LA County Expands School-Based Intervention Programs for Young Men of Color

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas stands with Bloom participant at Brotherhood Crusade event.

As protests across the country continue, in a call for greater racial equity to counteract the injustices faced by men of color, the Board of Supervisors has unanimously approved a motion to increase Department of Mental Health (DMH) funding to combat the school-to-prison pipeline of African American men. Co-authored by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, this motion will direct $1.35 million to the Department of Health Services (DHS) to contract with California Community Foundation to expand its Building a Lifetime of Options and Opportunities for Men (BLOOM) and Becoming A Man (BAM) Programs. Supervisor Ridley-Thomas worked closely with DMH to ensure that schools in the Second District would be prioritized for BLOOM/BAM expansion.

“As the largest county in the nation, we have an obligation to make sure our budgetary investments reflect our values and offer the highest return to the communities we serve. This motion represents a critical step forward in that direction by disrupting the school-to-prison pipeline,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.

“I am very pleased to co-author this important motion which will expand two successful research-based programs that redress the racial inequality undermining the life potential of too many young men of color. BLOOM and BAM reduce involvement in the justice system and open doors to higher education, and this County support expands those possibilities to an even greater number of young people,” said Supervisor Sheila Kuehl.

“These programs could not be more timely and important than they are now. At the Department of Mental Health, we recognize the impact of trauma including the trauma of inequity that is pervasive in society,” stated DMH Director Jonathan E. Sherin, M.D., Ph.D.

This funding will expand the BLOOM/BAM programming offered in schools and provide young Black men with targeted resources that enable them to better manage life challenges, engage in mental health services, and continue along a path of success. These projects seek out youth who are probation-involved, contending with behavioral issues, deficient in school credits and/or experiencing absenteeism or truancy. Most importantly, each program aims to assist students with academic achievement, character development and mentoring services. Since 2012, 100% of BLOOM seniors have graduated from high school, nearly all have enrolled in college, and 97% have upheld the terms of their probation and have not reoffended.

“Through BLOOM we have built a bridge between the nonprofits and the County,” said Antonia Hernandez, President and CEO of the California Community Foundation, where BLOOM was first nurtured and grown. “It is encouraging to see the impact of the program endure through LA County’s investment and partnership.”

Launched in 2008, the Social Justice Learning Institute (SJLI) is one of the organizations that will directly implement the BLOOM and BAM programs. “At such a critical time in our fight for racial and social justice, the LA County Board of Supervisors is demonstrating the leadership and commitment needed to strengthen opportunities for youth of color and especially, young Black men. By investing in BLOOM, our community-based organizations can help youth develop into leaders, graduate high school and return to our communities equipped with the education and careers needed to create change and ensure justice is achieved,” said SJLI Founder and Executive Director, D’Artagnan Scorza, Ph.D.

Though prevalent throughout many areas of society, systemic racism and inequities faced by Black people has particularly been on display in our public schools where young Black men are disproportionately isolated, punished and pushed into the juvenile and criminal justice system. Although Black men comprise only 9 percent of the County’s population, 32 percent of Black youth are on probation and 80 percent are re-arrested within three years. Even more alarming is that Black men in California have only a 60% high school graduation rate. In California, if a Black male doesn’t graduate from high school, he has a 90% chance of being incarcerated by the age of 35.

BLOOM participants had this to say about the program:

“[It’s] super-important to me that this program is dedicated to young Black men…because of how the world looks at us and trains us to look at ourselves. They tell us all these negative things about ourselves from children to adulthood.” —BLOOMer, age 22

“With BLOOM, I am doing stuff I never thought I’d be doing. [I] gave a speech at the State Capitol….I’m not only fighting for me, I’m fighting for others, too.” —BLOOMer, age 19

For more information about the BLOOM and BAM programs, please visit https://www.calfund.org/.