

Dr. Austin was honored by the conference and Harvard University Office of the President for his ground-breaking, visionary work, particularly for the approach taken by RTB toward leadership development and public and civic work framework. He stated at the conference that the focus on African American boys was needed, but that there should also be a focus on the plight of poor white boys and working class whites, who share many of the same problems as poor African American boys and their families.

Dr. Austin stated that there was a need for dialogue between white men and black men. He called specific attention to young white men in Medora, Indiana, whose plight was documented in a national television special. He stated that “This work now must be about the common good in America.”

Taking his up on his call for a new direction, this dialogue from the 2014 RTB conference is expected to continue in the fall of 2015 as “Critical Conversations in Repairing the Breach.”