Fact Sheet: Outcomes for Young, Black Men

By Tamika Thompson

Behind every fact is a face. Behind every statistic is a story. Behind every catch phrase is a young person whose future will be lost if something is not done immediately to change his or her reality. And when it comes to young, African American men, the numbers are staggering and the reality is sobering.

Young Black men — across the board — score below their counterparts in other racial and ethnic groups when it comes to graduation rates, literacy rates and college preparedness. And many African American men, in turn, are virtually locked out of employment and are filling up the nation’s prisons in disproportionate numbers.

Below we’ve highlighted some of the stats that show the impact that structural inequality has had on Black men and boys in America. We have also embedded documents that allow you to explore in detail the outcomes for young Black men in this country, including a compelling report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation that emphasizes the connection between early childhood literacy and dropout rates, a look at the achievement gaps between Black and white public school students from the Department of Education and a summary report from the newly created African American Male Achievement Task Force in the Oakland Unified School District.

Read, explore, share your thoughts below and tune in to “Too Important to Fail” on Tuesday, September 13.

-  54% of African Americans graduate from high school, compared to more than three quarters of white
and Asian students.

-  Nationally, African American male students in grades K-12 were nearly 2½ times as likely to be suspended from school in 2000 as white students.

-  In 2007, nearly 6.2 million young people were high school dropouts. Every student who does not complete high school costs our society an estimated $260,000 in lost earnings, taxes, and productivity.

-  On average, African American twelfth-grade students read at the same level as white
eighth-grade students.

-  The twelfth-grade reading scores of African American males were significantly lower than
those for men and women across every other racial and ethnic group.

-  Only 14% of African American eighth graders score at or above the proficient level. These results reveal that millions of young people cannot understand or evaluate text, provide relevant details, or support inferences about the written documents they read.

-  The majority of the 2.3 million people incarcerated in U.S. prisons and jails are people of
color, people with mental health issues and drug addiction, people with low levels of
educational attainment, and people with a history of unemployment or underemployment.

Sources (full reports can be found on the following Web sites): Alliance for Excellent EducationPenn Child Research Center, Annie E. Casey Foundation, RAND Corporation, Oakland Unified School District, Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics.


  1. Klisha Jones
    September 8, 2011 at 6:41 pm

    This is a sad situation, that needs to be exposed. We as parents need to unify with other parents, and hold educators, elected officials, school administrators and ourselves accountable for this. People we need to rise above the partisans rhetoric in Washington DC and raise our kids. Such a crying shame!

  2. Karen E. Dabney
    September 8, 2011 at 7:15 pm

    Yes! We must step up and end this trend! These young men would have had different outcomes had they been engaged early on. Statistics suggest they are being “turned off” toward education in school as early as 4th grade! Instead they are being educated by the mean streets where instinct and gall can be a way to make money without having to adhere to societal mores. Some of our brightest boys are dropping out to pursue a career in rhyme or crime. Many don’t have much hope for a future otherwise. And any type of support for those who do graduate from high school should not end there – whether a young man is able to attend college or not.

  3. carol dlurante
    September 8, 2011 at 9:11 pm

    Believe me, you have just touched on a nerve. Now it is time to get to the vein!

  4. Walter Simtec Simmons
    September 12, 2011 at 9:35 am

    When the people wake up, things will get better. proper behavior with each other is a must in order to generate peace in the community. It takes a community to raise a child. Mother/Father pre-school teaching prepares a child to interact with others in public.

  5. sam shaw
    September 13, 2011 at 12:42 pm

    I have read some of these comments,and if u put them all together theres your answer! most black young men are not introduced to things like going to college after high school,graduating from high school, they think those things are for the people with the new clothes,brand shoes, the athletes,well groomed classmates.most younsters dont watch television to see the informative commercials about succesful blacks,they go home and hit the streets,because there parents working or whatever,so they are not introduced! I know because i have been there! the answer to this epidemic is not your so-called educated person from a prestiguos university,but from a educated person which do not have a college degree!

