Commitment to equal opportunity — a society where every child has the same chance for success regardless of his or her background — is among the most deeply held convictions shared by Americans of all political persuasions. Yet nowhere is there a wider and more apparent gap between ideals and experience than in the immense and persistent disparities in outcomes between black male children and their peers.
Black children, in particular black males, grow up facing some of the largest disadvantages of any demographic group.
The Campaign for Black Male Achievement is led by Open Society Foundations, which supported the production of a municipal action guide. That guide was created in 2008 to address the intensification of negative outcomes for black males and their continued educational, economic, social and political exclusion. Some of the most vocal and active policymakers in this nationwide movement are mayors and other municipal leaders from cities across the country.
Eleven communities were chosen last year by the National League of Cities to participate in its City Leadership to Promote Black Male Achievement Initiative. The initiative provides one year of technical assistance and other support to reduce disparities between black males and their peers.
“There is no easy, quick fix to addressing the barriers and inequities facing black men and boys in America,” said Shawn Dove, campaign manager. “Educating and engaging municipal leaders and elected officials to promote responsive policies and programs that advance black male achievement is essential to sowing the seeds of sustainability for tackling this entrenched problem.”
According to the NLC, City Leadership to Promote Black Male Achievement draws attention to the prominent roles municipal leaders can play in a growing national movement to improve outcomes for black males.
Numerous studies show that black males suffer disproportionately from poverty, family instability, failure in school, unemployment, incarceration and homicide. Reflecting a growing awareness and sense of urgency, major foundations, policymakers, business leaders, researchers and nonprofit organizations have recently come together to initiate a national dialogue on such challenges.
Family instability is a prime factor contributing to the educational and employment crises confronting young black males; a disproportionate number of them grow up in fatherless and single-parent households.
“Fathers play a pivotal and irreplaceable role in the lives and development of children, and in strengthening and enhancing the family as the basic institution in the community. It is more important than ever that we celebrate fatherhood and put a spotlight on the positive impact that involved and engaged fathers have on black males in our society,” said Harvey Johnson, mayor of Jackson, Miss.
The 48-page municipal action guide presents steps that city leaders can take to reduce racial and gender inequalities. There are three areas: strengthening families, improving educational achievement and expanding access to family-supporting employment opportunities. These steps are likely to have the greatest impact when pursued as part of a larger, data-driven strategy defined by measurable goals, a clear target population and mechanisms to share accountability among stakeholders from the public, private and nonprofit sectors. The guide’s recommendations draw from the experience of municipal leaders who have made black male achievement a top priority for their cities.
The 11 cities selected to participate in the initiative are Fort Wayne, Ind.; Chicago, Ill.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Louisville, Ky.; Milwaukee, Wis.; Oakland, Calif.; Omaha, Neb.; Philadelphia, Pa.; Portland, Ore.; Charlottesville, Va.; and Orlando, Fla.
Parramore Kidz Zone in Orlando, Fla., and other initiatives that have adapted the Harlem Children’s Zone model, are prominent examples of the rapidly spreading approach. Under the leadership of Mayor Buddy Dyer, the city has invested significant resources in the Parramore neighborhood, where more than 95 percent of children are black and 98 percent qualify for the free and reduced-price school lunch program. It has also launched citywide and neighborhood-based strategies targeted toward black men and boys.
“It’s working,” said Dyer. “Since 2006, we have reduced juvenile arrests in Parramore by 82 percent and made great strides in closing the achievement gap between Parramore students and their peers city-wide.” How? By investing in the things that research said are good for children: mentors, adult role models, tutoring, pre-K education, after-school programs, sports, youth jobs and college assistance.
“Like all children, black boys and young men need the support of their community if they are to grow up socially, academically and economically successful,” said Dyer.