Abating Recidivism at the Men of Valor Academy
An Interview with Bishop Bob Jackson
David Horton: You’re very interesting. The research that I’ve done, I don’t know where I want to start. How about we start with Black Men First?
Bishop Bob Jackson: Okay.
DH: Can you tell me what that is, and how it came to be?
BBJ: Sure, Black Men First came as a consequence of the problems that we’ve been having with number one recidivism, number two with reentry for a lot of the prisoners that are being returned into society, and also for the young men that are dropping out of school and picking up jobs with the dope dealers, because that’s the only employer they can find, based upon the fact that they are not really mature as far as men are concerned. They don’t have an education as far the system is concerned, and they don’t have a vocational skill. So Black Men First was an opportunity for us as Black men who have overcome the obstacles of inner city violence and inner city drugs etc. to be able to come back and help those who weren’t so fortunate as we were. So we were calling on all the African-American men, and we had a list of African-American men from politicians, police officers, probation officers, parole officers, you name it we had the Who’s Who gathering at Castlemont High School, and we also saw the Christians and the Muslims coming together in order to work together to get this problem abated in our community. So every Friday night we would go out and we would talk to these young men standing around the corners and into the drug activities which the police, no one else seems to understand, can’t figure out what’s happening. So we would go out there and talk with them about their lives and offer to them some solutions for some of the problems that they were facing. And so Black Men First became a real valuable tool. It didn’t last very long because of some of the problems we had internally. It is still operating under minister Keith Muhammad who is now the president of Black Men First, and they are still operating. I just don’t know on what level they’re operating on at this time. That was the whole purpose behind it. We thought if we would go out there and talk to the young men and let them know that we love them, and we were concerned about them, we cared about them, we cared about where they were headed… you know what I’m saying? That we would get some positive results. And we did. And out of that was born the Men of Valor Academy. So the Men of Valor Academy came because we saw where the men said, “Okay I want to come out of the street. I want to come out of drugs. What do I need to do to get myself together?” A lot of them couldn’t stay at home, couldn’t stay with their loved ones/girlfriends/wives etc. because they had burned their bridges so many times. And so the need for Men of Valor Academy became prevalent.
DH: Can you actually explain what that is?
BBJ: Men of Valor Academy is an academy based kind of on the military academy in the sense that it has three components. It has a component to deal with men, to help them become men, to understand men, the male temperament, to understand, to be mentored, just helped along the maturation lines towards being a real man. That’s number one.
Number two, the Men of Valor was set up to deal with the G.E.D. because many of the men were dropouts in high school. And so we dealt with the G.E.D. component. And all of them had the opportunity to receive the G.E.D.
And thirdly, the third component was we taught them the construction trade, a vocation where they could get a good job making good money so they could afford to take care of their children, and to marry the baby’s mom, and have a family as God intended for it to be.
DH: Again, who’s this program for?
BBJ: It’s for men coming in and out of jail. It’s to try to abate the recidivism problem. It’s for men that problems with reentry because they have nowhere to go. $200 and the thing with the prison system saying “stay good and don’t get into anymore trouble. Here’s $200, now take care of yourself.” You know the men have not been mentored and matured into being men altogether and two they don’t have any education as far as the G.E.D. or high school diploma, and then thirdly they have no vocational skills except standing on the corners and selling drugs. So what do you think they’re going to do?
DH: Obviously that’s…
BBJ: That’s the circle. The recidivism. The word recidivism is there defined, because they go back out and do the same thing they did to go in firstwise. They end up going back again and again and again. That’s the scenario. So to break that recidivism, to break that cycle, the Men of Valor was very necessary.
DH: Institutionally, how was this supported?