  6. sam shaw
    September 13, 2011 at 12:48 pm

    the answer lies in the everyday hardworking individual who has been there.that person knows why these young indivisuals are failing in school,dropping out,gang banging and all the other misdoings!he/she knows because they did not go to college or finish high school,but in order to be heard these days, you must have a college degree! have a forum,invite non-degreed individuals,listen to them and act upon it!!

  7. Robert K. Abbott
    September 13, 2011 at 3:41 pm

    To me it is just unconsionable to continue this pattern. It offends me as a Christian, as an American and as a human being. The time for talking about this issue is long past. Now is the time for action. This is a tragic disaster in progress.

  8. Concerned
    September 13, 2011 at 4:18 pm

    I place the blame those in close proximity; the Black church. Ministers no longer teach personal responsibilty or shame. No, everyone is chasing bling. Churches, once the basins of instruction, are filled with never married mothers and children with fancy names. It seems so long as one yells “JESUS!!” pretty much anything goes. So “saved” women live openly with their long term boo aka “fiance”. There is no expectation of marriage or scholarship.

    It’s easy to blame politicians but that is a cop out. It is the responsibilty of parents to raise their own kids. Morality,honor is taught at home. Two generations ago the Black community valued education, manners. Now a days? A male child needs a father. If the numbers of boys without a father are few in a communnity, that exceptation can be mitigated. When the overwhelmingly majority do not…. it is a disaster.

    A man child who has no clue as to how to be a responsible man, tend to emulate the one parent they do have; a female.

    I blame ministers because they of any institution are right in the community, they see the self destructive behavior.
    They if anyone has the attention. and trust of the Black community. It is NOT a far off politician.
    Ministers,simply, ask your conregants to view and live their lives differently. Being poor is not a excuse for criminal behavior. Indulging in fracticide, being incarcerated, failing to even learn to read, out of wedlock pregnancies…..are all a race to the bottom..

  9. M. Smith
    September 13, 2011 at 11:17 pm

    This topic is very close to my heart. Teaching in a rural area where there are often few opportunities for children in general to find ways to engage themselves in positive adventures and to believe that the goals they once totally felt were obtainable but now view them as unreachable, is distressing. I am so moved by tonight’s episode “Too Important to Fail”. Working with students who are living in the very situations that you addressed makes me costaintly wonder, “How can we serve these children and meet their needs in ways that will carry them into the next phase of their life in a positive manner?” Having worked in a school setting as a Reading Interventionist with single gender groups, I can connect to several key facts discussed tonight. Reading and writing go hand in hand. I have had the pleasure and the honor to work with young men (and women) who are struggling readers. I have witnessed first hand how a child who had never experienced the joy of reading, suddenly find the true delight of words as their eyes danced across the pages of a book with great anticipation. Reading has a way of reaching an individual when nothing else will. Children who are taught strategies needed to engage in self-selected reading will benefit not only academically, but also emotionally. They develop a sense of self -worth. I cannot tell you the joy I feel when I witness young men who don’t even want to be in school suddenly transform and ask “Are we reading our novel today?” I also can tell you about a young man who spoke those very words. Reading became his joy. He “asked” if he could read “first”. Saddly that young man is no longer with us. He was a vicitm of a horrible crime. He was full of life. He found self-worth. Few days pass that I don’t think of him or look at the wonderful, capativating photographs I still have of him as he expressed his delight in reading, reciting, and composing with the very words he once said he hated. Our children can be saved, but we must have a yearning and the support to save them. I would like to know how those in my area of the country can continue to meet the needs of our children. Unfortunately, like so many places, our grant was cut. Where does that leave our children? Where does it leave the future of our youth?

