T. Rashad Byrdsong

T. Rashad Byrdsong is a revolutionary activist who is focused on social justice through institutional changes that promise tangible benefits in African American communities where a vast number of the underserved population suffers from poverty, racial discrimination, and other systemic disparities. His emergence and influence as a grassroots activist, community organizer and effective leader stems from his experiences in the civil rights struggle, combat service in Vietnam, and membership in the Black Panther Party. Mr. Byrdsong's personal mission is the restoration, reclamation and transformation of distressed communities through strategic planning, collaboration, advocacy, education, and mobilization. His Afrocentric intervention paradigm is centered in a strengths based empowerment approach, recapturing the resiliency of families and equipping them with the necessary tools to move towards self-determination, self-sufficiency and sustainability.

Mr. Byrdsong is nationally known for his innovation in building coalitions (Parents in Action, Citizen Coalition for Justice, African American Workforce Development, Grassroots 200, East End Workforce Development Task Force, Homewood- Brushton Community Coalition Organization, Measles Immunization Task Force, Center for Injury Research & Control-Presbyterian Hospital Trauma Unit) to name a few. His work with parents who lost children to violence, and sensing that there were more mitigating factors related to violence, prompted Mr. Byrdsong to establish Community Empowerment Association, Inc. (CEA) in 1994, offering services to address those factors in an effort to reduce and prevent violence in the Homewood-Brushton area of Pittsburgh.

As CEA's President and CEO, he has successfully expanded the community- based organization from a $5,000 agency to generating over $15 million to provide programming that continues to address the effects of systemic issues associated with poverty, unemployment, substance abuse, violence, as well as truancy and emotional and behavioral disturbances in youth. Since its inception in 1994, CEA has served over 14,000 individuals, youth, and families residing in 48 neighborhoods and enrolled in 94 schools and 23 school districts within Pittsburgh and Allegheny County.

Mr. Byrdsong has a long history of working with youth who are seriously at risk for imprisonment or death by providing street mentoring services, conflict resolution, negotiating peace treaties, family reunification and connecting these youth to appropriate services to put them on a more positive life track. He was Principal Investigator, collaborating with a major hospital system in Pittsburgh, to provide trauma intervention services in the emergency room with the families of victims who experienced violent traumatic events.

Mr. Byrdsong is currently working on a comprehensive Public Health Approach to Violence Reduction for Pittsburgh and Allegheny County. This approach has been presented at Emergency Town Hall Meetings in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County and calls for a paradigm shift that views violence as a preventable social disease. He has been meeting with public officials, educators, community stakeholders, and residents to introduce and garner support for the plan. He has also published a comprehensive plan of action that will include prescriptive recommendations for public officials, schools, universities, faith-based organizations, community-based organizations, businesses, communities, parents, and youth.

Mr. Byrdsong has also kicked off a call to action for Allegheny County's youth through Community Empowerment Association Inc.'s Presidential Pledge Campaign, an initiative to raise the expectations of young people while assisting in promoting leadership and social development skills through community service and life skills forums. Also Mr. Byrdsong, through CEA and in collaboration with a faith-based organization located in Pittsburgh, has received funding from the Heinz Endowment to launch an African American Leadership Institute a two year intensive leadership development program for African American youth.

In addition, Mr. Byrdsong is part of the National Urban Peace and Justice Council, an organization that has been holding youth/gang summits throughout the United States for over 19 years, bringing members of gangs and other street organizations together in efforts to negotiate peace treaties, as well as offer mediation and conflict resolution services. He is also a member of a national mediation conflict resolution initiative that has traveled extensively throughout the country addressing gang violence.

Mr. Byrdsong's success as a powerful negotiator among rival street organizations is due to his reputation as a man who genuinely works to broker support and understanding of conditions they face while challenging them to find more positive ways to interact.