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96 posts categorized "African Americans"

'Under Construction': Alliance for Boys and Men of Color

July 28, 2014

UC_logoUnder Construction is a multimedia online exhibit that showcases some of the best and brightest organizations working with males of color. The UC team of filmmakers, photographers, writers, and nonprofit experts worked directly with each of these organizations for several weeks. The collaborations yielded comprehensive portraits of the services men of color receive. Each profile features a short video, a photography exhibit, a visual program model, and a narrative essay detailing the efforts of these organizations.

Under Construction is a project of Frontline Solutions and was made possible through the support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.For more profiles, click here.

Grassroots

Jesse Esparza stands tall as he squints into the afternoon sun.
He doesn't quite fill the dark suit that hangs from his shoulders, and his hands, clasped together before his waist, only half-emerge from their sleeves.

Under-construction-bmoc-jesseBehind him stretches Stockton's Southside, the most distressed section of the most violent city in California. Jesse tells the story of the white ribbon tied at the base of a small oak tree in McKinley Park. It's a tragic story — the senseless murder of a friend's cousin, a teenager caught up in a cycle of retaliation — and his telling is both somber and matter-of-fact. But where the trauma gets particular, he generalizes, describing the way news like this travels on seismic waves through his community. "You're in shock," he explains. "You're in denial, you don't want it to be true. You're hoping it's someone else." Only 18 years old, Jesse has already been through this set of emotions more times than would be fair in a full lifespan. One might say he possesses a wisdom beyond his years, though its acquisition is troubling.

In a quiet moment of reflection, Jesse's eyes search the blades of grass as if for answers. His skin is smooth, almond colored, his face open and strong. He seems to play an image in his mind for a few moments before looking up again, lifting his eyebrows. He reaches for words to fill the silence and lights on a stock phrase. "It's pretty crazy," he says. He repeats this again and again over the next hour, the only words he can find to move past each newly risen memory as a casual drive through his old neighborhood transforms without notice into an impromptu ghost tour. The points of interest form a web of violence, dozens of vague memorials to those friends who will never have a chance, as Jesse has, to break through.

Boys & Men

The day has been a long one. All morning Jesse has been talking change politics with some of the most engaged men and women in the state. It's the Fourth Annual Stockton Summit of the Alliance for Boys and Men of Color, a decentralized coalition of organizations working at all levels of civic engagement for policy changes that will improve the lives of young Californians. In one report after another, data show young men of color face more systemic barriers than their white peers, making them much more likely to drop out of high school, serve time in prison (or juvenile hall), be unemployed, and ultimately die young. The situation, according to those involved, is dire.

The alliance is the first of its kind — a statewide network connecting young men like Jesse Esparza to a chain of influence that includes everyone from the grassroots to the upper echelons of policy and philanthropy — uniting scores of diverse organizations under a single political banner. In its first three years, it has grown with startling momentum.

Under-construction-bmoc-sammyJesse is connected through Fathers & Families of San Joaquín, a Stockton-based nonprofit and one of the local partners in the alliance. Like most of the partners statewide, Fathers & Families began its work years before the alliance was formed. Executive Director Sammy Nuñez founded the organization just over a decade ago after recognizing in himself a cross-section of the needs of his community, needs that were not met for him until it was almost too late. Nuñez is an animated man with an infectious smile who greets both old friends and new acquaintances with a warm embrace of his left arm. He keeps his right hand in the pocket of his neatly pressed trousers. 

"Lead poisoning," he explains. "Shotgun shells are bad for your health."

It's a sly reference to a near-death experience he had as younger man. He is a quick study of character and moves constantly throughout the day, playing activist matchmaker for strangers in whom he sees common interests. By lunch, his energy and compassion have reached nearly everyone at the summit.

Nuñez speaks with candor about his time cycling in and out of incarceration as a youth, and his enthusiasm builds as he talks about the group of mentors who showed him a more healthful path forward.

"It was through this process I met many of my current guides and teachers that are grounded in what we call La Cultura Cura — culture cures." Nuñez says these men seemed strange at first, unfamiliar. "They didn't gather with a joint or with a beer, they gathered and talked about real important issues. And so I found myself getting drawn to this."

At 39, he now finds himself a serious agent of change, both a political actor and a personal mentor, introducing young men like Jesse Esparza into the kind of positive cycle that can lead to transformational healing. A year after meeting Nuñez, Jesse now works as the youth organizer for Fathers & Families, a role that has brought him to today's summit to testify before members of the state assembly. As Jesse speaks to the overflowing room about programs that forever changed the course of his life, programs started by Fathers & Families and supported by the work of the alliance, the legislators hang rapt on his every word.

