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Help Our Youth Go From Failing To Fulfilling Their Dreams
Detroit Free Press, Tonya Allen and Maisha E. Simmons, 06/21/2013
Five years ago, Stepha’N Quicksey almost became a statistic. A young African-American man in Detroit, he was getting failing grades in middle school, following in the footsteps of his brothers and sisters, none of whom graduated high school.
The pitfalls of youth stared Stepha’N in the face every day. He passed gangs on the way to school. He saw young people getting high in abandoned buildings.
Stepha’N wanted more for himself. He found inspiration through his church community and committed himself to doing better in high school, earning a 3.6 grade-point average his first semester.
Earlier this month, Stepha’N graduated salutatorian from the Osborn Academy of Math, Science and Technology, a charter school within Osborn High School. That school, deliberately designed to ensure young Detroiters with similar life stories as Stepha’N beat the odds, was the result of a strong local effort to fix broken schools in the city.
This desire for better outcomes for our young people across Detroit and the nation has motivated foundations and policymakers to invest in young men of color — African-American, Latino, Asian-American and Native-American youth — who represent our future, but who face unique barriers on their path to adulthood. Nearly half of Latino and African-American males do not have a high.... Latino youth are twice as likely to be involved with the juvenile justice system than (as) their white counterparts. African-American youth are five times more likely.
Stepha’N’s story might have ended with his own success and transformation, but he wanted to help others. During his sophomore year, Stepha’N became a mentor with the Neighborhood Service Organization’s Youth Initiative Project.
“I want to change the mind-set of my peers and encourage them to look beyond drugs, to their future, to realize their potential,” Stepha’N said.
The barriers that young men of color face on the path to leading healthy, fulfilling lives are stubbornly high. Too often, they live in communities struggling with violence and instability. Unless we begin to solve these interwoven challenges, the health and well-being of these young men will be undermined throughout their lives.
There is a growing movement to reverse this trend and put America’s young men of color on a path to success. The California State Assembly formed a Select Committee on the Status of Boys and Men of Color, which has successfully worked to address high suspension rates for young men of color by changing school discipline policies that hold young people accountable, while keeping them in school. New York City launched a Young Men’s Initiative in 2011. Their efforts are already paying off, with more young men of color staying in school and graduating.
In April, the Skillman Foundation joined 25 foundation leaders, including the nation’s largest health foundation — the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation — to pledge collective action to advance the health and success outcomes of these young men.
In Detroit last week, these foundations and policymakers joined researchers, advocates and youth for A Gathering of Leaders to spread successful programs and practices like the Youth Initiative Project to communities around the nation. These leaders know what is at stake is no less than our future. We have to make a decision: Will we invest in our youth so they can build and strengthen our communities, or will we allow them to become further disconnected from communities that already lack needed education and employment opportunities?
For his part, Stepha’N plans to major in criminal justice in college and pursue a career as an FBI agent.
Stepha’N Quicksey is an exceptional young man, but his transformation is not an accident. Nor is it a singular story. There are young men of color across Detroit and the nation who are benefiting from increased investment in schools and communities — and beating the odds.
Let’s make the same commitment to our young people that Stepha’N has made to his community. We have the power to transform the futures of our young men of color, but only if we make the right investments today to let their potential flourish.
Tonya Allen is chief operating officer at the Skillman Foundation. Maisha Simmons is program officer, vulnerable populations, at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Highlights, color emphasis and underlines in this article made by N’Zinga Shäni, OneWorld, Inc
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