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.

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