A Future in Color

The Alliance for Boys and Men of Color targets four key issues: workforce development, equity in education, fairness in the criminal justice system, and improved health and well-being. These are the issues that link Fathers & Families with other groups across the state — organizations like the Urban Strategies Council in Oakland or the Building Healthy Communities Hub in Fresno. The alliance began in 2011 and is still going strong in its three original cities: Los Angeles, Fresno, and Oakland. But within the last year, it also has grown in places like Stockton, Sacramento, Salinas, Santa Ana, and Coachella. While the alliance can seem abstract — comprised of myriad local partners, convened by a handful of state partners, controlled by no single entity, responsible to no one agenda beyond the broad goal of improving the lives of boys and men of color — the work being done in its name is deeply concrete.

"The state partners have an accountability to the local campaign work, to support it as needed," says Rubén Lizardo, senior director at Oakland-based PolicyLink, one of the alliance's state-level. "The people who get credit for actually engaging youth and reclaiming them, whether it's about healing, or helping them to become activists, those are the base-building groups at the local level."

As Lizardo talks about the strategies of the alliance, he switches seamlessly between a rendering of a kind of architectural diagram and citing details from the recent youth-led legislative actions that give it flesh. Throughout, he is emphatic about one thing: the youth must hold the center. "In California, for many years, young men of color were seen as public enemy number one. Our mission is to get people to see young men of color as actually the answer to California's problems — youth as protagonist for the policy work."

So far, the strategy seems to be working. Last year, thirteen of the alliance's priority bills were signed into law. Another three were passed through both houses and then vetoed by the governor. As for targeted issues like school discipline reform (which is part of the strategy to improve education equity but also lies at the intersection of criminal justice, health, and workforce development), alliance partners have supported seven related bills in three years. Five of these were signed into law, including the groundbreaking AB 2537, which returns discipline discretion to local schools in certain cases where former statewide "zero tolerance" policies would have mandated expulsion. All these bills directly involved the work of a few key lawmakers in the state assembly who sit on its bipartisan Select Committee on the Status of Boys and Men of Color in California.

"One of the more powerful partnerships we've developed in the past few years is the partnership we have with the California legislature," says Ray Colmenar, senior program officer at the California Endowment. TCE is one of the main funding partners of the alliance, and a leading advocate of health issues for communities of color across the state. "California's future is in color," Colmenar says. "We think America's future is going to be in color. And so we have to support everybody."

To foster the collaboration, the select committee, in partnership with the alliance, holds hearings like the one in Stockton, where local and regional leaders, including youth, have a chance to speak directly to its members. Recalling last year's round of hearings, Colmenar says, "[They] ultimately culminated in a set of policy recommendations that the select committee is now trying to advance in the state legislature. One of the key outcomes of that work has been the engagement of thousands of residents and leaders throughout California."

This seems to be key in the success of the alliance: partner at all levels, preserve the identity of the groups involved, ask youth to lead, and communicate a unified message. Engagement and communication feed back into the cultivation and expansion of the partnerships, so that the result is policy and system change carried out in a community of practice.

Self-Determination

Under-construction-bmoc-3The select committee is currently chaired by Assemblymember Steven Bradford. It is Bradford, an African-American man of middle age, who speaks up after the applause following Jesse Esparza's testimony subsides. "That's going to be a hard act to follow," he says. Jesse smiles humbly and looks to the next speaker, San Joaquín County's assistant chief probation officer Carla Contente, who thanks Jesse effusively.

If there is tension on the streets between black and brown, between Latino and Asian, it is not felt among these leaders. Partners at all levels in the alliance agree that a strong sense of identity is crucial for stakeholders to maintain an authentic voice within the greater coalition. But it is the coalition itself that enables the kind of broad changes needed to improve outcomes in those same communities. California, with its rapidly shifting demographics, seems uniquely positioned for this kind of coalition. At least for now. As the demographics of the U.S. continue to shift, however, California's alliance could become a model for local-state partnerships, especially as federal programs like My Brother's Keeper are rolled out across the nation.

During the rest of the hearing, Jesse's name becomes a stand-in for all those young men of color whom the movement has yet to reach. Another slate of bills has been prepared for 2014. Plans are in the works for more local alliance campaigns in Hollister, San Bernadino, and Riverside. Meanwhile folks in L.A., Fresno, and Oakland are rallying for major actions in the coming year, like an initiative on the November ballot that could retroactively reduce some drug possession charges from a felony to a misdemeanor, thus mitigating part of the legacy of the draconian "three strikes" law.

