For the Success of Boys and Men of Color, A Call to Action

We are heartened by the president’s recognition that to increase opportunity for all Americans, we must help boys and men of color succeed.

In the State of the Union address, President Obama opened the door to an opportunity that may be a game changer for millions of boys and men of color in America.

In his speech, President Obama said that he believes in the fundamental importance of transforming the lives of young men and boys of color and is committed to bolstering and reinforcing government and private partnerships to work on the issue.

We welcome and are heartened by the president’s commitment and recognition that a key part of the effort to increase opportunity for all Americans, regardless of race and gender, is to focus explicitly on helping boys and men of color succeed.

Young men of color face systemic economic, social, and political barriers in their everyday lives. As a result, too many of them are denied educational opportunity, become unemployed, or worse, face incarceration.

In spite of these barriers, we see men and boys of color overcome the odds on a regular basis—graduating at the top of their classes, achieving leadership positions in corporations, becoming business owners, and being wonderful fathers to their families and valuable members of their communities. They are vital assets to our country, and investing in pathways to build opportunity for them will deliver significant economic and civic benefits to the nation as a whole.

For many years, a broad range of nonprofits, foundations, and businesses have been doing all they can to help these young men reach their full potential. In the field of philanthropy, the president’s remarks build on existing momentum.

The California Endowment’s Sons and Brothers campaign, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Forward Promise initiative, and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s Black Male Engagement work affirm a commitment to strengthen the health and success of boys and young men of color. In addition, a project of several foundations, serves as a resource to anyone interested in fostering black male achievement.

The Open Society Foundations have always focused efforts on the most marginalized and vulnerable communities. For the last five years, through our Campaign for Black Male Achievement, we have made a long-term investment in improving the life outcomes of black males through support of mentoring, education, and common sense school discipline policies.

We know firsthand that collaborative approaches, especially those that involve a wide variety of stakeholders, have already had real traction in improving the life outcomes of boys and men of color in the United States. Just one example is the $127-million, three-year partnership with the New York City Mayor’s Office, Bloomberg Philanthropies, and the Open Society Foundations in the Young Men’s Initiative, which utilizes a range of programs and approaches to address systemic barriers faced by young black and Latino men and boys.

We hope the president’s call to action will encourage leaders in every sector to embark upon similar work. We look forward to participating in expanded and more collaborative efforts that engage the business, non-profit, government, and philanthropic sectors. Increased partnerships between the public and private sector will help make success a reality for many more of young men and boys.

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As an African American black male , I too am delighted to hear what the President said. Also, I 100% agree with what was written in this article. I am completely devoted to doing all that I can for not just younger brothers but older black man who have giving up.

This is awesome, but can black women be included too?

I was fortunate enough to listen to Dr. Monique Morris, author of Black Stats, and she made me aware of some very startling statistics. It turns out black women have similar problems to black males but we've been excluded from the conversation because everyone compares our numbers to black males. But that doesn't make any sense from an empirical standpoint. We should be being compared to other females. Women of all races generally have lower rates of incarceration and higher rates of education compared to their male counterparts. It's stupid to say black women are ok based on comparisons to black males.

As a former teacher, my black girls needed these supports just as much as the males. And the problems played out differently in the areas of sexuality, American ideas of femininity, and treatment from the opposite sex of all races.

As a black woman and a graduate student, I experience a world where gender issues speak to the experience of white women and race issues are largely focused on black men. There's no space for me in the conversation. This lack of space forces me to be vocal because if I don't speak up, no one will. And it's painful to say, but in my personal experience in the ivy league grad school space, black men are embraced far more than black women are. There are fewer of them so that may increase their value. Some of them date outside our race, which I have no problem with, but I still face some backlash when I do the same (although I have no choice since there aren't any available black men). I personally feel that black women are hated no matter what we do-- if I were a single mother, I'd be condemned for that. As an educated woman, I'm expected to be loyal and fight for a race that only wants me when they don't have any better options. And even when they have better options, I'm expected to be on standby. What role am I expected to play here? There are scores of beautiful, single, professional black women. Maybe we shouldn't feel that marrying outside our race is disloyal. Our sons will still be black by America's standards. Then we can stop repeating the same cycles of men growing up with no fathers or female members of our community who could potentially raise strong families, being forced to opt out for lack of potential mates.

The stereotypes placed on black women make it challenging even within the black community. And I feel the narrow focus on black male issues may unintentionally undermine the interests of our population as a whole because it's basically saying that black women don't need any help or our issues don't matter. When black women are abused by police and no one talks about it, blamed for the failings of our sons or just left out of the conversation all together, how can we feel like we are valued at all? How can our men recognize our value? I think the only way to really make a change is if we shatter stereotypes on both sides- internally and externally. Then we can build each other up.

I definitely recognize the fact that race related problems play out differently for men than for women, but we ALL face similar problems. I love that we are talking more about the needs of black men, but I'm worried about the long term consequences of excluding black women.

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