  10. Kathy
    September 14, 2011 at 2:27 am

    Since reading Isabel Wilkerson’s book, “The Warmth of Other Suns,” I have been searching for the main factors that account for the failure rates of African-American students in this generation. There is nothing that is more compelling than hearing the stories of the young men and teachers in this program. Thanks for providing some of the answers,
    I was discussing poor school success rates with a friend who is a school principal. She said that even those who come from educated, well-off families do not tend to score as well on tests as their white counter-parts. I don’t understand that. She thinks that a big problem is not having greater racial diversity amongst teachers. Is this really true? If so, what explains a high percent of Asian kids succeeding? At any rate, this show should be mandatory viewing for prospective teachers in college and those in the classroom.
    As a manager of Public Heath Nurses who make home visits to young families, with the goals of improving the parent-child relationship and teaching parents how to help their child grow and develop physically and social/emotionally; a major barrier is single parents using drugs & who only seem to care about their own needs, or who were poorly parented themselves, lack self esteem, and were high school drop-outs.We have to change this downward spiral of dispair.
    I wish we had excellent, affordable, day care centers all over the USA where the child could go during the day to be safe, play and be prepared to know how to interact and to love learning; and the parent could get some therapeutic help. One great example is Dr. Terrie Rose’s “Baby Space,” in Minneapolis; they serve the poor and high-risk families in an unique way. That would also make for a good report.

  11. carol durante
    September 14, 2011 at 1:49 pm

    For years they have been building more and more prisons. You know why, because their plan is succeeding. It is unfortunate that if you do not make good grades that you are considered illiterate. Mensa had done studies for years and even though you may not make the honor roll all you have to do is be good at something to be considered gifted, but society makes you believe that if you do not make the grade you are considered a failure. More than 6 million kids are overlooked because they may have a learning disability. What is a learning disability? It has been noted quite often that blacks learn differently from whites. I believe we learn with our right side of the brain and whites learn with their left. If this is true, then why do we continue to teach our kids by the method which they have created when we already know it is not beneficial to us? Which leads me to believe that the reason why our parents had more sense than us is because they went to segregated schools and were taught by black teachers. Something to think about. With that being said, we need to take responsibility for our own and come up with some creative ways to educated our brothers and sisters or we will continue to fufill their plan.

  12. Dave Walker
    September 14, 2011 at 4:43 pm

    We have a mix of black and white children in our family and I see some differences – not in ability, but in learning styles. And boys across all races just need extra attention. But one thing really stands out to me: Each of our children has required a huge investment of time from both my wife and myself. My wife dedicated her life to teaching each of our children to read, write and to develop their understanding of math and algebra. It required a lot of love and a lot of dedication. It drove her mad sometimes. Teachers do not come from training programs, they come from a place of true love. It is the same place that good parents come from.

    The pain of childbirth continues for years. It is a labor of love. The beauty of it all is that anyone and everyone can do it. It doesn’t require a teaching degree. My wife taught herself algebra so she could teach her children. ANYONE can do it. Sometimes it is hard. Sometimes it is very hard. And for Black boys, the hurdles are so huge that when they get over them, they realize they can do anything; the world is their oyster!

  13. Karen E. Dabney
    September 15, 2011 at 11:14 pm

    M. Smith (above)
    “I have witnessed first hand how a child who had never experienced the joy of reading, suddenly find the true delight of words as their eyes danced across the pages of a book with great anticipation. Reading has a way of reaching an individual when nothing else will. Children who are taught strategies needed to engage in self-selected reading will benefit not only academically, but also emotionally. They develop a sense of self -worth. I cannot tell you the joy I feel when I witness young men who don’t even want to be in school suddenly transform and ask “Are we reading our novel today?”
    LOVE IT! They actually light up!
    Promote Literacy! Keep a Mind Lit.

  14. klambert
    July 10, 2012 at 3:55 pm

    The problem is that we still dont realize how important our words and teachings will make in our kids life. I learned that our people dont stress the importance of education it get out in do whateve to make a dollar not get u something that will benefit you for life. it tells us on tv everyday how to become successful but we do other wise. One thing that i learned is that you can make improvements in your life. most of us are content and are scared to venture into other things that will make life better. we got to change.