The alliance is not just passing meaningful legislation; it's helping to build a movement that reframes race politics and places boys and men of color at the heart of the narrative — young men like Jesse Esparza, who might never have worn a suit outside of a courtroom if not for his participation in the alliance.

"I always wanted to leave a legacy," he says. "And I thought that legacy was in the streets, being respected, being the hardest person out there, being known [as someone] not to mess around with. But I actually want to leave a legacy that's bigger than that. Someone who's actually known in this world for something else."

The alliance creates a framework in which Jesse is integrated into the political process and helps to disrupt, rather than feed, the school-to-prison pipeline. If that framework holds, the substance of Jesse's legacy may finally be his to choose.

 

 

Philanthropy, Diversity, and Equity

July 15, 2014

Headshot_susan_battenIn May, the Association of Black Foundation Executives (ABFE), in partnership with the Black Philanthropic Network, released the report The Exit Interview: Perceptions on Why Black Professionals Leave Grantmaking Institutions (21 pages, PDF). The report highlights the need for leadership pipelines, development programs, and effective retention strategies targeting African-American professionals in philanthropy and was prompted by the sense here at ABFE that too many African Americans were leaving the field. Indeed, data from the Council on Foundations — though not provided in a way that enabled us to analyze trends over time — seems to support our assumption.

We've received a lot of feedback on the report, ranging from approval and a sense of deep resonance, to frustration that nothing seems to be changing, to recommendations about what should be done. Clearly, there was demand for such an analysis. 

In June, two months after we released the report, the Joint Affinity Groups celebrated its twentieth anniversary by holding a Unity Summit where six identity-based organizations — ABFE, Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy, Native Americans in Philanthropy, Funders for LGBTQ Issues, the Women's Funding Network, and Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy — joined forces to talk about how we might work together to advance racial equity. The idea was that the field can and should do more to ensure that every individual in the United States has the opportunity to reach his or her full potential. To that end, we developed a proposed definition of equity — we will have achieved equity "when one can no longer predict advantage or disadvantage based on race/ethnicity, gender and gender identity, or ability" — and further proposed that we should be able to see progress toward that goal and be able to measure reductions in disparities in well-being based on race/ethnicity, gender and gender orientation, and ability. For JAG, equity is about results, and philanthropy must play a role in shaping social and economic policy and practice to advance an equity agenda.

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Weekend Link Roundup (July 5-6, 2014)

July 06, 2014

Iced tea_arrangementWe were out of pocket last week, so we've included a few items we missed in this week's roundup of noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector....

Black Male Achievement

Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter argues in a post on the HuffPo's Black Voices blog that three myths are hurting young black men and boys:

  1. Myth: America has progressed enough as a nation that black men and boys have an equal opportunity to be successful.
  2. Myth: Black-on-black violence only affects the black community.
  3. Myth: Helping young black men succeed is not government's problem.

Communications/Marketing

On the Philanthropy Front and Center - Cleveland blog, guest blogger Brian Sooy, president of design and communications firm Aespire, considers four dimensions of communications that have the potential for strengthening the culture of any mission-driven organization.

Data

Jeff Edmondson, managing director of the Strive Network, Ben Hecht, president/CEO of Living Cities, and Willa Seldon, a partner with the Bridgespan Group, weigh in with a nice HuffPo piece on the transformative power of data.

Data may have the power to transform, but in a follow-up to a post on the Markets for Good blog he penned about the death of evaluation, Andrew Means, associate director of the Center for Data Science & Public Policy at the University of Chicago, suggests that nonprofits still have a long way to go in learning how to use it to improve their effectiveness and impact.

Can data sometimes do more harm than good? Absolutely, says Robert J. Moore, chief executive of RJMetrics, on the New York Times' You're the Boss blog. In particular, writes Moore, there are three situations in which he has learned to second-guess the data-driven approach: when the costs are too high; when the results won't change your mind; and when following the data means betraying your vision.

Economy

Very good post by John Hagel, co-chair of the Deloitte Center for Edge Innovation, in response to Harvard historian Jill Lepore's recent New Yorker article dismissing Clayton Christensen and his theory of disruptive innovation. It's a bit of a long read, but Hagel's main thesis is that two forces – economic liberalization and exponentially improving technology –are "systematically and substantially" reducing barriers to entry and movement on a global scale while causing businesses and institutions to "fundamentally re-think" their models and arrangements. "Bottom line," writes Hagel, "[these two forces] are catalyzing more opportunity for players to adopt new approaches that can be highly disruptive...[and] increasing both the motivation and ability of players to pursue these disruptive
approaches...."

