Collaborative Efforts Seek to Help Disconnected Youth, Young Men of Color

October 24, 2011

by Andrew Moore

Cross-system teams from eight cities participated in a groundbreaking meeting in Denver last week to develop and expand city strategies for reengaging disconnected youth and improving achievement among young men of color.

NLC's Institute for Youth, Education and Families hosted and facilitated the meeting with support from the Charles Stewart Mott and Open Society Foundations. Boston, Denver, Newark, New York City, Omaha, Philadelphia, Portland, Ore., and San Francisco fielded teams that included city and school officials, as well as community-based partners.

The convening provided a first-ever opportunity for cities to discuss ways to address the high percentages of young men of color among older youth populations that are out of school and out of work - and the particular strategies needed to overcome barriers to work and schooling that stem from race and ethnicity.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock welcomed participants by pointing to the important roles caring adults had played in guiding him during his younger years. He also described multi-sector, collaborative efforts in education as a "clarion call for all stakeholders to identify priorities, combine resources and make things happen." The mayor noted that summer and out-of-school time programs are not sufficient and that "we have to carry the conversation from cradle to career for all our young people, and report regularly on how we are doing."

Denver's representatives from the Department of Safety and the Denver Collaborative Partnership set the stage for discussions about cross-system collaboration. Presentations on the Gang Reduction Initiative of Denver - which brings together more than 200 organizations and agencies - coupled with an effort to reinvest justice agency savings into coordinated case management, illustrated the benefits of effective collaboration.

Over a five-year period, the Collaborative Partnership has contributed to a 43 percent reduction in commitments to the Division of Youth Corrections, resulting in better prospective outcomes for youth and saving the state $2.7 million annually. Over a three-year period, the Partnership has helped achieve a 45 percent reduction in the use of congregate care - better known as group homes - for a one-year cost savings of $3.3 million. Under an innovative Colorado statute, nearly $300,000 of these savings comes back to the Partnership each year in the form of performance-based incentive payments.

Achievement by Young Men of Color

Shawn Dove, program officer for the Campaign for Black Male Achievement at the Open Society Foundations, opened a full day of sessions on young men of color by quoting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and urging city teams to "turn this moment into a movement."

A key purpose of the convening was to lay further groundwork for ongoing efforts to link and strengthen local strategies for helping disconnected youth and young men of color. Rhonda Bryant of the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) provided extensive national data and illuminating city examples of the great disparities affecting young men of color in terms of education, employment and safety and violence.

Bryant also identified the gains that can be made through strategic, targeted approaches, and warned of the risks associated with "universalist" approaches that often fail to reach and adequately address the needs of young men of color.

Representatives from New York City and Philadelphia built on the national data by providing examples of how local data can be used to inform strategies for reconnecting young men of color.

Examples included New York City's new $127 million Young Men's Initiative, as well as Philadelphia's Project U-Turn and Mayor's Commission on African-American Males, all of which serve as collective, data-driven efforts to address barriers to future success."

In addition to cross-city exchanges designed to facilitate peer learning and team planning sessions, the Denver gathering also provided an opportunity for participants to advise federal officials about barriers to using federal funds for more comprehensive, cross-system efforts to reengage disconnected youth.

Details: For more information regarding ongoing work within NLC's Institute for Youth, Education and Families related to disconnected youth and young men of color, please contact Andrew Moore at moore@nlc.org or Leon Andrews at andrews@nlc.org.