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A State of Dire Crisis

By Angela Glover Blackwell

In countless communities, boys and men of color are on the front lines of the nation’s crisis.

As a group, boys and men of color are experiencing the highest rates of unemployment, educational underachievement, incarceration, violence and trauma. Their health is in peril and in many of the neighborhoods where they live, it is easier to buy a gun than a tomato.

What does it mean for America’s future when mothers are bracing for the unspeakable possibility that they may never see their sons graduate high school or college? How do we support daughters, sisters and nieces watching helplessly as their fathers, brothers and uncles struggle with debilitating anger, depression and hopelessness?

With resolve, the nation can apply best practices and improve their futures and that of their families, communities and the entire nation. However, doing so requires first that government systems and our communities place a priority on these children and young adults and pursue an equity agenda that allows all, including boys and men of color, to thrive and reach their full potential.

Last month in California, PolicyLink joined other equity advocates, government leaders and foundation officials at a Select Committee Hearing on the Status of Boys and Men of Color to publicly urge legislators to seek out and invest in comprehensive strategies that will expand access to quality academic and career opportunities for young men and women of color.

Consider these facts:

  • African American and Latino children are three and a half times more likely to grow up in poverty than white children with far less access to quality teachers, schools with high levels of academic achievement, after-school programs and safe spaces to learn and play.
  • As of July 2011, the youth unemployment rates for African American and Latino men ages 16 to 24 are at 31% and 20%, respectively. This is compared to 16% for white males and 15% for Asian males in the same age group.
  • For young Latino men, ages 15 to 24, the homicide death rate is five times greater than young white men. For young African American males, it’s more than 16 times greater.

These statistics underscore a national crisis that threatens to envelop the lives and futures of an entire generation and will hurt the nation in the long run. The complexities of these problems require integrated and comprehensive programs and policies that will prioritize and address the many economic, social and educational barriers that are hindering the communities and households of boys and men of color throughout the country.

Make no mistake – a truly comprehensive focus on boys and young men of color cannot be at the exclusion of girls and young women, whose own unique challenges are also signaling nationwide alarm. Improving the prospects of girls’ and young women’s fathers, husbands, brothers and sons will make for stronger families and communities.

The same is true for all of America.

Our nation’s continued prosperity depends considerably on how soon we can shift the tide and build a future in which everyone can thrive and flourish.

We can no longer afford to turn a blind eye to the problems facing low-income people and communities of color, particularly the black and brown youth who will soon constitute the majority. In fact, we have an urgent moral and economic imperative to address them.

In a shifting and competitive global economy, the dearth of quality, meaningful opportunities, combined with persistent obstacles and deficient academic and social supports, risks dismantling the very families and communities that are raising our future skilled workforce.

To slash America’s opportunity deficit, we must start by standing up for new and existing solutions to education, workforce training and job creation that would help shatter cycles of generational poverty by preparing young workers of color for better-paying, long-term jobs of the future.

At the California Select Committee hearing, East Palo Alto Police Chief Ronald Davis was pitch-perfect in his call for policymakers to “invest in early education because that is the key.”

Thankfully there are already programs underway that, with enough public support and investment, could truly make a difference in turning this crisis around.

Federally-funded initiatives such as Promise Neighborhoods offer educational, health and social supports for children in poor areas, while programs like PELL Grants help underprivileged students from a variety of backgrounds attain a quality higher education.

Through the Pathways Out of Poverty program, young male workers of color will now have access to many more job training and employment options. The Strong Cities Strong Communities initiative launched back in July aims to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship in previously disinvested neighborhoods. And the establishment of a National Infrastructure Bank would invest in the transportation systems necessary to connect people to these valuable opportunities.

The success of programs like these and others like them will hinge largely on whether America’s leaders can embrace an inclusive, prosperous future driven by equity – just and fair inclusion for all.

Angela Glover Blackwell, Chief Executive Officer of PolicyLink, founded the organization in 1999 and continues to drive its mission of advancing economic and social equity. Under her leadership, PolicyLink has become a leading voice in the movement to use public policy to improve access and opportunity for all low-income people and communities of color, particularly in the areas of health, housing, transportation, education and infrastructure.

