NLC Announces New Guide on City Strategies to Promote Black Male Achievement

City Leadership to Promote Black Male Achievement
September 28, 2012

by Michael Karpman

NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education and Families has published a new municipal action guide that highlights potential strategies and promising city approaches for reducing the persistent disparities between black males and their peers in the areas of education, work and family.

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, who continue to face some of the largest disadvantages of any demographic group in America. For instance, a recent report by the Schott Foundation for Public Education found that only 52 percent of black males graduate from high school within four years, compared with 78 percent of white males. Numerous other studies show that black males suffer disproportionately from poverty, 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 these challenges. In 2008, the Open Society Foundations launched the Campaign for Black Male Achievement, which aims to create hope and opportunity for black men and boys who are marginalized from economic, social, educational and political life in the United States. Development of the NLC guide was made possible by support from the Campaign.

The guide presents a wide range of action steps that city leaders can take to reduce racial and gender inequalities in 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, from Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter who reestablished the Mayor’s Commission on African-American Males to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg who has invested significant funding in a Young Men’s Initiative focused on young black and Latino men, to Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Alderman Joe Davis who have sought to address problems of black male unemployment and father absence.

Strengthening Families

With nearly two-thirds of black children growing up in single-parent households and in response to research that traces learning gaps to early childhood, city officials are developing new policies and practices to strengthen families and support parents. The guide describes four key action steps that cities can take in this area:

  • Create opportunities for positive involvement of fathers in their sons’ lives;
  • Enhance fathers’ capacity to financially support their children;
  • Connect families with effective parent education and support programs; and
  • Boost family incomes and assets.

One example highlighted in the guide is the Milwaukee Fatherhood Initiative launched by Mayor Barrett in 2006, which connects fathers with financial education, assistance in finding a job and driver’s license recovery. Through a partnership with the state, the initiative also helps noncustodial fathers reduce unmanageable child support arrears if they participate in parenting workshops, a practice often used to increase child support payments and encourage positive father involvement. 

“With more than half of Milwaukee’s children being raised in a home by a single mother and high unemployment levels among African-American fathers, Milwaukee is breaking down barriers that stand in the way of responsible fatherhood,” said Mayor Barrett.

Improving Educational Achievement

To close the academic achievement gap between black males and other students, city leaders can partner with schools, early education providers and other key organizations to take the following actions:

  • Promote reading proficiency by the end of third grade;
  • Recruit mentors to help black boys stay on track in school;
  • Push for in-school alternatives to suspension and expulsion;
  • Work to reduce chronic absence and truancy; and
  • Develop alternative pathways to high school completion.

Some cities are pursuing many of these strategies at once. For instance, the City of Newark, NJ, is one of several cities that have established a “reengagement center” serving youth who have dropped out of high school. The Youth Education and Employment Success (YE2S) Center connects these youth to alternative education programs that offer dual enrollment in college coursework. Mayor Cory Booker has also established a coalition to recruit mentors for at-risk children.

The Newark Mentoring Coalition and its partnering organizations help our children and youth turn their potential into reality through mentoring – a structured and trusting relationship that brings young people together with caring and knowledgeable individuals who can share their experience with youngsters to provide them with guidance, support and encouragement,” said Mayor Booker. 

Expanding Access to Family-Supporting Jobs

Recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that the unemployment rate for black males ages 20 and older, already high before the recession compared with the rate of other demographic groups, peaked at 18 percent in 2011 and remains over 14 percent as of August 2012. The guide highlights a number of steps that cities can take to help black male residents attain family-supporting jobs that break the cycle of intergenerational poverty:

  • Expand opportunities for early work experience and career exploration;
  • Invest in YouthBuild programs and local youth corps;
  • Explore ways to create transitional jobs for young black men;
  • Ensure equal access and effective targeting in workforce development programs;
  • Promote linkages to foster care and juvenile justice systems; and
  • Reduce employment barriers for those with a criminal record.

Some of the most promising approaches to expanding employment opportunities for young black males combine work-based learning with classroom education. Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has played an instrumental leadership role in supporting a strong summer jobs initiative for youth as well as career academy programs that reengage disconnected youth and link them to career opportunities and employers.

"We have forged a strong partnership between our public school system and workforce development agency to create innovative learning environments - like the one at the Baltimore City Career Academy - that not only provide effective academic instruction, but also hands-on employability skills development and real-world work experiences," said Mayor Rawlings-Blake. "In particular, these partnerships are yielding positive results for many young, African-American males who might otherwise not have had a ‘second chance' to earn a high school diploma or be given the opportunity to move along a sustainable career pathway."

NLC's Next Steps

City leaders can download the municipal action guide by clicking here.  In addition, NLC will continue to engage cities in the Campaign for Black Male Achievement with support from the Open Society Foundations. During the next phase of NLC’s Municipal Leadership for Black Male Achievement initiative, NLC will provide sustained technical assistance to selected cities and will also join Casey Family Programs in coordinating Cities United, an initiative led by Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu to reduce violence-related deaths of young black men.

Details: To learn more about these efforts, please contact Leon Andrews at (202) 626-3039 or andrews@nlc.org.