The Fight for Black Boys
The community practitioners’ approach
Our boys are at-risk: For dropping out of school, for poverty, for delinquency, for unemployment, for imprisonment.
Submitted by Mathes Guice
Earlier this year, I received a call from a judge, who after ten (10) years on the bench, determined there is a “war on our boys.” Who are these boys? They live in our neighborhoods, and attend our churches, and school with our children. They often live in a single-parent, female-led household. Rarely do they have a father figure. Many of these boys only know men in prison, homeless, or via images in the media. Education is not important or valued, and as a result, they become likely candidates to drop-out of school. If we do not fight for these boys, they become susceptible to negative peer associations.
Fighting to address the needs of our boys is bigger than helping boys we know. Each year, it costs taxpayers in Florida nearly $20,000 per inmate to incarcerate its nearly 100,000 inmates. Comparably, prevention programs that divert children from anti-social behavior have shown that for every $1 million invested in these programs, 250 crimes are prevented. Clearly, incarceration is not the most economical or effective way to prevent crimes committed by children.
Education is a critical factor
According to representatives of the Broward County Public Schools third grade is a key stage. In fact, children who under-achieve by third grade are at heightened risk for academic failure. In the words of a Broward County educator, these children are “hopeless”. While difficult economic times and the resulting cuts to services such as summer school, electives, and tutoring have presented a unique set of challenges in educating our children, it is unacceptable that our school system would quit on a child no more than 10 years old. Apparently, according to Broward County Public Schools representatives, the problem stems from children entering elementary school educationally deficient. Even more alarming – the Broward County Public Schools does not seem to have a plan to address the needs of under-achieving children. Given widely accepted re-search conducted by the United States Department of Education that high school drop-outs face high unemploy-ment, poor health, shorter life spans, and low income, it is vital the commu-nity demand our school system do more…and we do more for “our boys”. If not, consider this – according to the United States Department of Edu-cation, high school dropouts are 3.5 times more likely to be arrested than their peers who graduate.
Ending the Pipeline
There is a long standing belief a-mong community practitioners that the pipeline to prison and destruction of pro-social values starts young. The public system that helps parents raise the next generation of leaders – edu-cators, social service professionals, com-munity leaders, and public servants – recognize the challenges they face with at-risk children. As stated by the school system representative, these children are “set-aside” in favor of children who are amenable to instruction, well-behaved, and who have engaged pa-rents. What is happening to our boys is in fact tantamount to war it maybe covert and deceptive; but in fact, it is war. Programs and money to operate them are necessary.
In September 2000, voters established the Children’s Services Council (CSC) of Broward County to focus on children through “leadership, advocacy, and funding for services for and on behalf of children.” Our tax dollars support, according to the CSC, over 100 programs delivered by “provider” agencies “proven to work”. The CSC serves as broker to return a portion of tax dollars to children most in need through a variety of educational, social, health, and prevention-type services. But has the CSC achieved this goal? Are they reaching children most in need, and how does the CSC identify children most in need? The CSC proclaims it funds effective programs that are evidence-based. However, what the CSC does not tell you is who performs fidelity monitoring of evidence-based practices, whether the evaluators are independent, and what constitutes “effective”.
A careful examination of CSC funding throughout the County indicates while there are a number of programs available to children in our communities (namely swim programs and summer camps), the majority of these services do not address the greatest needs, and absent these services, our children are at continued risk for delinquency. To argue some services are more important than others is counter-productive to our goals. Ensuring children have summer programming and learn to swim is important. However, prevention programs that address risk factors associated with delinquency have a profound impact on the citizens of Broward County and addressing these needs is vital if we are to stop the cycle of violence, poverty, and poor education in our communities.
Historically, the CSC funds large organizations with which they have existing relationships. After its recent award of contracts to serve middle school students, agencies unsuccessful in their proposals continued to advocate to the CSC for funding. The CSC response was these agencies should take its capacity building courses and utilize its network of consultants. What they are doing can be considered a form of taxation without representation. The CSC states its formula to distribute funding throughout Broward County is based on tax revenue for different communities. The higher the revenue generated the greater return to the community. Meaning communities with the greatest need, who also generate less tax revenue, are penalized for its lack of revenue and therefore receive less public support. Go figure.
The “effective” programs funded by CSC do not appear to have an impact in delinquency referrals and education. Over the past twelve months, according to the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, there were 5,779 delinquency referrals. 3,642 were for Black children and 2,706 were Black boys. 291 of those children were committed to a juvenile justice residential facility, and another 102 were direct filed to adult court. The numbers concerning education are equally discouraging. In the Schott 50 State Report on Public Education and Black Males (2010), Black male graduation rates in Broward County were the third worst in the nation. Yet, the CSC passed on an opportunity to fund a program that specifically targeted at-risk children utilizing an evidence-based curriculum that included the partnership of the Broward County Public Schools who provided in-kind transportation and teachers to tutor middle-school boys in neighborhoods with high crime and unemployment. In fact, the only clear visible sign of progress is the new CSC office building our tax dollars paid for, and the high staff salaries. When asked why funding supported such a facility, Council Members stated the facility was needed and “it is a green facility”. So while our tax dollars support economically and eco-friendly buildings, programs to prevent academic failure, interaction with law enforcement, and that have the potential to break the cycle of poverty remain unfunded? We can agree this is unacceptable.
Questions to the CSC will continue. Yet, this does not absolve our community of the responsibility to address needs of our children the best we can. Volunteers to mentor children are needed. We can leverage existing resources to train mentors and volunteers in evidence-based practices that will strengthen families. We can donate time, resources, and services to assist families in parenting, childcare, employment, career training, and securing employment. Finally, we can continue to exert pressure on local stakeholders, including the Children’s Services Council, to ensure tax dollars are directed to communities and children most in need, and in particular, address the disproportionate contact of minority children with the juvenile justice system. Consider there are approximately 184,578 children between the ages of 10 and 17 in Broward County. Black children account for roughly 32 percent, yet they represent 51 percent of delinquency referrals versus 25 percent for white children. 55 percent are judicially disposed, 57 percent are detained, and 61 percent are committed to a secure facility, compared to their white peers at 25 percent, 15 percent and 12 percent respectively. Consistent with the recommendation of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice that, in part, recommends more prevention, early intervention, and diversion program for at-risk and delinquent minority children we will advocate for funding of faith-based and community organizations that deliver these programs. But we cannot stand by and wait. Immediate action is needed.
Our tax dollars are not being returned to the constituents we represent. As a result of an apparent display of unfairness to our community needs, CSC partnership is now in question. Men must stand up and fight for our boys because our children cannot fight for themselves, and our boys are losing the war. Consider for a moment, if we did not have one (1) boy or young adult go to jail or prison for one year, what impact it would have on the criminal industrial complex (a profit entity)? What impact it would have on businesses that service jails and prisons? What impact it would have on the entire Juvenile and Criminal Justice systems?
More than a few good men are needed.
It is time for all men to join us in the fight for our boys, if you want to participate in planning and engagement on behalf of our boys, please call (954) 239-4297.