Around the world, America represents freedom and equality, a place where all people — regardless of their background — have the opportunity to pursue their dreams. But for many Americans, that ideal runs up against some harsh realities.
Fifty years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, black, Latino and other young boys and men of color are less likely to finish high school than their peers, and more likely to be unemployed, in poverty, or in prison — or the victims of violent crime. This is a national crisis that has persisted for too long, and fixing it is a moral imperative that we must confront head-on.
Recently, President Obama took an important step toward doing that by announcing a new initiative called My Brother’s Keeper. It brings together a broad coalition of leaders from across America, including from the private and nonprofit sectors, who are committed to ensuring that boys and young men have the opportunity to succeed.
My Brother’s Keeper is not some new, big government program; it recognizes that all of us — parents, teachers, companies and religious and community leaders — have an active role to play. The initiative is built on common-sense solutions — from early childhood education to prison sentencing reforms — that all Americans, regardless of political party, should be able to rally around and support.
The reality is that across the country, communities are already adopting approaches to help put these boys and young men on the path to success. My Brother’s Keeper seeks to build on these efforts, helping to determine what’s working and how to expand upon proven solutions — focusing on the key moments in the lives of young people where the evidence tells us we can have the greatest impact.
In 2011, New York City launched a public-private partnership called the Young Men’s Initiative. With financial support from Bloomberg Philanthropies and George Soros’ Open Societies Foundation, YMI intentionally focuses simultaneously on four key areas: education, employment, health and criminal justice.
We know that when students are not in school, they fall behind — and they struggle to catch up. One of the factors driving classroom absences was school suspensions. So, New York City reconsidered the ways schools approach discipline issues — and that helped reduce suspensions by 23%, while also cutting school arrests by 34%, in just a single year.
That means New York’s youth are now spending many more days in class, working towards graduation. And, counterintuitively for some, school culture and climate have actually improved.
Through the YMI, the city also invested in an array of alternatives to incarceration to advance a comprehensive reform of the juvenile justice system, which has produced a remarkable decline of 62% fewer youth from New York City in state juvenile facilities.
New York City also established teen anti-violence programs in high-crime areas, and gun violence is down more than 28% in those neighborhoods.
Because children who grow up with fathers in their lives are much more likely to finish school and stay out of trouble with the law, the YMI helps fathers and kids connect, through programs like the Fatherhood Academy, a free, five-month-long program to help fathers prepare for college, get work experience and learn about parenting and financial literacy.