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'Under Construction': System of Care – Clayton County, Georgia

June 17, 2014

Under-construction-logoUnder Construction is a multimedia online exhibit showcasing some of the best and brightest organizations working with males of color. The UC team of filmmakers, photographers, writers, and nonprofit experts worked directly with each of these organizations for several weeks. The collaborations yielded comprehensive portraits of the services men of color receive. Each profile features a short video, a photography exhibit, a visual program model, and a narrative essay detailing the efforts of these organizations.

Under Construction is a project of Frontline Solutions and was made possible through the support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. For more profiles, click here.

The doors closed behind Oscar Mayes, stopping him in his tracks. Everything came to a halt and he was alone with his thoughts. He tracked back to the awful mistake that landed him in a detention center in Clayton County, Georgia.

SOC_Oscar MayesThe Mayes of today looks back on that chapter in his life. "You live for a moment, but you never think about your future and how it can come back to haunt you," he says. "Your past can come back to haunt you."

For the 15-year-old Mayes, it didn’t matter whether he looked backward or forward. He was haunted as much by the future as by the past. When was his court appointment? Where would he be transferred next? When would he see his family again? Life's certainties hung by a thread. The prospect of hard prison time loomed in his mind, knocking off future milestones one by one.

Before Clayton County introduced the System of Care and its alternative to youth incarceration, this was a typical scenario for young offenders.

At that point, Mayes's life had been turned upside down. And over the last two decades, Clayton County, located just south of Atlanta, has faced its own upheaval. Atlanta's selection as host city for the 1996 Summer Olympics ushered in a phase of redevelopment and transformation that sent ripples across the metro area. Inner-city housing projects were razed to pave the way for new stadiums and gentrification. Many of the city's displaced headed to the suburbs.

Droves of the county's middle- and upper-income residents responded to the changes by moving. Subsequently, many shops and stores were shuttered. Then the county was rezoned for subsidized housing. Crime rates went up. The community eventually faced a new reality as the poorest county in metro Atlanta with the highest foreclosure rates and the highest rates of free and reduced lunches.

Before the System of Care, the young residents of Jonesboro, Forest Park, and towns across Clayton County could easily get caught up in the juvenile justice system. Georgia's legal code was exceptionally rigid: by committing any one of thirty-plus crimes, an offender became a "designated felon" regardless of whether he was 53 or 13.

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Game-Changing Philanthropy Through Funder Collaboration

June 12, 2014

Headshot_bossiere_corvingtonPhilanthropy has spent decades focused on achieving good outcomes with not enough to show when it comes to population-level impact on intergenerational poverty. It's clear that to achieve better results, we need to change the way we do our work.

As we ask nonprofits to collaborate to ensure better alignment and more secure hand-offs between and among programs, we funders have got to be prepared to do the same.

Fortunately, there are a number of foundations that have already figured this out. In Springfield, Massachusetts, the Irene E. & George A. Davis Foundation asked a dozen fellow funders — banks, insurance companies, family foundations, and the local United Way — to align their grantmaking with the goal of ensuring that every child in the community enters fourth grade reading at grade level. Thanks to those efforts, the Funder Collaborative for Reading Success has supported a variety of tutoring, afterschool, and summer learning programs.

In Iowa, the ten foundations in the Education Funders Network have agreed to jointly fund an early reading initiative, starting with a summer learning push that is being rolled out this month in communities across the state. In Arizona, the state's leading philanthropic organizations have joined with public agencies and more than five dozen community nonprofits to create Read On Arizona, an effort aimed at improving language and literacy outcomes for children from birth through age 8.

These efforts give lie to the social-sector adage that "collaboration is an unnatural act between non-consenting adults." Together, these foundations are pushing through the discomfort that comes with yielding control of the agenda and are diving into the messy work of shared accountability and elevated expectations.

What's more, they're directing their energy toward one of the biggest problems our nation faces: the fact that four-fifths of children from low-income families have not learned to read proficiently by the time they finish third grade.

This is a problem with grave consequences. Third grade marks the point where the curriculum shifts from learning to read to reading to learn. Children who don't reach that critical milestone often struggle in the later grades and are more likely to drop out of high school. Too often, even in good schools with effective teachers, these are the children least likely to succeed, because they are too far behind when they start, miss too many days of school, and lose too much ground over the summer.

