Remove Systemic Barriers So Boys and Young Men of Color Can Succeed: President Receives Report from My Brother's Keeper Task Force

30 May 2014 | Angela Glover Blackwell
Remove Systemic Barriers So Boys and Young Men of Color Can Succeed: President Receives Report from My Brother's Keeper Task Force
Earlier today, the Obama administration released My Brother's Keeper Task Force Report to the President providing the nation with an action agenda to improve outcomes for boys and men of color. The Task Force's bold recommendation to tackle the systemic barriers facing one of the nation's most vulnerable populations presents an unprecedented opportunity to demonstrate what government can do to set the framework and pace of change. Other recommendations challenge the private sector, philanthropy, and community leaders to join the effort to achieve collective impact. Through its comprehensive set of recommendations, backed with data along with an explicit focus on race, the report delivers on the President's promise made just 90 days ago to address the crisis facing boys and men of color.   
Emphasizing the outstanding work that is already happening in communities across the country, the Task Force stresses that we know a lot about what strategies will lead to success.  With an emphasis on education and jobs, the report is driven by the President's directive that "improving life prospects and outcomes for young people, including young men of color, is the right thing to do not just for those individuals, but for our economy as a whole."
The report also acknowledges that, to achieve equity, we must target solutions to the specific populations that need them the most, wisely recommending that the government must "close gaps in data collection for currently invisible populations." It identifies challenges faced by particular groups, such as Black, Latino, Native American, Southeast Asian, and gay and transgender boys and young men of color.
As we know, the challenges are severe and systemic. A quarter of Black, Latino, and Native Americans live in poverty. Due to low-performing schools, school dropout rates are staggering and high school graduation rates are appalling. There are not enough opportunities to work.  Too many boys and young men of color are exposed to persistent toxic stress, violence, or the incarceration epidemic.
But there are solutions. The report promotes the idea of supporting our young people from cradle-to-career, with an emphasis on improving conditions where they live through six critical developmental areas:
  • Entering school ready to learn;
  • Reading at grade level by third grade;
  • Graduating from high school ready for college and career;
  • Completing post-secondary education or training; 
  • Successfully entering the workforce;
  • Reducing violence and providing a second chance.
Going beyond the achievement gap, the Task Force's education recommendations span a variety of critical areas. The plethora of recommendations on education reflect the fact that education is a critical building block for success, and that the particular challenges that boys and young men of color face in educational settings require targeted strategies.  Starting with preschool and other early learning settings, the report recommends the elimination of suspensions and expulsions in these settings recognizing that they serve only to impede critical early development. For later years, the report emphasizes new approaches to increase the likelihood of high school graduation, including the need for additional training for teachers from preschool all the way through high school as a necessary step to create classrooms and schools in which boys and men of color can learn effectively and reach their full potential. The Harlem Children's Zone, the Northside Achievement Zone in Minneapolis, and other comprehensive community-based efforts across the country present some of the steps that are needed to create supportive and successful learning environments from cradle through high school graduation. 
The Task Force's report lifts up key place-based solutions in neighborhoods, schools, and homes to support healing and reduce and prevent violence. Prominently featured are trauma-informed social, emotional, physical and mental health supports in education, health, juvenile justice, and employment settings. Here, as with other recommendations, the report stands on strong experience in communities across the country. There are groundbreaking efforts focused on developing and delivering trauma-informed care already underway across the country in places such as Philadelphia, Stockton, and Oakland.  
Success for these efforts hinges on boys and men of color being able to secure jobs with life-sustaining wages for themselves and their families. The report includes a number of needed steps to ensure that all have the tools they need to enter the labor force and succeed. The Task Force recommends approaches focused on reconnecting youth who are out of school and out of work, providing paying job opportunities that build early career skills, using apprenticeships as good entry level jobs, summer employment, and employment strategies that are complemented with strategies to boost employability. Again, there are efforts underway, including YouthBuild and local job training and summer employment efforts, that showcase what can work.
In sum, the recommendations and the analysis offered in this report take into account the complexity of the identity and experience of boys and men of color throughout the country. Instead of finger wagging, the Task Force outlined an agenda that recognizes the systemic and structural barriers to opportunity: poor performing schools; over-surveillance by police; and harsher penalties by courts. By presenting a road map and a call to action, the President's My Brother's Keeper Task Force calls on all of us to act-at the national, state, and local levels and in all aspects of our lives.  
PolicyLink embraces the agenda of the My Brother's Keeper Task Force. We will continue our local, state, and national efforts to advance equity for low-income and people of color, including efforts with California's Alliance for Boys of Men of Color and the California Assembly Select Committee on the Status of Boys and Men of Color, the Institute for Black Male Achievement, the National League of Cities, and with the plethora of inspirational local leaders dedicated to making sure that boys and men of color can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential.