Durham News

Durham County forming plan to help boys and young men of color

By Mark Schultz


From left, David Noah Thompson, 17, and Dominique Cassamajor, 17, of The Year of the Crowned, perform a spoken word piece at a community update Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015, for My Brother’s Keeper Durham, a project to improve the lives of boys and men of color in Durham County.
From left, David Noah Thompson, 17, and Dominique Cassamajor, 17, of The Year of the Crowned, perform a spoken word piece at a community update Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015, for My Brother’s Keeper Durham, a project to improve the lives of boys and men of color in Durham County. mschultz@newsobserver.com

“Let me tell you something ... You want to know how to become your Brother’s Keeper? Simple. Just Stop acting as your Brother’s Reaper.”

– The Year of the Crowned, Hillside High School spoken word team

Travin Duncan calls it “mental confinement.”

The Hillside High School senior was describing the mindset that locks some young people out of opportunity, out of seeing a different way.

“You don’t have to let society make decisions for you,” explained David Noah Thompson IV, Duncan’s teammate on The Year of the Crowned, a spoken word team from Hillside High School.

“You get with your brothers and have each other’s backs,” Thompson said, “and you can achieve anything.”

The high school students performed Saturday at a community update on My Brother’s Keeper Durham. The county initiative, like the federal task force that President Obama announced a year ago seeks to improve the education and life outcomes of boys of color.

About 200 people attended the morning workshop, where speakers laid out the challenges and then everyone broke into small groups to help refine an upcoming action plan.

‘Education the key’

The Durham County initiative has three “milestones”:

▪ Ensure boys and men of color, families and educators enter school cognitively, physically, socially and emotionally ready

▪ Ensure boys and men of color successfully navigate through and graduate from high school

▪ Ensure boys and men of color complete post-secondary education and achieve career readiness, successful entry into the workforce and job stability

“Education is the key,” said Michael Page, chairman of the Durham County Board of Commissioners, who launched the local initiative in his 2014 State of the County speech.

“The school system does its job 8 to 5, but what happens after that?” said Page, who is also a former school board member. “If a child goes home and doesn’t read, doesn’t do his homework, then he’s behind the next day.”

My Brother’s Keeper needs to reach more than the boys, he said. Churches can encourage reading. The business community can offer work experience. Men in the community can step up as role models.

“Much of this is lack of mentorship,” Page said. “They are searching to find someone they can emulate, someone they can be like.”

Page said he got a call Friday about a homeless family with two elementary-age children someone had seen on Guess Road.

“This is real,” he said. “It was Friday evening at 5 o’clock. How do you help these children? So many of these young men they see problems in the home, they see parents, fighting. They internalize these things and then we expect them to function. We expect them to write a paper.”

“Children are really just struggling to survive.”

Racial disparities

Donna-Marie Winn, a clinical psychologist and senior research scholar at UNC’s Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise, presented racial disparities that My Brother’s keeper will try to address.

“Some of the data you are about to see is jacked (up),” she told the crowd.

“It is not the data I wanted to hand over (to you) when I was 50,” she said, adding that she’s now older than that.

▪ Only 19 percent of Hispanic boys and 22 percent of black boys are reading at grade level by third grade, vs. 59 percent of Asian boys and 70 percent of non-Hispanic white boys.

▪ Black males represented 26 percent of the Durham Public Schools population but half its suspensions, according to 2015 DPS data. In terms of individual K-12 students, 1,306 black males were suspended, followed by 312 Hispanic males, 96 white males, 44 multi-racial males and 8 Asian and other males.

▪ Even kindergartners get suspended, with 58 black boys out of 77 total boys suspended.

The county will look at Saturday’s feedback in the coming days and weeks.

The next steps can’t come soon enough, Page said.

“We’ve spent a year on fact finding,” he said. “Look how many children we’ve lost in the process.”

After Saturday’s workshop, Page said he was headed out to help the homeless family that had been seen on Guess Road the day before.

There was no room at a shelter where the family could stay together, he said, and he had agreed to pay for another night’s stay at a hotel.

Schultz: 919-829-8950

Memorandum establishing federal My Brother’s Keeper Task Force

“Many boys and young men of color will arrive at kindergarten less prepared than their peers in early language and literacy skills, leaving them less likely to finish school. Labor-force participation rates for young men of color have dropped, and far too many lack the skills they need to succeed. The disproportionate number of African American and Hispanic young men who are unemployed or involved in the criminal justice system undermines family and community stability and is a drag on State and Federal budgets. And, young men of color are far more likely to be victims of murder than their white peers, accounting for almost half of the country's murder victims each year. These outcomes are troubling, and they represent only a portion of the social and economic cost to our Nation when the full potential of so many boys and young men is left unrealized.

“By focusing on the critical challenges, risk factors, and opportunities for boys and young men of color at key life stages, we can improve their long-term outcomes and ability to contribute to the Nation's competitiveness, economic mobility and growth, and civil society. Unlocking their full potential will benefit not only them, but all Americans.”

From “Presidential Memorandum – Creating and Expanding Ladders of Opportunity for Boys and Young Men of Color,” President Obama, Feb. 27, 2014