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Many of the attendees at the inaugural My Brother’s Keeper Texas Summit on Thursday had mentors help them achieve their dreams and reach their full potential.
Through the My Brother’s Keeper initiative, local and national leaders hope to do the same for boys and men of color in their communities.
San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor, alongside leaders from 250 other communities across the U.S., accepted President Barack Obama’s challenge in October 2014 to take on the unique initiative, which calls for action plans to build lasting bridges of opportunity for boys and men of color.
The Texas Summit, hosted by the UTSA Downtown Campus, brought more than 75 program participants from across the state together to discuss their common efforts with Taylor, U.S. Rep. Will Hurd (R-23), and U.S. Department of Education General Counsel James Cole Jr., who has been delegated the duties of deputy secretary of education.
“A mentor really turned it around for me,” Cole said. “Each one of us in this room can do this, you need to take a young person under your wing.”
“Mentorship has taken center stage,” Taylor said, in reference to the Success Mentors Initiative spearheaded by My Brother’s Keeper San Antonio (MBKSA). “(These kids) need to see teachers who look like them. We need more men of color at the front of our classrooms. Minority males in positions of authority (will have) a positive impact.”
The MBKSA plan has four key pillars for boys and men of color: increase graduation rates, increase post-secondary attainment, increase job numbers, and reduce crime and recidivism rates. The goal is to improve life outcomes for these individuals and help them reach their full potential regardless of their circumstances.
In Bexar County, Taylor said, 83% of men of color graduate high school compared to 89% of white men.
“Our goal is to increase that rate to 90% by the year 2020,” she said. To achieve that “we can no longer turn a blind eye.”
The Success Mentors Initiative program, which stems from the MBKSA action plan unveiled in March, is already being implemented in schools, Taylor said, with mentors meeting with students three times a week.
MBKSA staff also has been recruiting individuals from faith-based communities to add more mentors to the mix.
(Read more: My Brother’s Keeper Unveils San Antonio Action Plan)
Hurd highlighted the need to prepare men and boys for “emerging tech jobs,” and said the community needs to make sure “we prepare them for jobs that don’t exist today.
“We need to marry mentors and leaders from the private sector,” he said. “If we don’t, we’ll get left behind. It is vital to ensure the reduction of the skills gap and we have to work together.”
Reducing high chronic absenteeism in schools is at the core of the MBKSA plan. Absences should be addressed on a case-by-case basis to really get to the root of the problem, Taylor said.
In addition, the MBKSA staff is finding ways to communicate the value of attaining higher education to students. They also are connecting employers to out-of-school youth through SA Works, which will empower the next generation of workers by helping them get summer jobs, internships, and more.
Crime is another factor that inhibits opportunity for boys and men of color, Taylor said. Violent crime has been a upward national trend, but recidivism rates also are a concern since it’s difficult for individuals with a history of incarceration to find housing or jobs.
“We need to make sure that those incarcerated (people) still lead a productive life,” Taylor said. “People make mistakes, y’all. We can’t keep them from getting jobs.”
When Cole took to the podium, he said that although there are only 175 days left in President Obama’s administration, he and his staff are working to effectively pass the baton with the initiative, since it’s essentially “about generational change.”
Part of that, Cole added, is “(investing) in every stage in the (education) pipeline,” including increasing access to key courses in schools, which are important stepping stones on the way to college. He touched upon the recent gun violence situations that have plagued the nation, calling law enforcement “key partners” in reducing violence and stressing the importance of community involvement.
“As a nation, we are still grappling with institutionalized inequality,” Taylor said. Although law enforcement officers in San Antonio are well trained, Taylor said, “one wrongful shooting is too many.”
Taylor acknowledged San Antonio Police Chief William McManus in the audience and said that SAPD is looking at innovative strategies toward “advancing 21st-century policing.
“We’ve struggled with more violence on the Eastside … and the police have helped intervene, but we cannot police our way out of this situation,” Taylor said, specifying the need to break generational poverty.
(Read more: Eastside Residents Team Up with SAPD to Fight Crime)
Hurd said that there are currently bi-partisan efforts working to improve and solve policing issues in Washington D.C., where six Republicans and six Democrats have come together to combine ideas.
As far as the My Brother’s Keeper initiative in San Antonio goes, there is still much work to be done. The MBKSA partners and other city leaders behind the cause will continue to find ways to reach the initiative’s goals. In doing so, Taylor said, we as a community can help “change the narrative and make Texas a place of high expectations.”
Councilman Alan Warrick (D2), Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3), and UTSA President Ricardo Romo were among those in the audience, accompanied by other community leaders and My Brother’s Keeper supporters.
To get involved with My Brother’s Keeper San Antonio, visit the website here.
Top image: Cedric, sixth-grade student at YMLA, waits by the door to greet guests. Photo by Scott Ball.