Giving Voice To Young Men of Color
As an African-American woman, I take a deep breath every time a mainstream organization issues a report focused on a specific population group. Why? Because the reports run the risk of inadvertently blaming the victim.
That's why I'm so excited about a new report from the College Board.
Actually, it's more than a report: It's a whole new set of resources that bring urgency and realism to the educational roadblocks faced by young men of color.
The project, The Educational Experience of Young Men of Color, uses two fresh research reports as cornerstones for a dynamic website, offering various ways to look at data in more complex and analytical ways than usual. We get bold, graphic depictions of sub-group differences in high school completion and college success that reveal the powerful impacts of class and culture within groups. (Salvadorian young males, for example, are four times more likely to drop out of high school than are Cuban males).
We get powerful statistical depictions of how men of color follow any of six pathways after high school: From the productive - postsecondary education, employment and the military - to the unproductive - unemployment, incarceration and death.
Best of all, we get real stories: Videos and voices of 92 young men of color, from high school dropouts to college graduates, who explain the roadblocks to and the catalysts for their success.
The stories are masterfully presented in sound bites coded by the type of roadblock or catalyst that the young person addresses, and further organized under three themes: pressures of life, pathways to completion and webs of support. The voices of young men drive home the lessons of the research.
We know that having to hold down a job is often an impediment to postsecondary completion for many minority youth. After graduating from high school, the College Board reports, 48 percent of Native American males enter the labor force. So do 21 percent of African-American males and 13.6 percent of Hispanic males
- Alex, 19, a Hispanic male, discusses his concerns about money, especially in light of his mom's decision to go back to college and the need for him to finance his education by himself.
With so few people from low-income families completing college, low-income students need to find role models for postsecondary success.
- Lance, a 50-year-old African-American, talks about how he watched his fiancé go to college and was motivated to do the same so that he could stay on par.
The research discusses the importance of supportive environments in school, home and community, noting, for example, that "most recommendations made with respect to curbing the high Native American male dropout rate include offering teacher professional development, providing academic and personal mentoring to students, and increasing parent and community involvement."
- George, 22, Native American, talks about his battle with drugs and the support he received from his drug-using friends (who were not role models but had valuable guidance) and from his mother, who repeatedly tried to help him, then pushed him to make his own decisions about his life.
- Miguel, 20, a Hispanic college student, discusses the importance of being at a school that has helped him find role models and opportunities to try options that interest him, and about the value of a summer program that helped him and his classmates get acclimated to the routine of college.
A focused determination to overcome obstacles is a common theme among the academic achievers.
- Trimaine, 28, talks about the importance of having "I will" in addition to "IQ" if you're going to make it through to completion.
- Harry, 24, African-American college senior who works in a restaurant kitchen - and is the only one on the kitchen crew who is in school - says he is motivated to stay in school so that this job doesn't become his career.
What's amazing about the snippets on the site is not the stories, but the young (and sometimes not so young) men. Individually, they have more than their share of roadblocks. Combined, they offer a solution to a larger, societal roadblock to dealing with this issue: apathy. You cannot listen to these stories and not care.
Karen Pittman is one of the country’s top leaders on youth development and youth policy, and founder and CEO of the Forum for Youth Investment, SparkAction's managing partner. The Forum is a nonprofit, nonpartisan "action tank" dedicated to helping communities and the nation make sure all young people are Ready by 21®: ready for college, work and life. Informed by rigorous research and practical experience, the Forum forges innovative ideas, strategies and partners to strengthen solutions for young people and those who care about them.