  • Maria Martin

    The ideas that you expressed are excellent ideas. However there is more that should be considered, and it is called sacrifice. As a community we have to be willing to sacrifice to educate our children. That means teach when the Public School system fails them, encourage, when there is no one encouraging that child and reaching back to help. As a community we have a tendency to talk, the talk, but not walk the walk. A child can be from the poorest family, but still be educated. I am a testiment of that. The school system can have their own agenda and a child can still be educated. Education needs to become a state of mind for African American’s not just something we get in school. Education has to be so important to us, and impressed upon our youth as so important that we will go to any lengths to educate them and they will go to any lengths to be educated. Starting first with our own story, and not just the good and nobel parts but all of our story. Then demand that our story be taught in schools to our satisfaction. If publlic school won’t teach it build our own. It doesn’t matter if the school has to be in someones living room, apartment or basement. We must educate and build up the esteem of African American youth, and cut off access to things that do not promote positive growth (example BET). Then we have to learn the stories of others. Many people don’t know about our history as a community advanced in math, science and all other fields of study. That proves not only the ability, but the actuality of our divine nature as a people. The issue of quality education has to be the most important issue, in correlation with building a strong community economic base. We need banks, we need grocery stores, we need schools funded by us and we most of all need ethical character. We are the only ones that can turn this around. The government could help and may help some, but this has to be beyond government grants and building school buildings that look pretty on the outside, but have no substance. This must be engrained in our core being. The first place for education is in our homes. Be an example to your children read and encourage them to read. I just had books in the house, and my daughter started educating herself. She was reading Shakespere at 8. She never excelled in public school, but received a scholarship to attend college because she was self educated and it showed in her test scores and because she relied on her God given talent in Art to get her into one of the most prestigious Art Schools in the Country. I remember black teachers trying to trip her up more than anything about those years of public school. I just encouraged her to study what she was interested in and she did just that. She is well rounded and very well educated, and I thank her for that! She did that on her own along with an exceptional High school, that I placed her in when I became completely fed up with Public School. There has been a shift in education in this country. When I was a child, my teachers loved me, and I was a black child in a predominately white school, and they didn’t discourage me. They inspired me. Education knows no color, only the mind of the teacher becomes the divider. If teachers are strong in mind and ethical principal then children become strong in mind and have ethical principals. There is no excuse for the current lack of education of our children but our own. We need to pick up the ball and run with it for the sake of our children.

  • Laura James

    Wow, Maria. Your comment says it all. Thank you.

  • Donna Shannon

    The educational experience in America tends to be different for Black and Brown boys versus Black and Brown girls, and certainly there’s a big difference between that of Black boys and boys of any other ethnicity here in America. There is also an aspect to the disparity between educational nurturing of Black boys versus all others that I never see or hear discussed – the stultification of profoundly gifted (PG) Black boys. When Black boys present at school with profound giftedness, the goal becomes to minimize them to the point where they are easy, quiet little bottoms sitting in a school chair, helping to bring government money to the school.

    Profound giftedness is not the usual giftedness that schools may decide to identify; PG children practically come out of the womb doing amazing things. Having raised one of these PG children myself, I can prove with school and government paperwork and assessment tests that his abilities and interests were utterly ignored. We were forced to homeschool, which hurt both of us quite a lot (me financially and socially because I was also single-parenting; my son because he was bored out of his mind in school, disliked by his teachers who could not or would not meet his intellectual needs, and ostracized by classmates who simply could not relate to him and vice versa).

    My son learned to hate school early in first grade. Had I left him in traditional school, he would have dropped out. Homeschooling was lonely for him, but with homeschooling he was able to start college classes at age 14. How can I help you understand how painful traditional school was for him? He was learning several foreign languages, doing science experiments and reading magazines and newspapers when he started school. Because of his age, they wanted to start him in kindergarten with children who were playing basic games and learning to read very small words. It was ludicrous to say he needed to be in class with his age peers for socialization, though he’d learn nothing at all. Socially, he was actually isolated in his crowded class because he was so far past his classmates intellectually. Ideally, he should have been in class with age peers who were also his intellectual peers. If not that, at LEAST he should have spent part of EVERY day in upper grade classes where he could be intellectually engaged for a while. This would have given him something to look forward to. My beautiful, happy, loving, endlessly curious little son was losing his self-esteem, becoming angry and cynical about life because of what he endured in school. Homeschooling saved him.

