In Focus: Youth of Color

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 5, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

School Districts Are United to Improve the Achievement of Young Men of Color

By Rhonda Tsoi-A-Fatt Bryant

In October, CLASP collaborated with the Council of the Great City Schools (CGCS) in staging a two-day fall pre-conference session, “United to Make a Difference: Improving the Achievement of Young Men of Color,” in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. This gathering was the first meeting since the members of CGCS joined together in collective commitment to improve educational outcomes for boys and young men of color in partnership with the White House My Brother’s Keeper Initiative.

Public urban school systems within the CGCS membership collectively educate at least one-third of America’s African American and Latino students and nearly 40 percent of all low-income boys and young men of color. Thus, the impact of this collaboration has the potential to significantly change the life trajectories of a tremendous number of children of color.

Improving outcomes for students of color requires changes in federal, state, and school district policies. It also requires changes in practice in school buildings and classrooms. Finally, it requires unearthing and eradicating bias, building bridges to cultural understanding, and empathy. These districts have a major task ahead of them, but they are ready to take on the challenge.

Over the coming months, school leaders will be engaged in a process of developing action plans that span from early childhood through high school completion and address domains such as teacher quality, school discipline, structural inequities in gifted and special education programs, and barriers to college and career readiness. A prominent element in discussions over the course of the two-day session was the need to involve youth in the crafting of these plans. In addition, districts were encouraged to think big and devise solutions that have significant systemic impact rather than merely programmatic efforts that reach small cohorts of students.

Over the last few years, CLASP has worked with a set of partners to identify a series of opportunities for impacting the educational outcomes of students of color. We submitted a memorandum fully detailing these areas for impact to the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for African Americans. They include:

  • Advance solutions for naming, increasing understanding, and addressing implicit bias in education
  • Promote school safety and connectedness through positive school culture
  • Recognize and address trauma as an underlying factor in education outcomes
  • Train teachers, counselors, and youth workers to develop culturally responsive pedagogy
  • Encourage a community-wide approach to address poverty as an impediment to academic success
  • Decrease disparities in school discipline, special education, and gifted education
  • Elevate middle school and high school transitions as critical times for intervention with students
  • Redesign the high school experience to support both college and career readiness
  • Invest in the recovery of students who have dropped out of school
  • Support postsecondary access and completion through greater access to school counseling services

Jul 14, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

In Case You Missed It: "Investing in Boys and Young Men of Color: The Promise and Opportunity"

Last month, CLASP's Youth Team hosted “Investing in Boys and Young Men of Color: The Promise and Opportunity,” a briefing on the education and employment solutions that communities of color have implemented for boys ages 12-24. It also lifted up the voices of young men who these innovative programs are helping to transform. The event was co-sponsored by PolicyLink, the National Council of La Raza, the Executive Alliance to Expand Opportunities for Boys and Young Men of Color, and the Institute for Black Male Achievement.

Among the many nuggets of wisdom shared were three framing ideas put forth by keynote speaker Joshua DuBois, former director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. He said that when working with and supporting young men of color, you must first take the time to know their stories. Second, you must like them in spite of their stories. And third, you must give them the tools they need to write the next chapter of their lives.

These themes were passionately reinforced by the four young men who spoke. They each named a particular individual who took a special interest in them, demonstrated love, and pushed them toward greatness. These young men also felt a tremendous responsibility to give back to their communities to help other youth succeed. Their stories of triumph over chronic trauma and poverty demonstrated the tremendous value of quality youth education and employment programs.

The panel of community leaders shared elements of their models of effective engagement with young men in an age group that many have written off. Through their work, young men have had their eyes opened to their value and place in society, and been equipped with skills to be successful in postsecondary pursuits and careers of their choosing. The community leaders also shared important perspectives on how current public policy is impeding their ability to work with young men and suggested common sense solutions.

Click here to learn more about the participants and view videos about youth education and employment programs.

You can also access related policy briefs on education, employment, and healthy communities.

Watch highlights and the full briefing, and hear the young men's stories-- Wilmer, Anjel, Brandon, and Troy

 

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