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On the Joint Initiative to Expand Opportunities for Young Men of Color

Resource type: News

The Atlantic Philanthropies |

The Atlantic Philanthropies are pleased to join with our foundation partners, the White House and leading U.S. businesses to improve opportunities for the most disadvantaged among us. Our commitment to this initiative stems from our longstanding focus on promoting equal opportunity and racial equity in the United States.

To date, we have invested over $200 million in a range of programmes that address racial disparities in life outcomes and that help set a positive trajectory for children and adolescents, including boys and young men of color in the U.S.’s most disadvantaged communities. These include investments to expand community schools and access to health care for disadvantaged children and to reform discriminatory school discipline practices and racial disparities within the judicial system.

Recognizing the urgent need to address the significant disparities affecting boys and young men of color, we and our foundation partners have each pledged $750,000 to support the initial work and infrastructure of the initiative. As part of that pledge, we have joined with the Open Society Foundations to commission a study of the nation’s most effective place-based efforts for these vulnerable young men.

Atlantic’s investments to promote fairness and justice for disenfranchised communities in the United States have had two intersecting strands. The first fosters opportunity by creating new systems and structures that address children’s needs; the second helps communities remove discriminatory barriers that restrict the life chances and opportunities of too many Americans.

Promoting Opportunity

In many communities, children, and the families that support and nurture them, don’t have the wealth of resources necessary to be successful in learning and in life that many of us take for granted. Where children can participate in after-school activities like tutoring and mentoring, or music, dance and art. Where parents can get health care for their children and have access to preventive services like immunizations, advice about dealing with asthma or diabetes, or counselling for a family crisis.  Where parents are welcomed as active participants in their children’s schools and education.

Schools alone cannot eliminate all the disparities and inequities in communities hit hard by disinvestment, poverty and discrimination. But schools that are rooted in their communities and that join with local organizations to integrate learning with the health and social needs of families can transform whole neighborhoods.  That’s why, since 2007, Atlantic has supported Elev8 (, a community schools initiative which focuses on improving opportunities for low-income, predominantly African-American, Latino, Native American and Asian students in the critical middle school years, and their families, in four places: Baltimore, Chicago, New Mexico and Oakland, CA. Elev8 schools in these communities extend learning beyond the classroom and traditional school year; provide high-quality health services to kids and their families; encourage and engage parents and grandparents in their children’s education; and offer family support and resources, such as job training and advice on securing social and financial services.

Atlantic’s $119 million in investments in 20 Elev8 schools and 16 school-based health centers has resulted in over 72,000 visits to school-based health clinics, as well as dramatic reductions in school disciplinary incidents and increases in attendance, student preparation and parent engagement.  Thousands of parents have tapped vital supports through these community schools.  In a recent University of California, San Francisco survey of students who used Alameda County (Oakland) school-based clinics, nearly all said they had learned to eat better, exercise more and use contraception more consistently.

Such demonstrable benefits to children and families from these community schools have leveraged additional funding from government and philanthropy to support expansion within school districts and across states. For example, based on their experience, the Oakland school district has made community schools a district-wide priority and the Alameda County Health Agency has committed to expand school-based health clinics county-wide.

Eroding Barriers to Opportunity

Since 2010, Atlantic has supported initiatives by our grantees to improve the climate for learning in schools by reforming “zero tolerance” discipline policies. These policies push children out of school and into the juvenile (and sometimes the adult) justice system. They have been used disproportionately to discipline children of color and disabled children in low-income communities, with particularly heavy impact on black boys and youth.  These policies are not simply discriminatory; there is a large body of convincing evidence that they don’t work to prevent violence or reduce student misbehavior and serve only to undermine children’s academic success and increase their exposure to the justice system.

In fact, a landmark study in Texas by the Council of State Governments found that out-of-school suspension and expulsion doubles the chance of repeating a grade and triples the chance of contact with the juvenile justice system, at considerable cost to taxpayers and society. Researchers estimated the widespread use of zero tolerance discipline cost the state more than $100 million per year in additional instructional costs and lost tax revenues that result from grade retention in schools and delayed entry into the workforce.

To date, Atlantic has invested $40 million in research, grassroots and legal advocacy, and strategic communications to eliminate ineffective school discipline policies and practices that impede educational achievement and economic opportunity, not only for the young people who are directly affected by them, but for entire communities. We are pleased to see the growing momentum for alternatives to these policies, and the emerging evidence that positive discipline can keep children in school and learning. Since revamping its discipline policy in 2011 and using alternative approaches such as Restorative Practices that engage students and the community in conflict resolution, the Oakland school district experienced a 33 percent reduction in suspension rates for black males and a 25 percent reduction for Latino males, ensuring that these vulnerable children missed many fewer days of classroom instruction and recouping $140,000 in lost funds.

Atlantic grantees have also been at the forefront of efforts to reform discriminatory criminal justice practices, like “Stop and Frisk” policing, that target young men of color and facilitate their entry into the justice system for non-violent infractions. We celebrated the recent landmark court decision that ruled Stop and Frisk policing in New York City to be discriminatory and unconstitutional, opening the door to radical reform of the practice in New York and a sea change in the national conversation about racial bias in policing.

We still have a long way to go in helping children and young people in disadvantaged communities to succeed and thrive. They face what seem to be almost impossible odds:  they’re more likely to witness and become victims of violence, more likely to attend a poorly resourced school (and be suspended), more likely to have an absent parent or a parent with multiple jobs. But integrating learning activities with health care and preventive services, aligning school discipline practices with educational goals, and targeting decision-points in the justice system where racial bias and disparity arise most acutely can produce real – and replicable – life-changing benefits for our youth, and measurable economic and social benefits to our communities and nation.

Going forward, we intend to spend $30 million in 2014 on improving school discipline policies and criminal justice practices. We have earmarked an additional $40 million to improve the pathways to opportunity for vulnerable people, including boys and men of color, through full-service community schools, greater access to high quality health care and improved income security.

But just as neither schools themselves nor juvenile justice policies can unilaterally change the life trajectory of our most disadvantaged young people, nor can one foundation alone or even many together. Only a concerted effort across sectors—education, health, business, philanthropy and government—to bring success to scale within and across whole communities can do that. As a foundation that will soon be making its final grants, The Atlantic Philanthropies share the President’s sense of urgency to address these challenges, improve opportunities and create better life chances for these young people now.  We cannot afford to wait.

> Read More: The Atlantic Philanthropies Join the White House and Leading Foundations to Expand Opportunities for Young Men of Color

Related Resources


Children & Youth, School Discipline Reform

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