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Orange County program fights prison pipeline

An event prompted by President Obama will take place today.

Orange County will host a mini-summit Friday at the Southern Human Services Center in Chapel Hill to discuss Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper Community Challenge.

In September, Obama challenged cities, towns and counties across the nation to implement career strategy goals for all young people in the community, regardless of their background, as part of the My Brother’s Keeper initiative. Experts are hopeful the program will curb what they call the school-to-prison pipeline, which refers to policies that can send students of color to prison.

The program aims to close opportunity gaps faced by young men of color.

Orange County Commissioner Renee Price is organizing Orange County’s event and said the summit will address more than socioeconomic gaps.

“Some people may think that it’s about poverty or delinquent children, but it’s not,” Price said. “It’s about young people having the options and the opportunities to excel, to advance in their lives, to have a career, to fulfill their dreams.”

Municipalities that accept Obama’s challenge can eventually become designated as My Brother’s Keeper communities.

Price said becoming a My Brother’s Keeper community means re-evaluating programs that are already in place in Orange County.

“It has more to do with looking at the programs that possibly already exist,” she said. “Seeing if there are any children falling through the cracks, determining how to address that and seeing what we can do to improve our communities for everyone.”

Mayor Lydia Lavelle said the mini-summit is a good starting point for the discussion.

“By participating in the mini-summit, we will be able to evaluate what resources already exist in our community and in what areas we can improve to support the My Brother’s Keeper initiative in Carrboro,” Lavelle said. “Hopefully, the summit will help us recognize ways to start closing the opportunity gaps that are often faced by our youth, specifically young men of color.”

Orange County will focus on three challenge goals: ensuring all youth graduate from high school, attend post-secondary school and become employed and at a fulfilling job, Price said.

The Rev. Anita Thompson, who is also organizing the summit, said resolving issues faced by young men of color in Orange County must be a community effort.

“We need to truly realize that we are our brother’s keeper,” Thompson said. “It really takes a nation in this era to raise these children. It really requires everyone to come together in the village and outside of the village to accomplish these goals.”

Thompson said she hopes the summit will result in an action plan and unite the community.

“On this initial one, I’m praying that we come out more united and with some strategies that at least we can begin to put in place,” Thompson said. “I do not believe that it is going to be easy but I believe it’s now time for us to start focusing in on tomorrow.”

Price said she has no idea what’s going to happen on Friday or what direction it will go, and she thinks that’s a good thing.

“It’s not programmed to do any one specific thing other than to see what we can do for our young people, to give them a future,” Price said.

Thompson said it is imperative that the summit inspires a better future for young people.

“There’s a saying, ‘If tomorrow could talk,’” Thompson said. “I don’t know whether we’d be happy or sad about what it would say but we have to put something forward in order to know something positive will be coming out of tomorrow.”

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