  15. Lilly
    September 26, 2012 at 3:10 am

    I agree with Concerned above, the Black community is producing these kids at a staggering rate, clearly the problems lie with those close to them. It is a fact from 1970′s onward the Black political leaders encourage the Black community to view White society and its social norms as racist and wrong, existing simply as a means to oppress the Black community. Very soon school, learning and achieving became a White thing and Black children would be criticized for ‘acting White’ when they became too studious or industrious. The rejection of social norms within any society will ultimately lead a group to underachieve, self destruct with rampant drug use, crime and single parent family’s. Black men are incarcerated at a disproportionate rate due to the exceptionally high crime rates within that community. The Black community in America is on the verge of self destruction. It is no longer sustainable to blame racism as a factor. The Black community must re-educate their children encourage them to realize educational achievement is not a White thing, crime is not a Black thing and the life of drugs, gangs and criminal activity will impact upon their children and their children’s children. It is time to end the vicious circle within the Black community, but real change must come within the community itself.

  16. Nicky
    November 1, 2012 at 3:09 pm

    Hi Lilly, I agree that more positive education is needed within Black communities but I disagree with you when you say that “Black men are incarcerated at a disproportionate rate due to the exceptionally high crime rates within that community.” Simply not true. This is a negative, perpetuated stereotype that unfortunately, some people in the Black community still hold as well. However, Black men are incarcerated in disproportionate rates, particularly for drug crimes, because of profiling and targeting. To equate Black men with crime, IS the crime. Statistics continually prove that the majority of American offenders are Caucasian (for varied crimes but especially for drug crimes), however, most are not marginalized, prosecuted, targeted, hunted or even engaged at all. Disproportionality here cannot be justified by any other means except institutionalized RACISM. As we know, especially with the Klan numbers in full growth and growing everyday, racism is still in full swing.

    “Most people are surprised to learn that African American youth are significantly less likely to use tobacco, alcohol or drugs than White or Hispanic Americans. Large-scale national surveys like the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R) find that African Americans are significantly less likely to have substance use disorders than their White counterparts. Given that African Americans are a statistical minority in the US, the overwhelming majority of drug abusers will therefore be White. Nonetheless, African Americans are disproportionately targeted, arrested, and jailed for drug related crimes. People use the pathological stereotype of the Black junkie or drug dealer to rationalize the imbalanced scales of justice. We stuff our prisons with “those people” to propagate an illusion of safety. We like to think the world is fair, so if Black people are overrepresented in jails for drug-related crimes, we think they must be locked up because deserve it, perpetuating the pathological stereotype.” -Monnica Williams, Ph.D.

  17. Danny Banks
    December 9, 2012 at 10:46 pm

    It sounds like Sam Shaw does not like educated people. He thinks everyone should learn from the school of hard knocks. You should have gone to college, Sam! Life might have been easier for you!

  18. Reborn
    January 9, 2013 at 6:57 pm

    I take partial blame of whats going on with the youth in the inner city of Baltimore. I was in there shoes and socks at one time.They seen brothers like me doing the same things they are doing now. I feel there pain!! So whats the answer to saveing our youth? Only god knows!! But iall share this because i instill this theory with the kids i mentor. When you show them something different and good, then they will want to do something different and great.. So once agian, i appologize to the youth if you are reading this. For me there is no more talk, its time for recreation..

  19. Lackawanda
    February 26, 2013 at 12:35 pm

    Lets wake up as Black people, before its too late.. “We must wake up and seriously confront the reality of the situation at hand..We must become reactive, not complacent towards our plight”( “The Unfinished Business of the Civil Rights Movement: Failure of America’s Public Schools to Properly Educate its African American Student Populations”)…

  20. Kolby Riser
    February 28, 2013 at 6:10 pm

    This info. is very helpful. i had to type a paper on african american literacy rate and this helped A LOT!!

  21. Chris
    April 21, 2013 at 1:33 am

    More government programs are not the answer!! 72% of the black children are born to unwed mothers. 70% of juveniles in state operated institutions have no father. [US Department of Justice, Special Report, Sept. 1988]
    85% of youths in prisons grew up in a fatherless home. [Fulton County Georgia jail populations, Texas Department of Corrections, 1992]