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (May 2014)

June 01, 2014

It was a rough month for Typepad, the blogging service/platform used by tens of thousand of blogs, including PhilanTopic. On two separate occasions during the month, the platform was subjected to significant DDoS (distributed denial-of-service) attacks that knocked it completely offline. In fact, we were down for the better part of six days. Despite the inconvenience, it was a busy month here, as some of our favorite contributors -- Allison Shirk, Derrick Feldmann, and Foundation Center president Brad Smith -- checked in with popular posts. Here's another chance to catch up on some of the things you may have missed....

What have you read/watched/listened to over the last month that made you think, surprised you, or caused you to scratch your head? Share your finds in the comments section below....

5 Questions for…John Gomperts, President and CEO, America’s Promise Alliance

May 30, 2014

According to Building a Grad Nation: Progress and Challenge in Ending the High School Dropout Epidemic 2014 (112 pages, PDF), a report published in April by America's Promise Alliance and its partners, the four-year high school graduation rate in the United States reached 80 percent for the first time ever in 2012. But while the overall rate is on track to reach the 90 percent goal set by the alliance's Building a GradNation Campaign, the report notes the troubling persistence of achievement gaps for low-income students and students of color. In an effort to help address those gaps, America's Promise just released Don't Call Them Dropouts: Understanding the Experiences of Young Americans Who Leave High School Before Graduation (72 pages, PDF), which looks at the multiple factors that result in students in high-poverty communities leaving high school before they graduate.

PND spoke with John Gomperts, president and CEO of America's Promise Alliance, about the positive trendlines in graduation rates, the implications of the reports' findings, and what philanthropy can do to address the achievement gaps that remain. Before joining America’s Promise in 2012, Gomperts headed AmeriCorps, Civic Ventures, and Experience Corps.

Headshot_john_gompertsPhilanthropy News Digest: Building a Grad Nation notes that one of the factors in the steady rise in the U.S. high school graduation rate over the last decade is the significant improvement in African-American and Latino graduation rates. To what do you attribute those gains?

John Gomperts: We as a nation have seen an almost 10 percentage-point increase in high school graduation rates over about a decade, which is notable, because that means that an additional four hundred thousand young people are graduating every year than were graduating a decade ago. That's four hundred thousand young people who are on track to becoming successful adults, which is a huge thing for those young people, their families, their communities, and the nation. And, yes, we have seen impressive gains among African-American and Latino students. Those two groups had a long distance to travel, and that was one of the huge red flags for all of us who are concerned about young people and opportunity. But while graduation rates for African Americans and Latinos have improved over the last decade, they still graduate at  lower rates and there is more work to do.

To what do I attribute these gains? A couple of things. The first is a much greater awareness of the challenge. For a long time, people just assumed that everybody graduated from high school, or that it didn't matter. One of the big things that America's Promise and its partners set out to do was to help people understand that lots of kids are not graduating from high school, as well as the consequences of not graduating for those kids, their families, their communities, and the country.

Second, greater awareness of the problem led to much greater accountability at the school level, community level, family level, and national level, so that all of a sudden, with significant help from the federal government and from folks on the outside, people are now tracking graduation rates and holding institutions and individuals accountable for the outcomes.

Third, there is no question that targeted school reform has helped drive improvements in graduation rates. Those efforts come in a variety of forms: better teachers, better curriculum, longer school days, charter schools, teacher evaluations, and so on. In addition, a whole host of reforms have been targeted to the lowest-performing schools, and those have made a difference.

Fourth, we've learned a lot more about, and invested more heavily in, evidence-based interventions in schools and in communities. We've gotten smarter about what the real barriers are that prevent kids from staying and succeeding in school. Some of those things have to do with school, some of those things have to do with life, and I think many nonprofits have done a great job of working with local school districts and others to provide the kind of support that young people who are growing up in challenging circumstances need in order to flourish and thrive.

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Our Girls Are in Trouble, Too

May 28, 2014

Headshot_cathy_weissI was thrilled recently to read about the Foundation Center's new report Building a Beloved Community: Strengthening the Field of Black Male Achievement. The report details the exciting and long overdue work in the area of black male achievement and provides recommendations for strengthening that work.

At Stoneleigh Foundation, we are familiar with the disparities that black males — particularly boys and young men — face, and we believe that, to improve life outcomes for this population, it is imperative to understand what it means to be a young black male in the context of current and past realities. We are certain that policies for serving these boys and young men can be successful only if we consider the intergenerational cycles of neglect and trauma that have been hardwired into their brains. Using a gendered and, in this case, cultural lens to approach public policy is necessary to advance a targeted and effective strategy.

We at Stoneleigh applaud the "intensified focus" on black males, and we look forward to having more partners join us in redressing the policies that have resulted in such unfortunate realities for too many.

