Helping Young Men of Color

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As a trained pediatrician, California Endowment CEO Dr. Robert Ross knows what it takes to raise healthy children. And so as part of a broader campaign to improve public health in California, Ross recently announced a $50 million California Endowment investment to help boys and young men of color improve their third grade reading levels, reduce school absenteeism, increase prosecution diversion programs, increase enrollment in health care coverage and reduce the number of school suspensions.

Unveiled at Manual Arts High School in Los Angeles, the “Sons and Brothers” campaign, seeks to increase support for young men of color by partnering with organizations, schools and nonprofits that can focus on the issues holding many back.

The statistics reveal the hardships, struggles and challenges facing these boys and young men.

Young men of color have one of the highest high school dropout rates of any group and one of the lowest entry rates into college, Ross said; they have one of the highest homicide rates and are among those most likely to be born out of wedlock.

“We have a strategic and moral imperative,” said Ross to the crowd of students, educators, elected officials, law enforcement and nonprofit leaders listening attentively to his words. “These kids are telling us, at very early stage: ‘I am losing hope.’ Our job is to focus on these early warning signs and begin a new narrative.”

Considering that people of color will make up the majority of Americans in the near future, it is in the state and the nation’s best interest to address these issues by working together to help.

“Our work is cut out for us,” said Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas. “We cannot let these young people down. We must invest in education, we must invest in summer youth job programs. We must invest on the front end.”

One of the first steps in the campaign will be to improve reading achievement. More than 80 percent of black boys do not read at grade level by 3rd grade. This severely hampers future academic achievement, and the slide continues into high school, with those boys being four times more likely to leave school without a diploma.

Actor and activist Edward James Olmos, who rallied the crowd, asked “What is the single most important thing you can do? Get an education.”

Following his lead, 17-year-old Manual Arts student Mister Johnson spoke about his past, his stints in juvenile hall and joining gangs—until someone at Manual Arts took the time to tell him that he too could go to college. He left the gang life behind, turned his grades around and now hopes to go to college and major in criminology or sociology.

“With support and investment, anything is possible,” he said. “I am living proof.”

Indeed, as Ross noted, there is a lot of work to be done, but the message needs to be clear to young boys and men of color: “The new narrative needs to be, you are loved, you are valued and we need you to move this nation forward.”[/raw]