Merlene Davis: Young men and boys of color need more mentors, attention, report shows

Herald-Leader columnistJune 4, 2014 

The president's task force charged with finding ways to improve the lives of young men and boys of color released results of what it had learned in the 90 days since it was established.

The My Brother's Keeper Task Force, set up in February by President Barack Obama, released the report last week; it was a combination of data and practices that work in locales nationwide.

The release didn't make front-page news.

I'm hoping the lack of publicity was because there weren't any earth-shattering revelations in it. We already know young males of color need more mentoring, more attention, more leeway to fail and get back up again.

I prefer a lack-of-news reasoning for the lack of interest in the welfare of a population perceived to be of no value.

A young black male, wearing a hoodie, was shot walking home from a store because he looked suspicious.

A young white male drove drunk, killed four people, paralyzed another and was excused because he lived a privileged life.

That inequity cannot continue.

The 60-page report said 23.2 percent of Hispanics, 25.8 percent of blacks and 27 percent of Native Americans and Alaska Natives live in poverty, compared to 11.6 percent of whites.

Plus, the report said, Native American, black and Hispanic children are six to nine times more likely to live in concentrated areas of poverty, compared to whites. And about two-thirds of black and one-third of Hispanic children live with only one parent.

"While the report highlights the unique challenges of black men and boys of color, it also recognizes the structural barriers that all youth of color face in society," said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of more than 200 national organizations that lobby in favor of civil and human rights in the United States.

"We cannot expect our country or communities to prosper if this reality persists," Henderson said.

That's true. As long as someone has his foot on your neck, neither of you can move.

To end that stalemate, the task force offered recommendations that should serve as reminders of what we all should be doing, with a special focus on communities of color.

Those recommendations include emphasis on early childhood education, achieving reading level by third grade, being college-ready upon graduating from high school, completing skilled training or college, finding employment, and keeping children on a positive track and giving second chances.

"By focusing on these key moments, and helping our young people avoid roadblocks that hinder progress across life stages, we can help ensure that all children and young people have the tools they need to build successful lives," the report states.

Some of the suggestions are already at work in Lexington.

The Community Action Council has established state-of-the-art day-care centers for low-income families. The problem is the agency's budget allows for only limited enrollment.

For high school graduates being prepared for college, Black Males Working, a program at First Baptist Church, Bracktown, has enriched the lives of young black males for nine years through Saturday enrichment courses, college tours and even travel abroad.

Could that program use more volunteers and money? Of course.

Juvenile Restorative Justice works with young offenders. They are given a chance to recognize and acknowledge their mistakes and then correct them. If necessary, parents or guardians have sessions, too.

The mediation and resolution program stands in the gap between the Cabinet for Health and Family Services and the Department of Juvenile Justice. It also operates in the schools to work out problems among students.

Despite numerous success stories, the program director pays the rent for the offices out of her own pocket more often than not, and no one receives a paycheck.

Why aren't we shoring up that program financially as we do our jails and prisons?

This is the first report from the task force, with more to come, including more details on how we can make all this happen.

But we already know what's needed. We already know that whole groups of people have a harder row to hoe and that they must do it without a mule or a tractor.

Life provides a ying and a yang.

The longer we sit on the sidelines criticizing how crooked their furrows are, the longer we will be sitting on the sidelines.

Merlene Davis: (859) 231-3218. Email: mdavis1@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @reportmerle. Blog: merlenedavis.bloginky.com.

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