Similarly, we would like to see the same gendered lens applied to girls when devising policies that affect young, at-risk females. Research shows a basic lack of awareness of how the challenges faced by girls differ from those of boys — and how we can and should serve girls differently. At a recent symposium hosted by Stoneleigh, we explored the unique challenges girls are facing, how coping with these challenges often leads to system involvement, and why girls are falling through the cracks of the current "one size fits all" child welfare and juvenile justice systems.

Compared to previous generations, adolescent girls are getting into trouble with the law and with their peers at unprecedented rates. Girls in the child welfare system experience more teen pregnancies, bad birth outcomes, and poor health, and they are more likely to abuse their own children. And for many girls, the child welfare system leads directly to the juvenile justice system. But why? And what are we doing to support girls so that system involvement doesn't lead to these heartbreakingly too-common outcomes?

Our systems are failing girls because we have yet to seek the answers to these questions. We must explore ways to better harness the strength and resilience of girls, and that starts with understanding who they are, the challenges they face, and what they need to thrive. Let's take a cue from the powerful work being done to address the challenges faced by our at-risk boys and young men, and apply the same focus to girls. Our collective success depends on it.

Cathy Weiss is executive director of the Philadelphia-based Stoneleigh Foundation, which works to improve the life outcomes of vulnerable children and youth and also funds fellowships for individuals working to improve the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. The foundation recently convened a symposium titled "What About the Girls?" that brought together leaders in juvenile justice and child welfare to discuss the concept that girls can only be served effectively if we begin to understand the unique challenges they are facing.

It's Time to Make the American Dream Available to All

May 27, 2014

Headshot_geoff_canadaThe barriers to success that black men face have been in plain sight for decades, so it is particularly heartening to see a movement taking shape that is specifically crafted to address these challenges and change the odds for one of the most disenfranchised populations in America.

I was on the board of trustees of the Open Society Foundations when the idea of a black male achievement campaign first came up. While it was obvious that something needed to be done, we immediately found ourselves facing a philosophical dilemma: Was it right to target just one group when other groups also need help?

In a country where cultural and racial relations are as complicated as they are in the United States, people are understandably hesitant to publicly announce they are going to help one group while seemingly ignoring all others. Eventually, we concluded that tailoring our efforts to a group that has a common history and a resulting set of common challenges is absolutely the right approach. Black men in America — while individuals in their own right — are heirs to a unique historical experience. After slavery was ended by the Civil War, black men faced decades of institutional racism, Jim Crow and segregation, public lynchings, and disenfranchisement. More recently, they have been abused and demeaned by a toxic street culture and media stereotypes that glorify self-destructive behavior.

If we are going to close the achievement gap and end what the Children's Defense Fund calls the "cradle to prison pipeline" for black boys and men, we need to take into consideration the insidious context of their situation. Indeed, as the Campaign for Black Male Achievement has taken shape, gaining traction even as parallel efforts have emerged, we've seen how necessary and overdue such an effort is. While there is certainly a lot of day-to-day work still to be done, the narrative and national dialogue have begun to change. Ignorance and fear are giving way to empathy and intelligent action.

We have, in Barack Obama, a president who has given the imprimatur of the White House to the idea that racism will not be sanctioned or ignored by society.  In the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin shooting, the president's empathetic response created space for an honest, open, and clear-eyed public discussion of race relations and the stubbornness of racism in America.

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Time to Put Poverty Back on the Education Reform Agenda

May 19, 2014

Headshot_kent_mcguireA few months ago the Southern Education Foundation released a report detailing the demographics of public school enrollment in the United States. The single most important finding in the report? Nearly half of all public school students in the nation and a majority in Western and Southern states are low-income and qualify for free and reduced lunch — and an increasing percentage of those are students of color. Unfortunately, a much-needed debate about the challenges presented by these demographic realities, especially for the nation's schools, has yet to occur. In fact, the dominant narrative around public education in the U.S. would have it that entrenched poverty has little or no impact on educational achievement. We all recognize that teacher effectiveness and high expectations for students are important elements in student achievement. But can we really ignore the implications of being poor for school readiness and success?

Poverty is really a proxy for a range of conditions and circumstances that shape the daily lives of students. A student who is hungry or cannot see or hear adequately is likely to have problems concentrating in class. We also know that children from low-income families have much higher rates of untreated dental conditions and endure more acute illnesses that lead to chronic absenteeism and lost instructional time. If education reform policies are insensitive to these realities, there is little reason to expect that learning outcomes for low-income children will improve.

