Neighboring Nonprofit Leader, Archye Leacock, Helps Repair State of Philly’s Youth

The dilapidating state of black youth has long been an ignored and isolated trend embedded in the culture of urban America. According to PBS, only 54% of blacks graduate from high school and The Center for American Progress reports one in three black men will be incarcerated in their lifetime. 26% of Philadelphians are currently living below the poverty line and Philadelphia was recently recognized by The Inquirer of the U.S. Census for the 2013 American Community Survey for having the highest deep poverty rate among American cities. Over 12% of Philadelphians are currently living below half of the poverty line.

The unpunished murders of black men by police and security guards in the past year have brought attention to only some of the strife of black men into America’s living rooms. But when the news cycles dedicated to the slayings of Eric Garner, Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin have ended, by most, they are likely to be forgotten.

But some Philadelphians don’t need inspiration from the news media to realize the predatory and oppressive nature of the environments breeding black youth need to be combatted. When nothing else is promised to many black youth but the repetitiveness of the cycle of poverty, organizations such as the Institute for the Development of African-American Youth (IDAAY) are the city’s saving grace.

Executive Director of IDAAY, Archye Leacock (right above) had long been conscious of the dilemma faced by black youth. A former Temple University professor with a reputation as an advocate for black youth, Leacock was reached out to by city police after a spike in gun violence in the early 1990s. Officials wanted his assistance in preventing youth from resorting to crime. In response, IDAAY was created on May 18, 1991. Leacock says the mission they founded themselves on in 1991 remains the same today, “serving young people at risk [by] giving them tools they need to succeed in society,” said Leacock.

IDAAY first implemented itself in the nurturing of Philadelphia youth by providing cots to those that didn’t have a bed to sleep in, mentoring kids that have faced minor criminal charges and hosting summer and afterschool programs. They continue to directly service those anywhere between four and twenty-five years old. Their Don’t Fall Down in the Hood program is blatantly symbolic of IDAAY’s mission. Program Director, Wesley Jones is now responsible for leading the program he was once in when he was eighteen. Jones describes the program for him when he was a teenager as “a place to feel safe, learn life skills, interact with positive males, learn how to navigate life without surrendering to the pitfalls of your community….The program attempts to reset basic values,” said Jones.

Kids that have faced minor criminal charges are referred to the program by family court, judges or the Youth Aid Panel. Rather than being punished, they have the opportunity to take part in IDAAY's Don’t Fall Down in the Hood program where they learn the more grave repercussions their current mentality and behavior may have on them in a few years. The core of the program lay in its Cycle of Education feature where kids are taken to cemeteries, medical examiner’s offices, Temple University Hospital and drug rehabilitation facilities. They also have Assistant District Attorneys and families that have been victimized by violent crimes come and speak to them.

Case Manager for the program, Tariq Sabir isn’t completely content with the limited affect the program will have on its participants, “The most challenging part is [that] you’re trying to show them something different, [but] you’re only with them for three hours a day. They have to go back to their environment for the other 21 hours….they’re back to the situation which got them caught up in the first place,” said Sabir.

Aside from programs such as Don’t Fall Down in the Hood and the Young Fathers’ program, IDAAY recently made another progressive step by preventing black youth from falling prey to the criminal justice system. After Mayor Nutter did a political eye roll in response to a bill from city council to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana this past August, IDAAY responded with a petition signed by over 4,000 supporters and a rally. IDAAY’s ardor in pushing the bill played a significant role in swaying Mayor Nutter to change his mind; small amounts of marijuana were officially decriminalized on October 20th. 

While their name had been mentioned in several newspapers and websites as a result of their role in the decriminalization, Kevin Leacock, Executive Assistant at IDAAY says that’s not enough. As a nonprofit organization, fully realizing your mission can be challenging as they’re often dependent on the benevolence of others. While Leacock believes the organization is doing somewhat well financially, he doesn’t believe IDAAY is as well funded as it could be. As a result of budget cuts, IDAAY had to cut their SAT Prep program this year. “At the end of the day, we need more than recognition,” said Kevin.

While Leacock acknowledges that programs such as Don’t Fall Down in the Hood and Young Fathers do make a difference in some lives, he is understandably discontent with just that. “We are just responding to the symptoms, we need people to rid of the disease,” says Leacock. Needless to say, the disease Leacock is referring to is that of systemic oppression.

The idealistic comfort some have taken in believing that they live in a society that no longer condones racism has recently been shattered. In particular, the racial bias within law enforcement has bought this truth to the forefront. The lives of innumerable black men have been devalued by police only to have this devaluation affirmed by the judicial system. For too many black youth, the media doesn’t need to remind them of the ubiquity of racism; they are living within its confines every day. Organizations such as IDAAY remind black youth of their value when the fallacies of the systems surrounding them convey that they don’t possess any.