    “We need to pick up the ball and run with it for the sake of our children.” So true, Ms. Martin. So true.

  • Jerome James Sr

    The core of your program will have to concentrate on young black
    Men only. We need to address that problem first. Also it’s not easier to buy
    a gun over a tomato.

  • Wm Laffrey Jr

    Your question is if it were white boys in crisis, what would the response be? I would take the responsibility to take care of my son. To be involved. Ask that question of the parents of those in crisis.

  • Franco Maistre

    Because of the confluence of race and gender, it’s clear that the achievement gap has the greatest impact on black boys and young men, and the graduation and unemployment rates attest powerfully and saddeningly to that fact. I would like to point out though, that analysis has shown that the achievement gap is growing not just for black and latino boys, but for boys of all races and ethnicities at alarming rates. There is room for outreach to expand this fight beyond minority communities, as a larger gender concern that many men of all colors are very concerned about and would like to see change. It would be great to see those activists involved with this program reach out across conventional race lines and collaborate in a larger effort to close the achievement gap for the benefit of all struggling boys whether they be black, latino, white, or otherwise. It is a change that would benefit and can be appreciated by all.

  • DKel

    Why is it the government’s problem? When will the Black community decide to take care of their own? We have many Blacks now earning excessive amounts of money – like the rapper who allegedly bought out Atlanta’s liquor stores for ONE of his parties. We have megachurches which can make a huge difference in changing mothers’ attitudes that their sons’ behavior, lack of motivation, etc is their problem – and they need to be held accountable . It is time to OWN what is happening in our communities and call an accounting for our Black professionals, megarich, and everyday people to step up to the plate – not looking to the government – again.

  • Roberto Vargas

    I am so glad that PolicyLink is taking this issue on! After many years of working with boys of color in at a high school where they were kicked or dropped of the core high schools that failed them, and many years of working with these same boys in the juvenile incarceration system, I knew there was a problem. When I went into higher education and saw that the more I progressed, the fewer men of color there were, I knew there was a problem. When I visited prisons and saw them full of men of color, I knew– we all know– there is a problem.
    One thing that continues to disturb me is how– as a young professional man of color– I see women of color who are in positions of power making great efforts to support young women of color, help mentor them and promote them, yet they don’t do the same for men of color. I understand that many of these women of color were by-passed for the promotion of men-of-color in our sexist society, and they want to help young sisters in ways they were not helped. Many of these women who are now the age of Ms. Glover-Blackwell, for example, experienced a time when opportunities were less for women of color than they were for men of color, all of us suffering the context of racism and sexism. I think that it is right on to support young women of color, but I also think they need to help us brothers out, because in the current situation, we are the ones suffering from lack of educational and employment opportunities and the likelihood of incarceration and violent death. So– women of color– I congratulate and support your strides forward and upward, and I hope that you will do what you can to provide opportunities, mentorship and support for men and boys of color to have the same. I think we need balance in our communities and in the world between men and women.

    Thank you PolicyLink.

  • Karen E. Dabney

    I’m glad you mentioned the girls (females) because they are becoming more troubled – in more ways – and quickly.

  • tropicalryn

    I think the government’s role is EXTREMELY vital since they legislate policies that affect our children. Of course we, as a community, should take care of our own but the government is made up of our elected officials and this is their JOB. They will always be held accountable. Black’s earning excessive amounts of money doesn’t mean anything if they don’t feel like they should contribute to anything. That is their right. Celebs who have millions that could help but again, that’s if they CHOOSE to. Herein lies somewhat of a problem. If you have folks who don’t identify or believe this is an issue for them, they don’t act on it. Those of us who are moved by this will be the ones who rally the call to action. I say this is a start and let’s get on board…

Last modified: March 26, 2014 at 4:14 pm
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