In Focus: Youth of Color

Apr 8, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

Celebrating Native American Youth: Leadership and Resiliency

By Andrew Mulinge

Recently, the Aspen Institute’s Center for Native American Youth held its fourth annual Champions for Change celebration. The event recognized the extraordinary work of resilient young men and women in Native American, Alaskan native, and Native Hawaiian communities across the country.

The young leaders’ inspiring work is a constructive response to the hardships and tragedies they have experienced. They discussed channeling their challenges and pain into innovative programs that address suicide, sexual abuse, cultural preservation, and mentorship for their peers. These programs are critically important; too often, communities perpetuate trauma instead of supporting those who experience it.

Chronic trauma and adversity are key public health issues with major implications for the wellbeing of youth—especially those in American Indian and Alaskan Native communities. Barriers to positive youth development  include violence, abuse, and neglect, as well as chronic stressors like unemployment, racism, lack of adequate health care, and social isolation. Chronic trauma and adversity in childhood can interrupt normal brain development; this has long-term consequences for learning, behavior, and physical and mental health.

To read more click here >>>

Feb 11, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

ESEA Reauthorization Provides Opportunity to Bolster Support for Vulnerable Young Children and Disadvantaged Youth

By Christina Walker and Kisha Bird

Congress is currently considering the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), a law established in 1965 to provide funding to primary and secondary education. To inform their crucial debate, CLASP has released recommendations focused on young children and early childhood education, as well as academic success and college readiness for disadvantaged youth.

ESEA emphasizes equal access to high-quality programs to give every child a fair chance at success in school and life. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently appealed for the reauthorization of ESEA, which has not been updated since No Child Left Behind in 2001. And last Monday, President Obama released his FY 2016 budget proposal, which included bold initiatives to support our nation’s most vulnerable families, including an increased investment in ESEA.

Young children experience the highest incidence of poverty, with young adults close behind. Black and Hispanic children are disproportionately affected. Children and youth who are poor or from low income communities have far worse education and employment outcomes in adulthood. High-quality early care and education programs play a critical role in the healthy development of young children, particularly those in low-income households. But despite growing consensus on the importance of the early years, lack of public investment leaves many young children without access to high-quality early education programs, including Head Start, public and community-based preschool programs, and child care programs.

Youth and young adults are suffering, too. Many school districts are failing to provide high-quality education that keeps students engaged. For every 10 students that begin ninth grade, 2 fail to graduate from high school four years later. It’s critical that we strengthen the education system to ensure all students graduate and are prepared for postsecondary opportunities and careers.

ESEA has the potential to improve access to high-quality early learning opportunities for young children and ensure youth succeed academically and are ready for college and careers. CLASP recommends the following priorities be included in an ESEA reauthorization: 

  • Provide a dedicated federal funding stream for early childhood education.
  • Improve early childhood services for children birth through school entry.
  • Ensure college and career readiness for all students by addressing disparities in school systems, particularly those with high-minority populations.
  • Fund dropout prevention and recovery strategies and interventions, including multiple education pathways and options for struggling and out-of-school youth.
  • Promote collaboration with other systems and sectors, such as human services and workforce systems, and community based organizations, in order to better serve poor and low-income students.
  • Encourage states to invest in accountability and data systems that inform planning and programming around dropout prevention and recovery.

A reauthorization of this important law must protect and enhance robust opportunities for all students, particularly those most at risk. Young children and disadvantaged youth are two key populations that deserve more attention in ESEA.

Read CLASP’s ESEA recommendations>>>

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.”

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