By Guest Columnist FRANK BROWN, CEO of Communities in Schools of Atlanta
I was shocked when I read statistics revealing that in today’s world black boys are still facing tremendous racial and financial disparities. What is more alarming is the fact that these statistics are worse than they were 50 years ago. How did we fail our youth? With so many affluent and educated black men, how could this be true? Were the works of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Thurgood Marshall all in vain? How can I make sure that black boys don’t get lost in the disparities of life?
These questions racked my brain as I dug deeper into a study led by researchers at Stanford, Harvard and the Census Bureau. The study found that the income inequality between black and white males is surprisingly prevalent today. In fact, in 99 percent of neighborhoods in the United States, black boys earn less in adulthood than white boys who grow up in families with similar incomes.
These statistics are alarming, daunting and disheartening. I had to ask myself: What can I do to help reduce the black-white gap? I quickly realized that I must continue to position myself in the communities we serve on a daily basis. I must continue to be a part of schools within the communities. I must bring in community leaders, volunteers and influencers to help increase the upward mobility for black Americans, especially black men.
Specifically, we need more mentoring relationships with black male role models. Why? Data shows that 66 percent of black children living in high-poverty neighborhoods have fewer fathers present than their white counterparts. I am a believer that improving this statistic will help solve a large percentage of the problem. When black men are positively involved in schools and in their communities, the lives of young men in those areas are forever changed.
Personally, I have taken the lead in speaking to boys at Brown Middle School and Riverdale High School in the metro Atlanta area. When I spoke to these boys, I saw the tenacity and fervor in their eyes. As I shared my life story, I gave them a sense of hope. My goal was to make one thing crystal clear: You don’t have to let statistics or ZIP codes define how great you will be in life.
Meaningful conversations are only one piece of the puzzle. It is also necessary to do more showing than telling.
Through Communities In Schools of Atlanta, I’ve been able to give kids real-life experiences to broaden their outlook on life. During the 2017-2018 school year, we took kids across the country. They’ve been to our nation’s capital and New York City. They’ve met with political figures such as former First Lady Michelle Obama, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal and First Lady Sandra Deal, U.S. Secret Service Director Randolph Alles and U.S. Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim. They’ve also met with influencers like CBS This Morning co-host Norah O’Donnell, CNN political commentator Angela Rye, The Home Depot co-founder Arthur Blank and Grammy award-winning artist and entrepreneur Kandi Burruss.
The time is now and the problem can be fixed. We simply can’t fail our youth. The success of black boys depends on how well we prepare them for life. No longer can we assume that they’ll be okay just because it’s a new generation. I want others to join me in making sure we dispel ongoing cycles of generational disadvantages. Become a mentor, be a role model and get involved in schools.
Research and identify an outreach program or organization in your area that empowers the black community, specifically young black boys. Learn the organization’s goals and understand what you can do to become an active mentor. Once you become a mentor you must do more than what’s expected. You must show what excellence looks like.
Take your mentee on a tour of your workplace. Allow him to shadow you for a day. Go on trips. Introduce him to your entire network and help cultivate relationships that may form. Partner with other mentors and programs outside of your network. Always be available to cultivate cultural, social, professional and personal growth. Don’t be afraid to delve into issues that impact the black community.
You must also be prepared for a lifetime of dedication. A mentor’s job isn’t once a year, every other month or whenever you have spare time. A mentor’s job is every day and it goes the extra mile. If you start mentoring a boy in elementary school, stick with him throughout high school and college. Become a shoulder he can lean on even in adulthood. Instill in him the importance of giving back to his community. The next generation is depending on you.
Note to readers: Before leading Communities in Schools of Atlanta, Frank Brown, Esq., served as the first executive director of the Butler Street Community Development Corporation (formerly known as the historic Butler Street YMCA). Brown has served as director of Civic Engagement and Activation at Points of Light, the biggest volunteer organizer in the world. Before that, he served four years as executive director of Oasis Community Corporation, a nonprofit that provides after-school services to children and families in New York City public schools.