BBJ: Well, the Men of Valor was primarily supported by Governor Gray Davis who gave us a tremendous grant, EDD grant, of $500,000. We had a supporting senator, Don Perata, and [Davis’] support as governor. [Davis] came down, took a look at the program. He liked what we were doing; he understood the concept. He was behind it 100%. And he told me, as long as he would be the Governor of California that he would ensure that we would have finances to keep our program going. Of course, that didn’t last very long. The Terminator came and terminated that. However, before [Davis] left office he was able to funnel another $150,000 into our account. So we had $650,000 over a three-year period of time, for which we had to have an audit every year for every dime of the money. They found out at the end of three years we still had a substantial amount of that grant because we were supplementing the grant with monies from the church and other donations and of course G.A. So we had monies and we had people hired in the program. We had 81 men in the program. We graduated 73 of those men who will never see prison again by the grace of God. The majority are still working, doing a good job. But it wasn’t enough for the politicians, for the mayor of the city of Oakland, for the city council, and for others to see the value in the program. Because when we came short in our finances, Gray Davis was gone. Arnold Schwarzenegger the new governor came out here in October of last year. I begged him personally to look into the Men of Valor Academy account and see about trying to find us [some money]. He said he would, and he never did. I didn’t say any more about that, and he came to this very church. I talked to him face to face. But the deal is no one had time to help us. We went down to the city of Oakland. We tried our best to get some money from the City of Oakland. They said the WIA [Workforce Investment Act] program could probably help us, but then we found out that they were taking money from PIC [Private Industry Council], the PIC program to try to give to our program. Then we became the dividers of the community and the villains. So we ended up getting nothing, and they played a political game with us. We ended up getting nothing, so December 31st of last year  we had to close out program. And we had to put 59 of those men out on the street.
Now ironically about that, right after December 31st, January 1, we noted the homicide rates going sky high. Right about now, it’s at about 45 homicides in the City of Oakland, and the majority of those homicides were committed by guys that have had problems with reentering, guys that have had problems with recidivism, guys that have problems trying to re-acclimate themselves into society after coming out of prison. It’s a known fact. Yet the system, the politicians, no one seems to want to deal with it in the sense of what we really need to do to really abate recidivism.
DH: I read that you said that a city like Oakland needs 50 programs like Men of Valor.
BBJ: A hundred programs like Men of Valor.
DH: How many are there in Oakland right now?
BBJ: There are none like Men of Valor. There are some that have components like Men of Valor but none of them have the entire components that Men of Valor has. First of all a lot of the men don’t have a place to stay. So a lot of the programs…they have some great programs, don’t get me wrong. I’m not bashing any programs, because any help is help, but the deal is to be a full-service program. For instance, many of the programs do a great job but they have no housing component. Many of the programs do a great job but they have no nutritional component. Many of the programs do a great program, but they do no G.E.D. component. Okay. Or many of them don’t have that component where you actually build men and character in those men. So the Men of Valor, it has taken me almost 18 years to develop the whole concept dealing with men in this ministry. I’ve been pasturing for 22 years now at Acts Full Gospel Church in this city, and it’s taken me about 18 years to come up with the concept that the Men of Valor has today. And those three components we found out were very necessary. Being a man and working to be a man, understanding how to control your anger and all of that stuff, doing your budgets, doing your money. Some of them never had a checking account or never knew anything about budgeting their money, finances and that sort of thing. And dealing with their anger, dealing with the male temperament, dealing with testosterone if you please. So that component, that part became very necessary. Not only that but they didn’t have places to stay. So the Men of Valor has a dormitory component in its program. Show me another program in the City of Oakland that has a dormitory program. We had actual bunk beds the men were living in. They had their own lockers for their clothes. Stuff like that. We maintained a place for 81 men and it wasn’t a flophouse. It’s very nice digs that we had them in.
Not only that but we had hired a cook, a professional cook, to prepare three meals a day. Nutritional food, not junk food. Not beans and rice and Jesus Christ, but nutritional food, and sometimes our food bill from Cisco, trucks backing in, was almost $15,000 a month. That’s to feed them quality food. And Alhambra bottling company was supplying us with 5 gallon bottles of water weekly, like 5 to 10 of those a week. We made sure the men were hydrated, and drank plenty of water. We found out that was another problem.
