Surrounded by male high school students of color, President Barack Obama said during a speech last week that American children deserve the same chances that he had.
“I could see myself in these young men, and the only difference was that I grew up in an environment that was a little bit more forgiving,” he said.
Obama’s initiative to address challenges facing young men of color, called My Brother’s Keeper, will assemble a task force to assess strategies and work with outside stakeholders to resolve issues including violence, school retention, early education, health care and nutrition.
The funding — $200 million in the next five years — will come exclusively from foundations and businesses, and those organizations will decide in the next 90 days how the investments will be spent.
But the program was taken with a grain of salt by Johnny C. Taylor, president and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, a national advocate for historically black colleges and universities.
“I am optimistic because at a minimum, it will help with making sure there is a national dialogue about the challenges facing boys of color,” he said. “But this is a huge issue, one that will not be resolved at all in the next five years.”
Taylor said his major issue with the initiative is that the $200 million is not enough to cause change.
“If you have a national crisis, you should have a national response,” he said.
North Carolina Central University’s Centennial Scholars, a program that seeks to foster minority male students’ success inside and outside of the classroom, is establishing a team to comb through the available grants to find funds for their program.
Ardell Sanders, interim director of the Centennial Scholars program, said the problems his organization seeks to address are not just academic, but social.
“A lot of our young men were coming to campus with different ideas of what it meant to be a black man,” he said. “So many of them came in with this idea that they had to live up to the hip-hop culture, they had to live up to this ‘I can do everything on my own and I don’t need anyone else’s idea.”
The program encourages minority men to have a sense of brotherhood, live in the same residence halls and become leaders. All of the NCCU student government presidents and vice presidents in the past three years came from the Centennial Scholars, Sanders said.
Obama’s plan also seeks to target K-12 students, which Taylor and Sanders agree is vital.
“Trying to stop a 13-year-old boy from acting out in school will not be as effective if the boy is acting out because he is behind grade level, three or four grade levels,” Taylor said. “He’s bored, he’s not engaged and he has a sense of hopelessness because he doesn’t think he’ll ever be able to catch up.”
Sanders said the Centennial Scholars are starting to reach out to K-12 students, especially in middle schools in the area.
He said college students of color have already been exposed to things like gang violence, but addressing problems earlier on could help solve the problems before they start.
Taylor said there are two roles universities can play in helping minority male students.
As an institution, he said, a university can work to produce high quality teachers who are willing to go into inner-city schools.
But students can also help out by mentoring a young boy and showing them around the university, Taylor said.
“The young boys of color problem is not a black community or Latino community problem, it’s an American problem,” he said.
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