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Black Male Achievement: Seizing the Moment in Detroit

April 20, 2015

Headshot_tonya_allenAt a March meeting in Detroit, a number of stakeholders committed to improving outcomes for young men of color sat around a table, sharing the words that best captured how they are experiencing the beginning of citywide work on the My Brother's Keeper initiative.

They shared words such as powerful, encouraged, and committed. All good things to hear.

When it came time for the one youth participant, a senior from Detroit's East Village Preparatory High School, to share, he paused and said quietly, "I just feel loved."

That's one of the best things I've heard in a long time. I want all young men of color in Detroit and across the nation to know, without a doubt, that they are important to our future, worthy of our investment, and indeed loved.

As president and CEO of the Skillman Foundation, chair of the Campaign for Black Male Achievement, and co-chair (with Bob Ross of the California Endowment) of the nationally focused Executive Alliance, I have the honor of being in a position to drive what's happening locally in my city of Detroit, as well as across the country.

And what I see – and work to encourage – is a growing momentum. In Detroit, stakeholders are meeting on an urgent schedule to create a citywide plan to improve outcomes for young men of color. That plan includes four platforms for action – education, health, workforce development, and safety. I'm encouraged to see who is at the table; they include not just longtime partners who have devoted decades to this work and know it well, but also new partners, including representatives from the city's business sector, bringing unique ideas, energy, and resources.

In late spring, in accordance with the White House's MBK playbook, Detroit will host a summit to share the final report, including policy recommendations, with the community. By 2020, our goal is to see graduation rates for young men of color reach 90 percent in the city of Detroit. In the six neighborhoods where we are working, we've already seen rates go up almost 20 percent since 2008. With intention and the right alignment of community partners, we know we can reach our goals.

Nationally, because of concerted efforts like the Campaign for Black Achievement, I've seen scores of foundations and corporations commit to work toward the same goals. This alignment of resources and action has the potential to address disparities affecting young men of color in an unprecedented way.

Overall, in Detroit and across the country, I see two concurrent trends. One is a collective recognition that we must change the narrative and acknowledge that young men of color are assets. The other is the recognition that our young men are in many ways hurting. What I also see is an America confronted by a crucial moment and the knowledge that young men of color need our collective action more than ever. They deserve our support and our commitment.

They deserve our love.

Tonya Allen is president and CEO of the Skillman Foundation, which is dedicated to improving the lives of children in Detroit. This piece first appeared in the research brief Quantifying Hope: Philanthropic Support for Black Men and Boys, published by the Campaign for Black Male Achievement and Foundation Center.

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