Building Opportunity by Investing in Change: Philanthropy Takes Charge on Expanding Opportunities for Young Men of Color

by LP Green, II

A coalition of more than 40 national, regional and local foundations has taken aggressive action to improve life outcomes for America’s boys and men of color in communities throughout the country.  Member institutions of the Executives’ Alliance to Expand Opportunities for Boys and Men of Color have collectively awarded millions of dollars in the past year to improve education outcomes, reduce incarceration, ensure police accountability and bolster job readiness.

These policy and programmatic efforts are chronicled in a new report titled Investments for Change, which provides selected highlights of some of these investments, activities and impacts.  Its release coincides with the one-year anniversary of President Barack Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative, a national call to action to create ladders of opportunity for the nation’s boys and men of color.

“Though the philanthropic sector has a decades-long history of supporting boys and men of color, this past year represented a new, critical chapter in our work,” said Robert K. Ross (President and CEO of The California Endowment), and Tonya Allen (President and CEO of the Skillman Foundation), who serve as co-chairs of the Executives’ Alliance.  “Foundations across the nation are creating a brighter future for our sons and brothers and their communities, focusing on removing systemic barriers to opportunity while also supporting individuals.  These efforts will make all families, communities and our nation stronger.”

These funders have provided resources in cradle to career and policy reform strategies – many of which are already changing lives:

  • The Open Society Foundations awarded $2 million to the Center for Policing Equity to help create the first national database documenting police behavior, which will details who police pull over or stop for questioning and when they use force in over 50 major city police departments nationwide;
  • The Atlantic Philanthropies, The Annie E. Casey Foundation, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation committed a total of $8.5 million to launch RISE (Research, Integration, Strategy, and Evaluation) for Boys and Men of Color – an effort focused on developing a better understanding of strategies that improve life outcomes in key areas and supporting better coordination among researchers, educators, and community leaders to share knowledge about what works, fund research and evaluation to spur greater innovation and identification of solutions, and create a web-based portal to house and make more readily available information on effective interventions and policy solutions;
  • New grants from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation totaling over $1.6 million are helping improve outcomes for young men of color in often-neglected rural communities throughout the South and Southwest in states such as New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana and Alabama. One grantee, in conjunction with the Cocopah Tribe in Arizona, has successfully helped raise graduation rates for at-risk students from 15 percent to 51 percent;
  • The W.K. Kellogg Foundation invested $15 million to help school districts throughout the country improve their school climate by moving away from punitive school discipline policies that have been proven to push kids out of school and into crime;
  • The Public Welfare Foundation invested a total of $1 million combined to the W. Haywood Burns Institute to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in pre-trial juvenile detention and to support the launch of the YouthFirst! Initiative, a new advocacy campaign focused on creating a national tipping point to adopt policies that end incarceration of youth in juvenile prisons; and
  • In California, a cadre of foundations was integral to the landmark passage of the Safe Neighborhood and Schools Act, or Proposition 47, which is enabling up to 1 million Californians to have a second chance at life by reducing lower level felonies to misdemeanor charges, and decreasing incarceration of men of color.

These investments, and many others like them, represent an effort to target critical intervention points and core policy solutions that can yield long-needed systemic change required to help boys and young men of color succeed.

Additionally, flashpoint events throughout the nation this past year have driven the Executives’ Alliance to quickly respond to timely opportunities to influence more immediate results.  In the aftermath of the tragic deaths of several black men and boys at the hands of police officers, the Alliance helped facilitate and support a range of projects aimed at police accountability and community healing.

In the next few years, the Alliance plans to continue providing the resources necessary to enable African-American, Latinos, Native-American, and Asian-Pacific Islander boys and men to succeed in school, in the workforce, and in their communities.  These resources are and will continue to be used to scale up successful initiatives and support promising new approaches in the areas of education, employment, higher education, criminal justice, and civic engagement — at the community, state, and national levels.

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