In spite of our best efforts, income-related gaps in student achievement in the U.S. persist, from grade school all the way through college. Indeed, I am not at all confident that we have figured out how to break the link between family income level and academic success. And so I would ask: Are we sure that our current reform agenda, with its emphasis on standards, competition, and accountability, is adequate to the challenge of helping kids, especially the most vulnerable, learn and develop in ways that prepare them for the world of work or other postsecondary opportunities? What more should we be doing, and what else might we consider doing, to increase the odds that all kids, regardless of race, ethnicity, or family income, can take full advantage of all this country has to offer?

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Advancing Hope for Black Men and Boys

May 15, 2014

Headshot_Shawn Dove_How do you quantify hope? I've been asking myself that question recently in my role as manager of the Open Society Foundations' Campaign for Black Male Achievement. Indeed, with the intensified focus on the disparities facing black men and boys in America, and increased demand for evidenced-based outcomes and lifting up what truly works, it has been pressing on my mind and heart.

I come into contact every day with leaders, young and old, working hard to advance the field of black male achievement. They give me hope that lasting change is possible. This week, the BMAfunders team at the Foundation Center published a report, Building a Beloved Community: Strengthening the Field of Black Male Achievement, that provides the nation with a recipe for taking that work to the next level.

Given the growing national focus on the need to improve life outcomes for black males, it is a timely resource. Based on interviews with fifty leaders in the social, academic, government, and business sectors, Building a Beloved Community maps the black male achievement landscape and offers recommendations for strengthening the field going forward.

The report also attempts to answer the question posed in the title of its 2012 companion report, Where Do We Go From Here? Philanthropic Support for Black Men and Boys, and concludes that we should aspire to what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a generation ago, described as the Beloved Community — a nation committed to realizing its founding promise of "justice for all."

In describing his idea of a Beloved Community, King said "we are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality." That notion is linked to scholar and civil rights activist Lani Guinier's premise that black men and boys are America's "canaries in the mine" — that the inequities they face are inextricably connected to the well-being of all Americans. In fact, it was Guinier's premise that helped convince Open Society's U.S. Programs board of directors to launch the Campaign for Black Male Achievement in 2008. Since then, we have worked with countless partners to help catalyze and support the emerging leaders and organizations highlighted in the Building a Beloved Community report.

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[Infographic] AIDS Today: The Facts, Figures, and Trajectory of a Global Illness

May 03, 2014

By October 2, 1985, the morning Rock Hudson died, the word was familiar to almost every household in the Western world.
     AIDS.
     Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome had seemed a comfortably distant threat to most of those who had heard of it before, the misfortune of people who fit into rather distinct classes of outcasts and social pariahs. But suddenly, in the summer of 1985, when a movie star was diagnosed with the disease and the newspapers couldn't stop talking about it, the AIDS epidemic became palpable and the threat loomed everywhere....

So begins And the Band Played On: Politics, People and the AIDS Epidemic, Randy Shilts' masterful 1987 account of the epidemic's early days -- and the federal government's feckless response to the unfolding crisis.

Much changed in the decades that followed the publication of Shilts' book. The virus spread to every corner of the globe. Scientists and researchers, backed by foundations like the Aaron Diamond Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, raced to find a vaccine. Governments woke up to the threat. And, with the advent of anti-retroviral therapy, infection rates finally began to slow and then stabilize.

Today, as the infographic below illustrates, the news on the HIV/AIDS front is mostly positive. Indeed, over the last ten years, the global community, working together, has managed to reduce the risk of HIV/AIDS by more than 50 percent for fully one-third of the people on the planet:

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'Under Construction': Exodus Transitional Community - East Harlem, New York

April 28, 2014

Under-construction-logoUnder Construction is a multimedia online exhibit showcasing some of the best and brightest organizations working with males of color. The UC team of filmmakers, photographers, writers, and nonprofit experts worked directly with each of these organizations for several weeks. The collaborations yielded comprehensive portraits of the services men of color receive. Each profile features a short video, a photography exhibit, a visual program model, and a narrative essay detailing the efforts of these organizations.

Under Construction is a project of Frontline Solutions and was made possible through the support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. For more profiles, click here.

On these blocks in East Harlem it is easy to imagine the entire outside world as a penitentiary. If a man disappears, you can bet he's up at Sing Sing, or Greenhaven, or some other correctional facility with a pleasant-sounding name.

And, as if out of a timeless void, they return.

Earlier this spring, you may have recognized a face on 3rd Avenue that you hadn't seen since 1993. Maybe later that night the name came to you, Michael Rowe, that kid who had a penchant for flashy clothes and who worked at his uncle's Laundromat on East 124th Street. So he's back now, you think. Trees have grown tall since then. There's a giant IHOP on the corner now. That wasn't here back then.

