I grew up as a starry-eyed child of the ‘60s and the civil rights movement. In our family, my parents stressed the importance of community responsibility, accountability and civic engagement while growing up in New York City.
Because of that, I consider the plight of African-American men as “unfinished business” in social justice.
This nation of ours offers great promise. However, no population of American citizens is as systematically marginalized, stigmatized and disconnected from America’s promise than the young African-American male.
Black males reside at the most extreme end of disparities in health and wellness, with unacceptable levels of school failure, homicide, incarceration and unemployment. This reality demands attention and demands change.
The research and the science tell us that boys and young men are signaling — at relatively early stages in life — that they may be on the on-ramp toward the school-to-prison pipeline. Poor third grade reading proficiency, chronic absence in elementary and middle school, truancy and repeat school suspensions constitute “red flags” that Black boys and young men are falling off the opportunity pathway and headed for danger. As president of the California Endowment, a health foundation with a mission to expand access to affordable, quality health care for underserved communities, I recognize the roles that health, family and community wellness play in keeping our “sons and brothers” headed towards a positive future.
School and community partnerships are central to reaching and embracing these boys and young men who are demonstrating signs that they are losing hope; parental supports, tutoring, mentorships, summer job and internship opportunities and mental health counseling must be made systematically available to these young people — and we have no excuse for allowing them to fail.
It is for this reason that our foundation’s board of directors recently approved my proposal for a $50 million, seven-year commitment to pursue healthy, school-achieving development in boys and young men of color across California. We are working in partnership with other philanthropic and civic-minded leaders with a vision towards dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline and replacing it with a meaningful opportunity pathway — one that quickly, effectively and affirmatively responds to our young men at the earliest signs of hopelessness.
Robert K. Ross, MD, is president and CEO of The California Endowment, one of the nation's largest foundations dedicated to advancing new avenues to expand access to affordable, quality health care for underserved individuals and communities.
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(Photo: Earl Gibson III)