Can Young Black Men Be Saved?

Our Board of Economists examines the lost potential of African American males and develops a prescription to improve their fortunes

most rewarding part of his experience. “Muhammad has really been like a father-figure for me,” says Scales, whose parents are deceased. “He can relate to me a lot because he was once a troubled youth as well. He also majored in journalism at Howard, so he gave me advice on how I can become a successful journalism major.”

RESTORE SUMMER YOUTH EMPLOYMENT PROGRAM
Public policy could play a major role in helping young black males stay on the right track if legislators could be persuaded to restore the summer youth jobs programs of the 1970s. Such programs would provide young blacks with a source of income and critical job skills.

Bernard Anderson says black organizations and elected officials should advocate for the restoration of the summer youth employment program as part of the nation’s employment and training budget. Specifically, he suggests that the Congressional Black Caucus take the lead on authoring such legislation. “Place the responsibility within the U.S. Department of Labor to fund it through the secretary’s discretionary authority,” says Anderson. “In that way, African American organizations like The National Urban League and the NAACP can influence who gets the money to carry out those programs.”

ACTIVELY CAMPAIGN FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND SCHOOL REFORM
The National Urban League’s Marc Morial urges the adoption of a radical public policy initiative: mandatory universal early childhood education. He advocates a standardized program that would help all children become academically competitive and acclimated with the learning process before they enter kindergarten. “It requires a national effort,” says Morial. “We have to disabuse ourselves of the notion that we can solve this problem if the first formal education experience is in kindergarten or first grade. It won’t work because too many kids are already behind at that point.”

The board agreed, emphasizing that children will continue to fail unless parents take an active role in changing the school system. “It is not enough to pick up and drop off your kids at school,” says Simms. “You have to be engaged in how the school system treats all kids and how available resources are being spent.” What are the first steps? Parents must participate in the Parent-Teacher Association as well as recruit school board candidates and vote in elections.

ATTACK PUBLIC POLICIES THAT HAVE AN ADVERSE EFFECT ON BLACK MALES
Simms also believes African Americans must fight to change public policies that disproportionately punish black males. She says policies such as “zero tolerance in schools,” in which students are suspended for violating school rules, may seem like a good idea but eventually force minority children out of the school system because it doesn’t address the cause of their behaviorial problems. She also maintains that the government elimination of certain programs creates a crisis for resource-deprived communities. For example, Simms says, “the declining support for mental health programs forces juvenile offenders into criminal institutions as opposed to supporting institutions.”

Simms also contends that the three strikes sentencing laws, the crack versus powder cocaine sentencing guidelines and mandatory minimums are particularly ruinous for black

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