In Focus

Nov 26, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

Commentary: Choosing Who We Are As Americans—Reflections on Ferguson

By Rhonda Tsoi-A-Fatt Bryant 

"Oh beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties,
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed His grace on Thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!"

After the grand jury decision not to indict Darren Wilson for the death of Michael Brown, Jr., the skies don't seem so spacious. They seem clouded, grey, oppressive. The majestic and spacious skies, this place of abundant fruit and grain that we sing about...America, the beautiful... isn't feeling so beautiful today.

Today, it feels as though once again, America has pulled back the curtain and revealed for the entire world a different land, one that is deeply flawed. The awful, haunting melody of death has again revealed the unequal treatment America metes out to a segment of its "brotherhood." From sea to shining sea, it is painfully evident that brotherhood between men – indeed, all people – of all races is a falsehood. And for black people in America, the repeated inconsistency between the words we are taught to sing about this nation and the reality of the lived black experience is simply too much to take. 

Each day, we as Americans make choices – choices about how we live our personal lives, how we treat others, and about what is fair and just. These choices are made based on both explicit and implicit biases that we have learned over time. Research reveals that human choices are more largely influenced by our unconscious or implicit biases about “the other.” Thus, our attitudes and actions toward people who are different from us in some significant way such as race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, or disability are driven by these biases. Implicit bias is derived from many things, including our experiences in early life, media exposure, hearsay, or passive observation of the world around us.

Those who are in positions of influence or power also choose to make decisions that significantly impact the opportunities and future success of “the other.” In the case of Ferguson, “the other” is black people, and the family of Michael Brown, Jr. From what we have read and seen, this young man’s life was tragically cut short because Darren Wilson did not relate well to Michael’s culture, his lived experiences, his body language, or his story. Michael was “the other.” And so Darren Wilson acted with haste and force. That was his unfortunate choice.

At CLASP, and in my daily work with national and community leaders, I see how policy, too, all comes down to choices.   In the interest of a more solid and free nation, Americans can choose to destroy the institutional racism and policy structures that stand in the way of equity for people of color. We can create a better society through sound policies at the federal, state, and local levels. We can open up child care to more children and their families. We can reduce disproportionate minority contact in our criminal justice system. We can reform child support laws to keep non-custodial parents connected to their children and improve their economic circumstances. We can give all low-income children of color an equitable education through better financing and stronger local education policy. We can smooth the pathway to postsecondary education for low-income, first generation students by restructuring financial aid and providing support for persistence in school. We can transform communities of color riddled by concentrated poverty and crime by creating solid, sustainable opportunities for work.

Without these positive choices, America stands to lose the contributions and talent of far too many of its youth, not only through dramatic tragedies but through the day-to-day erosion of belief and hope.  Soon, fully half of young people under 18 will be people of color – underlining the tragedy for the nation if our heedless and biased choices throw away that potential.  To me, this future makes no sense:  How many more black men and boys must die before we tackle the issue of bias head-on in our police departments? How many more black families must struggle in poverty? How many more black children must get an inferior education? How many more black men must be incarcerated more punitively? How many more black institutions and communities must crumble before we name and address the deeply rooted bias that undergirds decision-making in our nation and prevents progress?

I am but one voice, but I have hope – hope that we will dig up and uproot these biases and choose to take the next crucial steps to fix this nation, starting with the inequity of poverty.  I am encouraged by the work of heroes such as those who served on the United States Sentencing Commission, who courageously changed drug sentencing policies and applied them retroactively. Three-fourths of those impacted by this decision are black and Hispanic offenders who received more punitive sentences than whites. This choice took bravery and integrity. And it provides an inspiring model as we create solutions to bias.

It’s our choice.

Until then, I sing…

“Stony the road we trod,
Bitter the chastening rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat,
Have not our weary feet
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
Out from the gloomy past,
Till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.”

Nov 25, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

Performance Partnership Pilots for Disconnected Youth: Notice for Applications Released

Yesterday, the federal government released the notice for applications for Performance Partnership Pilots (P3), an initiative designed to support the creation of innovative strategies to serve disconnected youth and increase their success in achieving educational, employment, and well-being outcomes. Awardees will receive $400,000-$700,000 in start-up funds over the course of five years.

The P3 initiative is designed to help States, localities, and tribes to overcome administrative barriers to serving disconnected youth by offering new flexibility in program and reporting requirements. P3 enables up to 10 pilots to blend and braid funds that they already receive from different discretionary programs administered by the Departments of Education, Labor, and Health and Human Services and the Corporation for National and Community Service and the Institute for Museum and Library Services.  The Performance Partnership Pilots may present an opportunity for community partnerships to establish and expand innovations for disconnected youth; and to consider implications and new options available in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.

The application deadline is March 4, 2015 and the optional notice of intent to apply deadline is January 8, 2015. There are several resources to assist interested entities in their applications:

Dec. 1, 3:30 PM ET: Federal agencies will go over application requirements and selection criteria for potential applicants. Register here.

Dec. 11, 2:00 PM ET: The Forum for Youth Investment is hosting a webinar to help prospective applicants and interested stakeholders learn more about P3 and the application process. The webinar will provide an overview of the application process outlined in the solicitation, and discuss specific tools and resources that will be helpful in developing a quality proposal. Register here.

Nov 20, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

Our Youth, Our Economy, Our Future: A Road Map for Investing in the Nation’s Talent Pipeline

As a nation, we face a set of challenges that we can no longer ignore. The economic future of our country depends on the next generation of young Americans becoming ready for college, work, and life.   However, many of our young people are reaching young adulthood without the skills and competencies they need to succeed. Millions of youth are being left behind, disconnected from the societal and economic mainstreams, and falling into harm’s way. 

  • An estimated 6.7 million young people ages 16 to 24 are unattached to school or work.
  • Youth and young adults ages 16 to 24 face an unemployment rate more than twice the overall unemployment rate.
  • By 2018, 60 percent of all U.S. jobs will require some level of postsecondary education.

While we have made considerable progress in raising awareness about these issues and the young people behind these statistics who are too often forgotten, we still have much work to do.  Far too many youth and young adults remain idle and disconnected from economic opportunity. This is a complex problem that requires thoughtful solutions, and our goal should be to increase the number of youth who are connected to school and work. 

The Campaign for Youth recently updated Our Youth, Our Economy, Our Future: A Road Map for Investing in the Nation’s Talent Pipeline, an investment strategy that offers a set of recommendations to help national, state, and local public and private stakeholders identify and invest in solutions –and leverage current philanthropic and federal resources, including the recently enacted Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. The strategy offers seven overarching ways to bring these recommendations to reality:

  1. Make reconnecting our youth a national priority.
  2. Invest in high-need communities.
  3. Involve young people in finding solutions for their own generation.
  4. Build capacity to utilize research-based practices and knowledge to expand high-quality programming. 
  5. Create pathways to financial independence and social mobility.
  6. Develop work-based learning opportunities that are relevant to careers and have real world applications.  
  7. Create a policy and research infrastructure to ensure program quality and accountability.

Solutions are within reach but require strong public support, public and private investment, an active nonprofit sector, enabling government policies, and the collective knowledge of the youth development field.

Read our Road Map for Investing in the Nation’s Talent Pipeline.

Sign on in support of the Road Map to connect youth and young adults to education, work, and opportunity!

About the Campaign for Youth: In 2002, the leadership of national youth-serving and policy organizations established the Campaign for Youth to build a united voice for disadvantaged youth. Our mission is to lift up strategies that help young people who are out of work, out of school, and out of the mainstream reconnect and succeed. For information about Campaign for Youth, contact kbird@clasp.org

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