A White House initiative examining education and African-American males kicked off at Atlanta’s Morehouse College over the weekend.
It is part of a two-fold commitment from President Obama to expand educational opportunities and foster better futures for minority boys through his My Brother’s Keeper initiative.
“If you look at the data, particularly the data in the educational pipeline, regarding African-American males you see what can only be described as a crisis,” said Morehouse College President Dr. John Wilson.
“We have to do something about this. This entire conference is designed to illuminate some solutions, as is the My Brother’s Keeper initiative.”
Organized by the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African-Americans, in partnership with Ebony magazine, the two-day inaugural summit — which was free and open to the public — drew a leading panel of experts from the world of politics, business, higher education and community groups.
One of the key themes of the summit was the urgent need to change damaging narratives and overused negative labels, to shift the educational and employment prospects of young black males in America.
“Let’s shift that frame and talk about opportunities,” said David J. Johns, executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African-Americans.
“A significant opportunity that we have and this is what the president provided when we launched My Brother’s Keeper initiative is to talk very publicly about how problematic negative perceptions of black men and boys are.”
“It should not be the case that whenever we think about black men and boys we conjure up these very negative images of them, shrouded in mystery, covered in hoodies and up to no good.”
“We should be talking about and celebrating boys and men of color, who in spite some significant obstacles are achieving every day and making positive contributions at home, at school and in their communities.”
“A lot of people look at My Brother’s Keeper Initiative as a huge financial opportunity,” said Sherrie Deans, executive director of the Admiral Center, during her talk at the Philanthropy and Education Reform luncheon. “When you do the math, right, that’s not what it is.”
“What it is, is leverage for us to put something on the table that was not on the table before. There are a few people that are realizing that this is a moment of leverage and are using the endorsement of the president to walk in places that didn’t want to have this conversation before.”
In line with President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative, one of the key sessions was a robust debate exploring factors leading to black male success in college. Some of the other panels included “Supporting the Holistic Development of African[-]American Students” and “Empowering Parents, Guardians and Caring Adults to Support African[-]American Education Excellence.”
Another highlight was a discussion consisting of five black male students from local high schools and Morehouse College who talked candidly about their experiences as young black men. In moving testimonies they described their too-frequent and hostile encounters with law enforcement officials and the burden of living in a society that falsely perceives them to be dangerous.
“I think there’s an absolute momentum across the country, certainly with the president’s leadership, to focus on men of color,” said Michael Skolnik, Editor-in-Chief of Global Grind and Political Director to Russell Simmons, who talked about the Costs and Consequences of Gun Violence. “If I can be part of that conversation I am honored.”
“Hopefully, attendees will be informed and inspired and learn something new about black males and education,” said Bryant Marks, executive director of the Morehouse Research Institute. “We also want people to understand that Morehouse wants to serve as a leading resource in the conversation and development of black males.”
The Morehouse summit comes on the heels of startling statistics released this month by the Department of Education that highlights racial disparity in preschool discipline. Black children represent about 18 percent in preschool programs but make up almost half of the preschoolers suspended more than once, the report said.
Summits will also be held later in the year in Jackson, Mississippi; Oakland, California; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
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