  22. Lackawanda
    April 25, 2013 at 2:17 pm

    In 1913 more than 70% of the Black population in America was literate, a net gain of 65% in the fifty years since the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, which supposedly freed the slaves..Currently, in somewhat modern times, our illiteracy rate within the Black community is over 44%..Are we reverting back to the days of slavery and reconstruction? We, as African Americans, it seems have but two choices in dealing with this illiteracy and other problems caused by the inability of America’s inner-city, urban and rural public schools to properly educate our children!! The first is to continue to do what we have been doing, which amounts to doing nothing, or organize within the Black inner-city and rural communities and protest nationally, march and inform our elected officials that we will no longer allow this plague which has infested our inner-city, urban as well as rural public school systems to go on destroying our children and robbing them of an Equal Quality Educational Opportunity!! Dr. King would be appalled by the current situation in the Black inner-city and rural communities..We must again Organize and protest in a concerted manner, we must begin the” Second Civil Rights Movement” to save our children and our communities..We must become reactive, not complacent toward our plight..If we do not act swiftly and concertedly, we will lose a generation of our youth!! Most importantly, we must continue to organize our inner-city and rural parents through organizations such as “Parent Revolution, United Parents For Education,” and other similar ‘Parent Rights’ organizations..We must continue through the combined efforts of these organizations and our local and state legislators to gain appropriate legislation to give parents a viable voice in the proper education of their children, such as the “Parent Trigger Law.” This law gives parents authority to force turnarounds at failing schools through a petition…This California law, passed in 2010, and was the first of its kind in the nation..It inspired Texas and Mississippi to adopt similar laws and legislation, and is under consideration in twenty other states..We can and shall overcome this horrendous debacle confronting the proper education of all of America’s children, whether they be Black, other children of color, or White.. Rise up again, protest and march unitedly within the framework of the”Second Civil Rights Movement for Equal Quality Educational Opportunity for all of America’s children.” We cannot deny this right to some of our children without disparaging all children and the nation (“The Unfinished Business of the Civil Rights Movement:Failure of America’s Public Schools to Properly Educate its African American Student Populations”)…

  23. Sumner Benton
    May 7, 2013 at 3:37 pm

    Check out Black Boys of Distinction at BLACKBOYSOFDISTINCTION.ORG. We as an all African-American male staff are changing the world 100 Boys at a time.

  24. Kenneth
    June 26, 2013 at 3:38 am

    Malcolm X said: “only a fool will let his enemy teach his children”. We have outsourced our responsibility of educating our children in the name of integration. According to Lackawanda, in 1913, 70% was of the black population was literate. Now, only 44%. In 1913, we had no other choice but to teach our own and the result, 70% was literate. Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver, Mary Mccleod Bethune were just a few of the giants that educated us. It’s time for a new direction with new leaders.

  25. Christopher Simmons, Sr.
    July 16, 2013 at 12:11 pm

    The waste of African American male children is a sad and complicated tragedy that few people are concerned about. I for one am attempting to do something about it. I am trying to education young black men about the situation that are in and at the same time I am trying to provide guidance and assistance to their parents whom I consider to be the first line of defense in stopping this tragedy. If we can get more parents involved research has established the fact that education is the key to solving this problem. So, do us all a favor help a black male youngster today and for god sake talk to and assist their parents.

  26. Steve
    July 28, 2013 at 3:46 am

    “Too Important to Fail” or “Too proud to learn” or “Too scared to teach and apply the rules”? I grew up in Detroit and attended public schools. Without basic respect for teachers and the schools, many teachers live in fear of students and parents. When school administrators are focused on the report output over the quality of education received, teachers are constantly pressured to pass students. The single common cultural roadblock that I witnessed and experienced was one of the 7 deadly sins – PRIDE. Most of the black youth were so proud of themselves in the moment, they constantly lost sight of the opportunity to learn. They would rather not try or participate because they may look bad or under average for a few moments among their peers.

    This was common at very young ages and carried on thru to drop out or the undeserved graduation. Once someone fell behind in reading skills in early grades, they almost never caught up. I am sure many did not have much preschool reading or home encouragement either. Illiterate parents cannot read to the children at home. The individual has to get past their pride and try or no teacher or school in the world can make them learn. It was sad because many were bright kids, they just put up a wall. The lower bar became the standard for all and the wheels fell off from there on.

