Education Wednesday: “My Brother’s Keeper” and Empowering Boys of Color


Looking around our communities and even to the White House, we find many examples in our fathers, brothers, and friends of the potential our boys of color possess to be influential leaders. Concerned with ensuring more young boys succeed, President Obama recently introduced a new initiative, My Brother’s Keeper, to do just this. As My Brother’s Keeper challenges the disparities which separate boys of color from their peers, we are all challenged to consider what works in improving educational outcomes for African-American and Latino boys. 

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President Obama embraces student from Hyde Park Academy. Courtesy: Sfgate.com

Recently, I spoke with a good friend, Jamil about his educational experience as a young African-American man. Knowing him as a humble and focused individual (soon to be attending Law School at the University of Pennsylvania!), I was touched to hear Jamil credit his mother and a dedicated teacher for guidance that helped him reach important milestones in his life.

While speaking with Jamil emphasized that not all men of color are falling through the cracks, it was a comment about expectations that stuck with me the most:

“I feel that the expectations for me are low, because not many expect me to get an education or care about my education.”

Many statistics highlight that African-American and Latino boys are the least likely to graduate from high school and find employment. However, it is low expectations in and unequal access to education that create barriers for our students. Empowering more young men of color begins with looking beyond the figures and changing mindsets about who can succeed.

As I talked with my friend, I gained new insight into what can be done to encourage more boys of color to accomplish their goals.

3 Ways to Encourage Success Amongst Boys of Color

  1. Early childhood education: During a recent speech, President Obama emphasized the need to engage students at key times in their lives, including their most formatives years. Though studies find that students of color benefit substantially when they participate in early childhood education, access to these programs remain significantly limited in urban and low income areas. Much as I mention in Education Wednesday: Why Early Childhood Education Matters for Niños, the start we give students in life can yield benefits such as lower tendencies to repeat grades, less need for special education, future educational and professional achievement, and even decreased chances of future legal troubles. Ultimately, missing opportunities to educate students early can perpetuate attainment gaps that affect future generations.

  2. Parental involvement: Expanding on expectations, I could identify with Jamil when he said going to college was mandatory in his mother’s eyes. Often success starts at home with the conversations we have with our students. Again, statistics find that children from single parent homes–which disproportionately characterizes minorities–are less likely to graduate from high school. Yet, additional research finds that interaction with even one adult who cares can greatly impact a child’s life. Much as I mention in Education Wednesday: 2 College ‘Conversation’ Starters to have with Yunior, regularly talking to boys about their interests as well as academics, lays a great foundation for support at home that reinforces the exposure they receive at school.

  3. Establish ties within the community: Participating in after-school programs and summer camps can bridge expectations at home with mentorship in the community that instills values in our boys. Charged with creating well-rounded leaders, such programs tailored specifically for young men of color are emerging across the country. Organizations such as Atlanta Technical College’s Institute for Males, Becoming A Man (B.A.M.), and Boys of BELL, are already leading efforts to increase direct engagement with African-American and Latino boys.

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Student looks out the window towards his success. Courtesy: NbcLatino.com

Increasing the number of positive role models in the community and sharing more resources to schools in urban and low income areas is vital to widespread positive impact in the lives of boys of color. At the end of my conversation with Jamil, he offered this advice which he often shares with the young men he mentors: 

“Never give up and remember that the decisions you make today, shape your tomorrow.”

When I think of “My Brother’s Keeper,” I think of my little brothers, my cousins, my friends, those who have had wonderful educational experiences, and others who still struggle within the current system. As the nation continues to become more diverse, we cannot ignore the disadvantages students face along economic, racial, and gendered lines. Embracing initiatives that empower our boys is not only an opportunity to improve education, employment, and decrease crime rates. Most importantly, finding ways to better engage African-American and Latino boys is an opportunity to rethink equality in education and bring new possibilities to future generations.

Aundrea_Gregg-TheWiseLatinaClubAn education policy wonk at the Georgia Center of Opportunity, Aundrea Gregg holds a Master’s degree in Social Policy and Planning from the London School Of Economics and a Bachelor’s in Classical Civilizations and Political Science from Howard University. She also is a nail painting enthusiast and writer living in Atlanta, GA. Connect with Aundrea on Twitter or Google+.

Edited by: Viviana Hurtado, Ph.D.

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2 Responses to “Education Wednesday: “My Brother’s Keeper” and Empowering Boys of Color”

  1. Juliette says:

    Great post Aundrea! Loved the commentary and personal stories. I think my brothers keeper is a step in the right direction in addressing the disparities facing men of color too

    • Juliette, thanks your thoughtful comment! It can be so disheartening to only hear negative stats about African American and Latino boys when so many options exist to help them succeed. Thanks goodness we know the potential all boys of color possess, and that programs such as My Brother’s Keeper are emerging to change outcomes.

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