And then the G.E.D. component, we actually had a credentialed teacher teaching our men the G.E.D. curriculum. And we would pay for the test, which is about $65 for the men to take those exams, and they were passing. They were getting their G.E.D.s, because they realized that they had great minds, great brains, but they had never been used. You see?
DH: I read that some actually went to college.
BBJ: They actually went on to college; many of them did. And that’s the truth.
And so the third component, we taught them how to build houses. We taught them how to use the rulers, how to use the power saws. They were actually building a house inside the Men of Valor Academy in the old sanctuary. They were actually building a house in there, and taking such pride in building the house, and many of them…we were able to talk to contractors. That’s how we got them jobs. And we are thankful to Signature Properties and another construction company, it was called IKA, they hired a number of our men. And many of them came back and said, “Do you have any more of those men?” I mean they were so thrilled at the performance that they did. The construction trade we found out was the only trade that will not discriminate against a person if they have a criminal record.
DH: That’s interesting. I read that you had money coming in from like Barbara Lee. You had some money coming in from Measure Y. What happened?
BBJ: Let me just say that Congresswoman Barbara Lee really did come to our aid, but the problem was we were not able to get the money until the end of this summer or the early part of this coming fall, which was six/seven months way out. We needed…I listened to so many different people about giving us help and I trusted in them about giving us the help that I just didn’t think I was going to have a problem because of what we were doing and the success we were having. But as you can see, we did. It was my fault and I take the responsibility for trusting in the ones who assured me they were going to be able to help our program. Look, we were only asking for $300,000 for the year, because the church was putting in $300,000 and G.A. was giving us $89,000. We had a budget of $680,000 for the year. We had hired men working in the program 24 hours, we had the cook working full-time, we had the food being furnished, we had the housing being there, we had the whole ball of wax operating. And we couldn’t get $300,000 from anyone in a timely manner to help us save our program.
DH: That’s unbelievable. When I read about that in the Tribune…That’s really unbelievable.
BBJ: And the Measure Y money even though they had been taking out for Measure Y for a year, they hadn’t had an opportunity to do the bids and the RAPs [Resource Allocation Processes], it’s over a year now and they finally did and they finally just allotted some of the money to some of the organizations that are financially secure, stable, but we would’ve had to wait until this time before we would have gotten any money. December 31st was my deadline.
DH: What about federal money? I read somewhere that you were up for a federal grant.
BBJ: We applied for a federal grant, and it was an 18 million dollar grant that we applied for. We were applying for a $600,000 a year budget to do our thing but they told us that the grant we wrote wasn’t satisfactory. So we were trying to do our grant. We didn’t know we needed a professional grant writer. Silly me. We learned the hard way that those things are politically motivated. You have to have a professional grant writer to write those grants. Others came up afterwards and said, “If we’d have known you didn’t have a professional grant writer we could have provided one for you.” If I had known I needed a professional…I thought all I had to do was write my program. You know what I’m saying. I said my program’s really going to work. We’re going to get some money from the feds, faith-based and whatnot. We haven’t received anything from the feds for faith-based anything. Again, because the grant writing is so stringent, so restricted, you have to really have a professional who really knows their way around the government in order to put those grants together.
DH: That’s appalling.
BBJ: So it really doesn’t matter what kind of program you have if you can’t get the grant together. If you can’t package it like it’s supposed to be, then you don’t get any money. So I thank God for the ones that are able to do it and have been able to do it. I just didn’t know. See I learned a whole lot in the process. So we’re praying now about reopening the Men of Valor Academy in probably the latter part of June or the first part of July of this year, but the structure will be totally different. And the financial dependence will never be on the politicians again. I will never do that again.
DH: It’s not lost on me the historical significance of where the Men of Valor is. Can you talk about that a little bit?
