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Rumble young man, rumble: Changing the narrative for black men and boys

The Muhammad Ali-inspired conference focuses on black male empowerment

Events of the past week have left many black Americans with feelings of angst and defeat.

On Nov. 30, three months after the fatal shooting of Keith Lamont Scott by a Charlotte, North Carolina, police officer, authorities revealed there would be no charges filed in the case. The following day, former NFL player Joe McKnight was shot dead in Terrytown, Louisiana, following a road-rage incident. A man who admitted to shooting McKnight multiple times was released overnight but arrested and officially charged with manslaughter days later.

On Dec. 5, a mistrial was declared in the case of a South Carolina police officer who shot and killed Walter Scott, an unarmed black man who was running away from the officer when he was gunned down.

While many dealt with the hurt, anger and confusion, a group of men, women and boys of color gathered in downtown Louisville, Kentucky, for a two-day conference on self-care, self-love, positive narratives and solutions to educate, heal and help black men and boys reach their full potential.

The event, called Rumble Young Man, Rumble (RYMR), was hosted by the Campaign for Black Male Achievement (CBMA) and focused on providing strong networks, support groups and resources to black men and boys in need.

CBMA CEO Shawn Dove and his mentor, Rev. Alfonso Wyatt, first thought about creating a pen-pal style mentoring book titled Rumble Young Man, Rumble — one of the many sayings shouted by Muhammad Ali’s longtime cornerman Drew Bundini Brown. As a fan of Ali’s career and life in and out of the ring, Dove said, the late boxer’s hometown and the cultural center that bears his name were the perfect places to hold this event.

“Muhammad Ali was my first hero,” Dove said. “Ali stood for black people and his rights at a time that not everyone was doing it. He sacrificed his career. Embodied — not only in the ring but outside the ring — what, to me, black achievement was all about.”

Now in its sixth year, RYMR welcomed about 160 “Rumblers” from 17 states and Washington, D.C., and representing more than 80 organizations. The conference included seminars that were broken into two groups: Flyweights, (ages 20 and under) and Heavyweights, (ages 21 and over). The younger group was composed mainly of students from Eagle Academy for Young Men of Newark, who traveled from New Jersey. Students from East Orange Campus High School in New Jersey joined the seminars via simulcast.

Each seminar and lecture kicked off with a strong “Rumble young man, rumble” shout that was matched by an equally powerful, growling “Aargh” from participants in true Ali fashion. The seminars were inspired by the six principles that guided Ali’s life: Confidence, conviction, dedication, giving, spirituality and respect. The guest speakers included Ambassador Attallah Shabazz, the eldest daughter of Betty and Malcolm X Shabazz, and Susan L. Taylor, a former Essence magazine editor-in-chief who has since founded the National CARES Mentoring Movement.

“The key is in the United States, how do we make sure that all citizens know their value, their significance, their worth? And that they’re worth being invested in?” asked Shabazz. “[RYMR] was initially started, to my knowledge, to inspire, to rally around, to support. Now, the work is really being tested because of all of the losses we’ve endured around the country and the imagery of black men and boys. I think the listening aspect and the support has really been the growth here. It’s not just an experience, it’s a transformation.”

The seminars focused on building up black men and boys, the importance of mental health care, potential solutions to everyday problems faced by black men and boys, and how attendees will advance conversations after the conference. Flyweight sessions included affirmation exercises in which the younger attendees listed adjectives, nouns and verbs to form a sentence that described themselves as a way to instill self-confidence.

Those who needed extended time for themselves were encouraged to visit the conference’s Health and Healing Suite, which provided a quiet place for rest and relaxation. The option of a complimentary chair massage was also available.

“One of the things we realized last year during the closing session was the level of depression and pain folks were holding on to,” Dove said. “We have to really focus on our well-being and responding to the trauma so we can go back and fight.”

“Those of us who are in the so-called helping profession tend to think that we’re going in to save someone or help someone, but part of that is a yearning to fix ourselves, so we project our pain onto others unwittingly,” said Steve Vassor, the CEO of AMPED Strategies and CBMA team member. “By helping somebody else, maybe we’ll help ourselves. It’s important for us to step back, to reflect, to get what we need so we can then nourish and pour into others. I think it’s paramount, it’s foundational and we’re saying it out loud now.”

Toward the end of the day, the Rumblers filed into the Muhammad Ali Center’s auditorium to showcase their talents in comedy and poetry. That was followed by an awards ceremony that honored those who live up to Ali’s six principles. Actor, singer and social activist Harry Belafonte was the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award, which was accepted on his behalf by his daughter Gina Belafonte.

As the event came to a close, CBMA team members and volunteers began talking about plans for next year’s events. According to Dove and Vassor, the team would like to implement ways for attendees to stay better connected to keep the energy, ideas and momentum going throughout the year. There are also plans for expansion.

“In these six years that this Rumble has happened, we’ve seen corporations invest, we’ve seen the image of black men change, we’ve seen people more comfortable talking about race, gender, class, vulnerability, power, strength and those things that tend to be taboo,” Vassor said. “There’s a conversation outside of the room, but these folks seated within the room continue to be unapologetic about fighting on behalf of black men and boys. The exciting thing is we’ll continue to build community with our current Rumblers, our alumni Rumblers as well as these Rumblers who are waiting in the wings to join us to be part of this. For us, what’s going to be different is really continuing the communication and building off of this energy and momentum that’s in front of us.”

Maya Jones is an associate editor at The Undefeated. She is a native New Orleanian who enjoys long walks down Frenchmen Street and romantic dates to Saints games.