Video from the event Unlocking Communities: Ending Mass Incarceration in America.
The path to prison does not begin the moment a crime is committed. For boys and young men of color, the risk of incarceration exists at nearly every stage of life. For example, in some school districts, high school dropout rates are as high as 50 percent for these young men; those dropouts are 47 times more likely to be incarcerated than their same-age peers who hold a four-year college degree. Yet our national discourse has not met the growing need to change how we talk about those who live behind bars—and how we as a nation have failed them.
Nearly 2.3 million Americans are currently in prison, and the Prison Policy Initiative reports that nearly 80 percent of them are Black and Latino males—despite making up only 15 percent of the U.S. population. We are at a pivotal moment at which issues of race and criminal justice are inextricably linked in recent headlines. Upon examining the stories of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, or Freddie Gray, and the nameless, faceless young men who don’t make the headlines, one can see that during these young men’s tragically short lifetimes, they were at risk of imprisonment at nearly any moment.
It is in our interest as a nation not only to prevent heartbreaking deaths like these in the future but also to develop a holistic approach to improving the lives of millions of young men just like them. Incarceration is a symptom of a larger disease that is prevalent both before and after arrest and imprisonment occur. Our collective efforts must begin in early childhood, upon entering school, and continue through adolescence to first see these young men as the true assets to this nation that they are and then to support their completion of advanced education, and on through their successful entry into the workforce.
This brings us to what we can do to get there. My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, a non-profit that we are both heavily involved in, aims to close numerous achievement gaps and disparities in opportunity for boys and young men of color through partnerships with both the private and public sectors. While the Alliance focuses on these supports and interventions from cradle to career, one key recommendation within our larger approach includes offering a second chance to those who have been imprisoned. That will mean providing guidelines to businesses on attracting, hiring, and training boys and young men who are at risk of imprisonment or recidivism.
We will seek the support of the business community to make the rate of imprisonment commensurate with the crimes that are allegedly committed. This will drive the incarceration rate among this population down below the current national average and will ultimately impact 25,000 lives in the process.
These interventions and supports also foster improvement within our nation’s larger economic landscape and social structures. Closing racially-divided income gaps could boost the GDP by up to $2.1 trillion. Improved racial inclusion would boost financial performance in every region of the country, with estimated metro GDP gains ranging from $287 million to $510 billion per year.
Needless to say, mass incarceration is about much more than dollars and cents. We must focus our efforts on understanding and alleviating the circumstances that bring people—particularly young people of color—to imprisonment, and the circumstances they too often face after their time is served.
As described by Charlene Sinclair of the Poverty Initiative during a recent event at the Aspen Institute titled Unlocking Communities: Ending Mass Incarceration in America, “we need an economy that’s built on flourishing people.” In other words, we need an economy that provides equal opportunity for all rather than one that varies based on the circumstances into which an individual is born.
At the launch of My Brother’s Keeper Alliance on May 4, President Barack Obama said it best: “What it comes down to is whether we love these kids. Beyond the dollar amounts and statistics, we risk losing out on the incredible potential of those that may not have been set up for success, or have made a mistake along the way.”
Today, we have a timely opportunity to address the issue of mass incarceration and the critical role of race in our incarcerated population and prison system at large. We must maximize this historic moment in our nation to shift the discourse and resources toward what we must do to prevent and rectify this systemic plague.
That work must begin with each of us believing that we are, in fact, our brothers’ keepers.
Scott Budnick is the founder and president of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition in Los Angeles and a film producer. He sits on the California Board of State and Community Corrections, California Community Colleges Board of Governors, and is an Advisory Council member for My Brother’s Keeper Alliance.
Shawn Dove serves on the MBK Alliance Advisory Council and is the CEO of the Campaign for Black Male Achievement, a national membership network that seeks to ensure the growth, sustainability, and impact of leaders and organizations committed to improving the life outcomes of black men and boys.
I first became introduced to the Million Man March through my father, a former educator and high school counselor in my home state of Connecticut. My dad wasn’t an ordinary teacher; he served as a minority liaison for students of color, their parents, and the rest of high school staff. He taught Black History courses, including a course titled, “The History of African-Americans in the Media.” Through him, I was constantly exposed to the diverse voices of our culture, as well as the pride and the richness of the African diaspora. I was my dad’s sidekick, and whatever media project he was working on for his students, I watched. I saw a lot of Malcolm and Martin’s speeches, I watched “Eyes on the Prize,” “Roots,” and he made sure we were among the first to watch Spike Lee’s “X” when it came out in theaters. I was always very informed of what was happening in the news and how my culture was (mis)represented.
I was 11 years old on October 16, 1995, the day of the Million Man March. At that young age, I was a little unsure about him going, at the time; I was hyper aware of a lot of the major race issues that occurred in the early to mid 90s, including Rodney King and the OJ Simpson trial. I was concerned that something would happen to him and the other men that attended the March, but I knew this was something that he had to do, something that was important.