BBJ: Yes, it is the old Black Panther Party headquarters as a matter of fact, and Huey P. Newton, the founder of the Black Panthers Party, had his headquarters there at 6118 International Boulevard. Interestingly enough the prophecy in those days, even though it wasn’t a religious prophecy, it was nonetheless prophetical, was that the revolution would not be televised. I used to ponder what it meant: the revolution shall not be televised? Well, it’s not. Because the real revolution is how you restore a man his dignity, how you restore his pride, his respect. How do you that? Well, my idea is through the Men of Valor because it’s the only program I know…now I’m not tooting my own horn but I might as well blow it because I can’t get anyone else to blow on it…but the point of it is, we can show you the men that have graduated from the men of Valor Academy. We can show you were they are today and where they were when they came into the program, and it’s like night and day.
DH: Actually, without using last names, can you talk about someone who actually went through the program and where they’re at now?
BBJ: Well, I can talk about Joe. Joe came in just a dope dealer etc… a problem guy in and out of jail whatever came to the Men of Valor, did a great program, just… Oh, by the way, Men of Valor also had computer literacy as part of its education thanks to Senator Don Perata who helped us get 20 new computers. Those men learned to go online, learned to search the web, they learned to do their homework on the computers, and they became computer literate. They learned Word Perfect, they learned Excel, you know etc… The program was really causing them to be functional today. But yes, Joe came in not knowing anything about anything expect prison and dealing drugs. Today Joe is married. He’s working for one of the construction companies that I named, Signature Properties. He’s got a beautiful child, and he’s clear from drugs and from prison, and he’s doing a great job. He’s married. He married his baby’s mom. He’s taking care of his family. He is a man of valor.
This Sunday I had all of them just stand up that are still coming to church. Believe me coming to church wasn’t the thing we impressed upon them the most. Getting their lives together was the thing we impressed. We weren’t necessarily trying to proselytize those men, even though I would have loved to have done that, but the government money held us at bay from that. But the men, there are many of them who still come. Our 8 o’clock service this past Sunday I asked all of them to stand. I think there’re about 12 men that are still in attendance in the church that are doing an excellent job. Many of them got jobs, got training, got everything, and I haven’t seen them any more. Except every now and then I might see them wave or hear a holler, “Hey! Men of Valor!” and I might not recognize one, but they didn’t come back to the church. That wasn’t the thing. You know, I would’ve loved to have seen them all be Christians. But nevertheless, Joe was really my…he epitomizes what the Men of Valor is capable of doing and what it did do. And we had 73 of those men by the way that graduated in our three-year period.
DH: It’s unbelievable that the funding didn’t happen for this.
BBJ: That’s unbelievable. Especially with all of the people who say they are down against crime and they’re wanting to see our city…they’re not telling the truth. I just read in the paper about the downtown area, the Laurel area I guess it’s called and Grand Lake area, they’ve now put enough pressure on the city council to get a police officer to walk around their community. And you know how long we’ve been having crime out here on 72nd and Hamilton? Go out there right now and there’s 15 guys out there selling dope that the police know are standing out there selling dope. They have shot up and killed so many people on that very corner and continue to do it, and can’t get a cop to even drive by there. There’s 5 or 6 of them that I saw down on International this morning on my way in, but I can’t get a cop to drive over here on 72nd and Hamilton. But they can get a cop to walk around because they had an incident of somebody getting killed out there and some other stuff going on. They were able to get that kind of impact for their community; we can’t get anything out here in East Oakland. That’s what’s sad. You know what I’m saying? It’s not fair, it’s not equal, the playing field is not equal and so we have to do what we can in order to abate the problem. We can’t depend on politicians. We can’t depend on the police department. We the church, we have to step up to the plate and take on this responsibility and see about it. Because we know what to do. We’ve demonstrated we know what to do. The ironic twist like you say is that no one…well I can’t say no one because Congresswoman Barbara Lee would say “I tried to give you $100,000.” Well, you did but again the latter part of June the first part of [July]. It was so far away, we just couldn’t survive and it was $100,000. And then the Measure Y money was only $186,000. So when you add the $100,000 she was going to give and the $186,000 the Measure Y money was going to give us, that was only $286,000. We still were short of our goal of $300,000 for the year. And we couldn’t have lasted you know with just the church funding it which was half of the monies. And then G.A. was contributing $89,000. They only give you $336, I think, $333 for each person, each man on G.A. Then they wouldn’t give me food stamps. I was begging. Feeding these men was the biggest cost. And they said we can’t give you food stamps because you’re not a drug recovery program.
