October 30, 2015 – Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to attend the launch convening of the Washtenaw County’s My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) initiative. My Brother’s Keeper was launched by President Obama to focus on specific solutions to improve outcomes for boys and young men of color. Washtenaw County joins a dozen or so other Michigan communities who are part of the MBK initiative, demonstrating that many communities across our state are committed to reversing the trend we see in decades of data suggesting that our attempts to reduce disparities by race continue to fall short for boys of color.
The goals of the MBK initiative are to ensure that all children enter school cognitively, physically, socially and emotionally ready and read at grade level by 3rd grade; that all young people graduate from high school, complete post-secondary education or training and remain safe from violent crime; and that all youth out of school are employed. Michigan is far from those outcomes now.
All of these areas are of great importance to Michigan’s Children, and as a Washtenaw County resident, I’d love to help connect the dots between these localized efforts in my community and public policy priorities. I was very pleased to see a handful of policymakers in attendance, ranging from local city council to U.S. Congress and everyone in between. However, the locally-focused conversation felt like a bit of a missed opportunity to connect the great ideas generated at the convening and the role of public policy to help implement or remove policy barriers to them. As Michigan communities continue to roll out MBK action plans, a few thoughts.
First, the challenges of boys and men of color are important to everyone. The prosperity of our state relies on the success of all of our future workers. If data and evidence demonstrate that a significant portion of our child population is falling behind, it is the responsibility of all of us to ensure that programs and services are providing equitable opportunities for all children to succeed. We can’t rely solely on localized efforts, but rather, statewide public will and policies must support these efforts to ensure that all children and youth – including children and youth of color – can succeed for the future prosperity of our state.
Second, the state department that was represented, and who represents the MBK initiative in Lansing, is the Michigan Community Service Commission (MCSC). While I am glad to see that there is state-level connection to these localized efforts, the role of the MCSC is to connect its programs like AmeriCorps, Mentor Michigan and other volunteerism initiatives to MBK efforts. This is an essential piece, but to really impact outcomes, we need other state departments to be part of the conversation like the Education, Health and Human Services, Workforce Development, Civil Rights, Corrections, and others whose investment strategies and everyday decisions impact the lives of boys and men of color. These departments can help design better investment, policies, rules and programs that can best support MBK efforts.
And finally, along those same lines, we know that public policies and investment strategies have contributed to the “pipeline” that we see too often play out in the lives of boys of color, and that changes to those policies and investments can and should play a vital role to prevent and mitigate its continuation. Public policy must support efforts to improve access to high quality early childhood education for the children who are most at-risk of starting kindergarten behind, expanding afterschool and summer learning programs for students who wouldn’t otherwise have access to these equity-promoting programs, connecting students and families to wraparound needs through integrated school services, or connecting the dots between community-based initiatives and state department efforts’ to expand trauma-informed practices across all sectors. As MBK initiatives across our state continue to develop and implement plans, and local communities take responsibility for improved outcomes for boys of color, Michigan’s Children will stay connected to those efforts to help connect the dots between local innovation and the policy and investment required to support them.