THESE ARE the depressing facts about boys and young men of color: They are more likely to drop out of school, more likely to be in prison, more likely to be unemployed and more likely to die at an earlier age. That minority men are at disproportionate risk throughout their lives has largely been seen as unavoidable. The beauty of President Obama’s public-private initiative to create better futures for them is its refusal to accept these outcomes as inevitable.
My Brother’s Keeper, a five-year, $200 million effort focused on improving opportunities for black and Hispanic youth, was launched in February. It got a boost this week with the announcement of new commitments from the private sector. Equally important is the decision by 60 of the nation’s largest school districts to join the effort by implementing evidence-based strategies to improve outcomes.
The urban districts signing on to My Brother’s Keeper are home to about 40 percent of all African American and Hispanic boys living below the poverty line. While there have been sporadic efforts in the past to help young minority men, this is the most comprehensive effort. Michael Casserly, director of the Council of the Great City Schools, which is coordinating the effort, said some districts have made progress in some areas but, because no school system has it all figured out, there is value in sharing strategies. What’s the best way to reduce suspensions? Encourage early reading? Increase the number of minorities in Advanced Placement classes?
The initiative involves no new federal spending; the bully pulpit of the White House — and the president’s appreciation of the importance of life supports in opening opportunities — has elicited millions of dollars in private money for a range of programs. Boys, of course, are not the only children who struggle, but criticism of the initiative for excluding girls seems misplaced. Boys of color lag so far behind that an intense effort targeted on gender- and race-specific issues is appropriate. Many of the strategies being put in place will also benefit girls, and other efforts underway are tailored to their needs, including creating more opportunities for them in science and math.
The country as a whole will gain when males of color are able to realize their potential, rather than ending up on the streets, in jail or in the morgue.