    I do not have an answer, but the individual has to participate. That is the $64K question. To quote Dr. Martin Luther King “science gives man knowledge which is power”. The media and current USA marketing influenced culture drowns our children with immediate gratification values. The care givers of our children have to shut off the TV and read a book to our children. The TV has become the new religion, it tells us or values and that is hard to compete with.

    “Too Important to Fail” is also too big to ignore. Thanks for keeping this topic and discussion alive. At the end of the day, the parents and the students must participate for any improvements to prevail.

  27. slotap
    October 31, 2013 at 9:02 pm

    The only way to solve the problem is strong black families that make educating their children their number 1 priority. Black men must be real men stop looking and acting like boys and competing with them sagging braids rapping and be men/fathers. The black family insisting on their children being educated is the only way out of the cellar. Asian know how to do it and it shows. They are not crying about no programs and the need for Asian history as an excuse for failure. They study and put in the work to succeed.

  28. John
    November 15, 2013 at 3:37 pm

    Great article with great feedback. I agree on some many levels with the fact of our children’s education is on a downward slope. Steve ^^ points out a great fact about how the parents need to be most involved with the education of their child. Misguided priorities and lack of positive influence in ones life is an ingredient for a troubled person, not to speak of a child. How does the effect of peer pressure measure in on the stats? Such a great article and great feedback.

    December 18, 2013 at 8:45 pm

    As a teacher, I’ve been taking notes on public school students for decades … throughout the public school system in Philadelphia.Often, what I’ve seen is like genocide on autopilot. nearly all chose to giggle rather than fight the impending future.

  30. Whitley Williams
    February 8, 2014 at 1:03 pm

    If we would stop blaming others it would be a start. The parents are the child’s first teacher. If the parent is uneducated and has no concern for the education of their own children then how can teachers in inner city schools help that? These teachers are forced to put up with bad behavior with little recourse. The parents are the biggest obstacle to their own children. These kids go through hell at home and then are supposed to come to school to learn. Parents need to be held accountable because teachers are. Teachers are graded by the students that pass achievement tests and their evaluation is based on those scores. If a child doesn’t come to school they can’t learn. Let’s auit making excuses and hold everyone accountable. Excuses aren’t helping anymore.

  31. Joe
    February 28, 2014 at 2:09 am

    From my own personal experience, I was taught how to read at a very early age. My father, with his sixth grade education, understood the importance of reading comprehension. I remember at the age of six my father would read to me and then make me read what he read back to him. My father bought the Encyclopedia Britannica and made me read from volume A to Z. My father also made me take music lessons and go to church every Sunday. He also became very upset if I came home with less than a ‘B’ on my school report card. At the time I felt like I was being abused because many of my neighborhood buddies were playing the streets and I had to stay home and be a ‘square’. Now at the age of 48, I pray to the spirit of my father and thank him for taking time and dedication teach the importance of reading. My father, a truck driver with a sixth grade education, raised five children who all graduated from college.

    The challenge for many young urban African American males is that there is no support system to promote the value of achieving an education. If the parents/guardians cannot provide this support, there is little chance for success. The current public education system, at least in my city, currently does not have the capacity or will to provide for our young black males. It’s not about funding, it’s about the will to make a change in the current system to support the needs of young black males. And for some of them, not all, it had to come from us ‘old school’ black males.

  32. Rodney Jordan
    March 27, 2014 at 3:43 pm

    As a young black male school teacher, this is a very heartbreaking reality for not only our young black males, but also our nation as a whole. I remember growing up in an urban area and being a part of the problem. However, I eventually turned my life around and became a part of the solution.

    The problem is not the achievement gap, however, it is the relationship gap, relevancy gap, and the racial gap. Many educators don’t take the time to get to know their students or try to understand them. They can’t relate therefore it’s hard for them to gain the respect necessary to do their jobs effectively. It would also help if students understand the importance of learning how to read proficiently, write properly and appropriately, and learn basic math facts. It helps to point out that without these basic skills, students will not obtain a driver’s license, be able to fill out a job application properly, or buy property.

    Our children are not failing, our education system and our educational leaders are failing our children.

  33. Rodney Jordan
    March 27, 2014 at 3:44 pm

    Read the book, “Tired of Being Black.” You’ll gain a whole new perspective.

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