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  • Writer's pictureBreaking Barriers

How to Build Up Black Boys

(Article from U.S. News & World Report by Jennifer L.W. Fink)

Black boys need our help. According to a recent study by the Equality of Opportunity Project, black boys fare worse than white boys in almost all of America. White boys are far more likely to earn more in adulthood than black boys, even when the boys grow up in similar neighborhoods and socioeconomic conditions.

One possible contributing factor: Black boys are expelled and suspended from school more often than other kids. A recent report by the Government Accountability Office found that black students account for 39 percent of students suspended from school, despite the fact that they comprise just 15.5 percent of all public school students. This discrepancy exists in wealthy schools and neighborhoods too. In fact, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that a federal investigation of Milwaukee Public Schools found more than 100 instances over a two-year period in which black students were punishedmore severely than white students for similar conduct.

Such discipline policies feed what’s known as the school-to-prison pipeline, a phenomenon that has had a devastating impact on our society. According to a recent New York Times analysis, 1.5 million black men ages 25 to 54 are “missing” from everyday American life. Nearly 600,000 are in prison and therefore unable to work or serve as active fathers and mentors – which is particularly troubling, because the Equality of Opportunity Project found that the one factor which seems to consistently improve black boys’ lives is the presence of fathers in the community.

The successes and failures of black boys affect us all, no matter our zip code or the color of our skin. Helping black boys isn’t only the right thing to do; it’s one of the smartest ways to invest in the future of our society.

Here are four ways you can build up black boys:

Support programs designed to boost black males. In 2014, President Obama established My Brother’s Keeper, which evolved into My Brother’s Keeper Alliance (MBK Alliance) and is focused on “building safe and supportive communities for boys and young men of color where they feel valued and have clear pathways to opportunity.” The organization provides financial and logistical support to evidence-based programs that make a positive difference in boys’ lives, and has been instrumental in connecting boys with adult male mentors. You can make a monetary donation or sign up to serve as a mentor.

Look for local programs to support too. In Chicago, for instance, the Becoming a Man (BAM) program has been shown to increase high school graduation rates for boys of color while also decreasing crime.

Fight for fathers. According to research, boys who grow up in father-absent households and communities are more likely to act out in school and to use drugs. They’re also more likely to suffer from low self-esteem, depression and other mental illnesses.

Advocating for changes in law enforcement and judicial sentencing practices – which disproportionately send black men to jail – is one way to fight for fathers. You can also support local fatherhood programs, such as Next Door’s Fatherhood Program in Milwaukee or the Dovetail Project, a 12-week Chicago program that gives African-American fathers ages 17 to 24 the skills and support they need to be good fathers.

You can also fight the myth of the uninvolved black father. According to a report by the Pew Research Center, even among those who live away from their children, 67 percent of black fathers see their kids at least once a month, and 49 percent talk to their children several times a week. In comparison, 59 percent of white and 32 percent of Hispanic fathers living outside the child's primary home see their children monthly, and 22 percent of non-resident Hispanic dads and 30 percent of white dads living apart from their kids talk to them multiple times a week.

Black dads who live with their children are equally or more likely than fathers of other races to help their kids with homework and participate in daily parenting practices such as feeding and reading to children. Sixty-two percent of co-resident black fathers of children under 5 years of age read to their children five times a week or more, compared to 45 percent of Hispanic fathers and 65 percent of white dads.

Say no to "zero tolerance" policies. So-called zero tolerance policies, which call for strict consequences (including suspension and referral to local law enforcement) for infractions of disciplinary policy, became commonplace in schools in the 1980s and 90s and are still active in many parts of the country. But one-size-fits-all solutions to discipline don’t work, and have been shown to disproportionately affect black children. Better, more effective approaches include restorative justice, which focuses on cultivating connection and healing, and trauma-informed care, an approach to discipline and education that’s grounded in a solid understanding of the many ways trauma (including abuse, poverty and violence) affects children’s brains and behavior. You can learn more about trauma-sensitive schools – and download information to share with local educators and legislators – at

Confront racism and implicit bias. Preconceived, yet often unconscious notions dramatically affect the lives of African-American boys and men. According to 2014 research by the American Psychological Association, black boys are perceived as older than their years. They’re also more likely to be presumed guilty.

It’s not easy to undo centuries of racism, but it’s important to work at it. A crucial first step: listening to the experiences of black men and boys. The film "American Promise" is an insightful look at the academic obstacles facing black boys. Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book, "Between the World and Me," is another great start. You can also take an implicit bias testto better understand the ways in which your unconscious thoughts may be affecting your behavior. Joining and participating in community discussions about race and groups dedicated to racial justice are other ways to build up black boys.

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