He left early that morning by bus, and I eagerly watched the much-anticipated March, combing through the crowd with my 11 year-old critical eyes, seeing if I could spot him. I was unlucky in spotting him as an individual, but what I did witness was a unified sea of Black men, praying, sometimes crying, holding hands, and raising their fists in solidarity and love, as Minister Louis Farrakhan spoke of atonement and responsibility. “Wow,” I thought. I don’t think I fully knew exactly what it all meant, but I knew for certain that this March was something special.
When he returned, he told me about his experience, about all the people he met on the bus on the way down and back, and about the pride he felt in seeing everyone and knowing they were on their way to and from the March. He talked about how peaceful and surreal it was to be a part of probably the biggest demonstration America had ever seen. He felt moved, and I could tell that things were different.
The day my dad returned to work, he shared his experience with his students, and on November 16th, one month after the March, my dad called for all the Black and Latino male students to dress up in suits to class. At this time I went to private school (we had to wear uniforms everyday), so when he told me of this plan, I asked him, “Why on Earth” he would want to make kids dress up? “It’s going to change the way they see themselves, the way they carry themselves. There’s going to be a pride, there,” he told me. None of the other teachers knew of the plan, and given that students enjoyed his non-traditional leadership as an educator who could talk to them in way they understood, the students all showed up to school in suits.
Sure enough, the way they viewed themselves, indeed, changed. Other teachers were surprised, and the young male students even made it to our local paper, The Norwich Bulletin. With no social media at the time, the students really took pride in dressing up, and soon it became a monthly mission (every 16th) for the students to dress up, not just to look dressy, but to honor themselves and each other. Girls began to dress up, as well. I remember going over to my best friend’s house and hearing her older sister speaking with her best friend on the phone about what they were going to wear for “minority dress up day.” I smiled.
My dad worked as an educator for 18 years, and when I was able to attend the high school he taught at, I heard so much about his legacy. Among the many other lessons and memories, the students always remembered dress up day and what it meant to them. The Million Man March had an incredible impact on my father, and the effect was passed on to the students who, in a school with very little diversity, now had a voice.
Twenty years later, just a few months before this year’s 20th anniversary of the March, I accepted the position of Communications Associate with the Campaign for Black Male Achievement. When they presented me with the opportunity to assist in CBMA-supported events surrounding the March, along with attending the March, I jumped at the chance. When I called my dad and told him about it, he was excited. On the Amtrak down to D.C., he started sending me his pictures from the original March.
My experience at the March was similar to what I remember my father sharing with me when I was a little girl. This time, it was men, women, and children, all together in unity, pride, and peace. I couldn’t believe I was here, as it felt like only yesterday I was watching this March on my television screen, looking for my dad.
(My father’s students in 1995, courtesy of The Norwich Bulletin)
On the Amtrak home, my dad texted me, “You’re the next one to do it; one day, maybe my future grandchild will be the third one.” I never thought about it, that way. I was always in so much awe with what he was able to do with our local community after the March that I hadn’t thought about how I was going to use this experience to enhance my own leadership and affect others…three days after the March, I’m still thinking about it, and I am hopeful the next March will be about celebrating the successes we have won to achieve equity for the Black community rather than facing the continued onslaught of issues that have pushed many to say “Justice or Else.” I am also confident that my leadership and role at CBMA and beyond will continue to ensure that my child or others’ children will indeed have a brighter tomorrow.
How has the March influenced you?
This piece was written by Erica Bullock and first appeared on the Campaign for Black Male Achievement blog
Hurricane Katrina laid bare the lack of value attached to black lives in the U.S., a reality that New Orleans residents and the nation are still wrestling with a decade later. Recent events suggest that Americans are at a crossroads in terms of how they think, talk about, and deal with race and racism — but are still a long way from agreeing that black lives do indeed matter.
As we mark another anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, a fateful turning point in the city’s and nation’s history, a critical question remains: How has so much racial and economic inequity been allowed to not only persist but worsen?
A considerable amount of attention and resources were given to New Orleans in the aftermath of the storm, with local and national philanthropic leadership playing an important role in the city’s recovery efforts. Philanthropy alone, however, cannot solve problems created by centuries of deeply-entrenched racism and oppression. Instead, its role should be to seed and test innovative ideas and help implement community led solutions that can reduce poverty, increase equity, and quantify hope.
Yet even that kind of philanthropic input is not enough. Innovative ideas and solutions require reliable, sustained, and adequate support from both the public and private sectors. Without significant cross-sector investments in quality social, educational and economic programs, grassroots organizations that are committed to positive social change are forced to rely on — and compete for — limited philanthropic dollars. It is a model that is neither sustainable nor likely to lead to systemic change.