BBJ: That’s exactly, that’s honestly true. I went through the supervisors. I went through Arnold Perkins the [Alameda County] health director, I went through David Keers the big man with county health, and none of them could…I even went through the mayor Jerry Brown. He tried his best to get me food stamps, but if I could just get food stamps to feed the men…and no one would give me food stamps, but if I had a recovery facility I could get food stamps for every one of the men. But they would not give me food stamps. So I kind of thought in some ways, I tried to stay positive, but I kind of thought some people really didn’t want to see the academy continue because it was effective. It was very effective. And I’m thinking we could replicate this program across this nation and abate a majority of the violence and inner city drug dealing and stuff like that that you see.
DH: I read it’s what like 5,000 people each year that are coming out of prison?
DH: But there’s no support network.
BBJ: There’s no support network. No. There it is. Even the people out in Santa Rita tell me when the sheriff, when they let the prisoners out they tell them, they say, “We’ll see you in a couple of weeks.”
DH: That’s appalling.
BBJ: You’ve got your people on one side that would like to see crime abated and would like to see these men have an opportunity, because all of us have made mistakes. I myself, I should have been in prison myself many times for the things that I’ve done, but by the grace of God, I wasn’t caught. It didn’t mean I wasn’t guilty. So the point I’m making is all of us have needed some help in our lives at some point or another. All of us have done wrong at some point or another. My point is everyone deserves a second chance. God gave me one, and God forbid that I don’t give my brother a second chance. I try to help them, you know what I’m saying? But when you get people who talk one thing but when they have an opportunity to act and perform, they don’t deliver… I found out that all of the city council people had a Pay-Go account, whatever that’s called, a Pay-Go account. They had access to so much money that each one of them could have given so much money and helped us stay in business. I found that out after December 31st. The city council people could have done that, if they wanted to. We couldn’t get support from them to do that. I understand that one city councilman gave $100,000 to the Montclair Green Club out of their Pay-Go Account. $100,000. And if they were able to give $100,000 to a green thing that they were doing, just $25,000 a piece, we got eight of them [city councilors], they could’ve kept us in business. I mean, if they were really seriously about what they’re talking about. So once again, politics is politics.
DH: You mentioned G.A. a couple of times. Just so I’m clear, what is that?
BBJ: General Assistance. General Assistance from the county. It’s about $326 a month per man to receive support from the county. It’s called General Assistance. With General Assistance also goes the food stamps program. If you’re on general assistance, you should be able to have food stamps as well.
DH: How can you get General Assistance and not get food stamps?
BBJ: [laughs] Because you get food stamps if you’re in a program, drug recovery. They have specific guidelines that denote who gets that particular benefit. And we could not qualify. In order to qualify you have to bring in a drug component and deal with drugs. Since we don’t want to seal with drugs, they have enough places out there dealing with drugs. We want to deal with the men in the way that we know how to deal with them. They want to tell us how to deal with them. We said, you’re not going to change our program, because this program is geared for results. And it’s working. And we can prove it. We can show you the live people.
Channel 7 came over they did a big news article. They went all through the program. They filmed the men in their bunk beds, they filmed them working on the beams, on the house, they filmed them doing all the stuff. We had all types of support as far as that goes. All types of newspaper articles. Men of Valor! Men of Valor! I mean no one. I really feel like I understand a woman now when she has a miscarriage. Because I feel like my baby was aborted, and it was not because I wanted to see that.
DH: Well, alright. Thank you very much.
BBJ: Alright, Mr. Horton. Thank you sir.
May 2, 2006
Acts Full Gospel Church
1034 66th Ave.
Oakland, CA 94621