Each year some 2,200 people return from incarceration to this small pocket of upper Manhattan —north from 119th to 126th Street, and east from Lexington over to 2nd Avenue — an area that takes ten minutes to cross on foot. Their return has earned the neighborhood the name the Reentry Corridor. They come back with a felony record and little chance of finding sustainable work, back to households that were unstable years ago and have not been helped by time. Many carry high hopes of making a new life, hopes ten or twenty or thirty years in the making. Within a year, more than half of them will be locked up again.

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Documentary Film and Gentrification (Part 2)

April 15, 2014

(Kathryn Pyle is a documentary filmmaker and a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. Click here to read part one of this two-part series.)

Poster_holding_groundIn my previous post, I wrote about a handful of documentary films that explore the phenomenon of gentrification. In this post, I'll consider urban redevelopment in a broader sense – with the pressure coming not only from private developers but from city government and, in some cases, endowed institutions with agendas of their own.

Over the past decade, the Scribe Video Center in Philadelphia has offered a variety of programs designed to build the media skills of community activists. Through its Precious Places project, for instance, Scribe has provided video production support to nearly seventy organizations looking to record the stories neighborhood residents have to tell about the buildings, public spaces, parks, landmarks, and other sites that define where they live. The series has been broadcast on WHYY and screened in film festivals and community settings around the country.

A number of Precious Places films focus on the eroding sense of community in urban neighborhoods. Two of those short films address the value of green space and community-based arts and, in the process, challenge public policy assumptions about "redevelopment."

Featuring sixty local gardeners and other residents. La Mott Community Garden (2011) tells the story of a two-acre community garden located just outside the city line adjacent to La Mott, the oldest historically black community in Pennsylvania. Part of a larger twelve-acre parcel deeded to Temple University in 1939, the garden has served the community for more than eighty years. At some point along the way, Temple built the Tyler School of Art on part of the property, leaving the garden intact. But when a new facility was constructed for Tyler on Temple's main campus in 2009, the entire parcel was put up for sale. With support from Cheltenham Township and the Conservancy of Montgomery County, the La Mott Community Garden Group is attempting to save the garden and has requested that Temple donate the garden to the community under a land trust agreement or set a fair market price for the property so it can be purchased by the community. Both options have been rejected by the university, and negotiations are at a standstill as gardening season approaches.

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Documentary Film and Gentrification

April 07, 2014

(Kathryn Pyle is a documentary filmmaker and a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. In her previous post, she wrote about the promise and failure of humanitarian aid in Haiti.)

Urban_gentrificationThe phenomenon of gentrification – how it gets started, who benefits, and who loses – is a longstanding concern in cities across the country.

But the term describes only the most visible and disturbing face of urban change: the crowding out of lower-income residents from a suddenly "hot" neighborhood by more affluent newcomers. At a time of growing income inequality in the U.S., it's an image that has captured the attention of the media and, increasingly, is sparking public indignation.

Writing in the New York Times ("Cities Helping Residents Resist the New Gentry"), Timothy Williams observes that "the arrival of newcomers to formerly working-class areas…is distinct from previous influxes over the past thirty years" because new arrivals tend to want to live in newer housing, and the condos and loft spaces built to satisfy that demand not only are too expensive for long-time residents but also add to the density of a neighborhood while reducing the ratio of older residents to new arrivals. Williams' article goes on to discuss measures that have been adopted by cities to mitigate the impact of gentrification on longtime homeowners, while a Times article ("Gentrifying Into the Shelters") by Ginia Bellafante notes that creating and maintaining affordable housing for low-income renters in gentrifying neighborhoods requires an altogether different set of measures.

The topic hasn't escaped the notice of documentary filmmakers. Told in different styles and about different places, films such as Gut Renovation (2012), Third Ward TX (2007), and We Will Not Be Moved (1980) identify common elements in the gentrification process -- foremost among them real estate speculation and private housing development, in many cases encouraged by tax breaks and rezoning policies.  

Su Friedrich's Gut Renovation is a very personal account of that process as it unfolded in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, and how that process is displacing the local artist community – of which she is a member. It begins, in 2005, when Friedrich notices the first high-rise condo going up down the street and ends, five years later, with her own building's demolition to make way for the umpteenth luxe condo project in the neighborhood. Needless to say, the redevelopment of Williamsburg continues unabated, affecting the neighborhood’s long-term population of Poles, Italians, Puerto Ricans, and Dominicans and irrevocably changing the very thing that attracted artists to the neighborhood in the first place.

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