Since Katrina, community-based organizations such as the Youth Empowerment Project (YEP) have led the push for solutions to the social and economic ills that have long plagued New Orleans. Established in 2004 following passage of Act 1225, the Louisiana Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 2003, YEP now provides educational, mentoring, and employment readiness services to more than a thousand vulnerable youth in the city each year, 98 percent of whom are African American. YEP’s founders witnessed firsthand many young lives lost to violence and the prison system, and they recognized that the lack of services available to, and investment in, the state’s most underserved population was in part to blame for this tragedy.
Despite having only been established a little more than a year before Katrina, YEP was able to provide emergency support and services to young people and their families who were displaced and scattered across the country by the storm. It was one of the few youth organizations in New Orleans that managed to function in the chaos that followed, monitoring and assisting its clients – some of whom had been separated from family and friends and were living alone in shelters or on the streets. Maintaining YEP’s core staff and infrastructure in the storm’s aftermath, as well as its connections with other key organizations and agencies, set the stage for the organization’s rapid growth over the next decade. YEP’s story is, in part, a successful case study of how, given adequate resources and support, community-based groups can work collaboratively with leadership across the board to create meaningful impact.
That said, there’s a much deeper and complex challenge confronting local leadership in struggling cities like New Orleans: America’s unwillingness to invest in solutions that address poverty. The lack of public-sector investment speaks volumes about the nation’s current value system in terms of what and, most importantly, who it truly values. It is clear that the urgent issues and challenges we face will not be resolved without targeted, meaningful action by government, business, and philanthropic leaders.
In post-Katrina and post-Ferguson America, national leadership must collectively commit to working with, and investing in, strategies designed to help black communities realize their full potential. Doing so will require a strong, long-term commitment from communities, public agencies, and the private sector to allocate resources to the kind of social infrastructure that supports sustainable change. It’s the only path forward if we truly hope to create a prosperous, caring, and equitable society.
During a Foundation Center – San Francisco event last month, a representative of a local grassroots nonprofit brought up a challenging question: How can smaller grassroots organizations compete with more established nonprofits to garner the support of funders?
Shawn Dove, CEO of the Campaign for Black Male Achievement, had some valuable advice for attracting foundation support applicable to any organization, no matter the size, that he referred to as the “5 Rs.”
Relationships: All aspects of fundraising are relational. Even getting a “no” from a funder is a valuable opportunity to build your future relationship with foundations. It’s a chance to explore the next opportunity, either with that funder or another funder they might be able to connect you with.
Research: Know your field and know who supports your type of work. Don’t take a shot in the dark. Who’s funding similar work that other organizations are doing? Sometimes foundation funding is unsustainable, and sometimes it’s not going to happen at all. There simply isn’t enough funding for every great idea to have its own organization. Be entrepreneurial and think about partnerships!
Resources: How can you be a resource before asking for support? Being a resource to the philanthropic community is the best way to get positive attention and emphasize the value of your work. Remember that you have to help educate and inform the field you’re working in.
ROI (Return on Investment): What is the value of the outcome of the grant compared to the cost of funding it? How efficiently are you using their support for maximum impact, and how will you show it? Be able to articulate your potential ROI.
Relax: The sense of urgency of getting a grant never matches the urgency of giving the grant. Asking for grant money from a desperate place won’t let you build the lasting relationships you need for a sustainable partnership. Keep in mind that foundations have to say “no” more than they can say “yes.” For every three yesses there might be seven nos. A rejection letter is an opportunity to request feedback and start a relationship leading up to the next proposal submission.
Read the Huff Post piece, “Revealing Black Men During National Black Family Month,” celebrating the role of Black men in families and in society. Ben Jealous and Trabian Shorters document statistics that show how Black males lead the nation in patriotism, entrepreneurship, generosity, and parental engagement.
Read the opinion piece “As We Mourn Charleston’s Victims, Philanthropy Must Act” in The Chronicle of Philanthropy. The authors — Nakisha M. Lewis, Tynesha McHarris, and Allen Kwabena Frimpong — make a case for why “those of us in philanthropy must think hard about our role in supporting the movement for Black lives.”
In the latest violence against Black lives, nine Black parishioners were shot dead inside Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The writers argue that systemic changes to end violence require resources to support the infrastructure for a strong network of organizers and organizations.
“It’s time that we as a nation help those young people [of color] understand that just because they have heard ‘no’ all too often, the narrative is changing to a more resounding ‘yes’ to their futures. Fathers are integral couriers of that message, and we as a nation must continue to lift up our fathers and father figures to help us #ChangeTheNarrative.”
Read My Brother’s Keeper Alliance CEO Joe Echevarria’s reflections on the meaning of fatherhood. “When reflecting on what it means to be a father to my three children,” he writes, “it all comes down to how I can make them feel important, one of the greatest expressions of love.”
“Boys and young men of color face profound challenges growing up in America,” according to the Atlantic Philanthropies. The Urban Institute has laid out these challenges in a series of reports across several important areas, including criminal justice, economic opportunity, and health. The research identifies policies, system reforms, and programs that can put them on course for a successful transition to adulthood.