This is a guest post by Dr. Anael Alston, who was born and raised in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. “Dr. A” is currently the Assistant Commissioner for the Office of Access, Equity and Community Engagement in the New York State Education Department.
“I am…” declared Michael D. Smith.
“My Brother’s Keeper!” nearly 500 young men of color roared back. The powerful affirmations shook the walls of the Empire State Convention Center on the last Friday in May as nearly 1,000 students, adults, and leaders from every region of New York State, gathered for the third annual My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) Symposium.
The day included workshops from national and international leaders in the field of education. For example, speaker, trainer, and author Baruti Kafele conducted a workshop on leadership and meeting the academic and social needs of young men of color.
Given the New York State graduation rate for males of color stands at just 64%, the conference featured two workshop sessions of “Beating the Odds: Unscreened High Schools with Significantly High Graduation Rates for Young Men of Color.”
The New York State Education Department hired PLC and Associates (PLC) to identify, visit, and share findings on public high schools across New York State that are graduating young men of color successfully and share their strategies for achieving their outcomes. The content of this workshop is another article or perhaps a book, but here is what we know.
Success for all is within reach for all young men of color. The question is: do we, as a society, have the will to do it? The answer is yes and the prescription is to create the conditions and circumstances that:
- Inform young men who they are and their appropriate place in history;
- Intentionally engage in activities that raise their self-image;
- Provide equal access to quality opportunities and experiences for young men; and
- Connect youth to role models, elders, and mentors who provide immediate, consistent and positive feedback and guidance when mistakes are made.
We find that positive feedback breeds feelings of success after these young men focus and work hard. This support increases their self-esteem and motivates the young men to work even harder. MBK is about creating the success cycle for young men across New York State.
This scenario has played out several years in a row at a small, unscreened, traditional public high school, the Brooklyn Institute for Liberal Arts, where nearly 80% of students qualify for free and reduced lunch. Year after year, they post a four-year graduation rate for young men of color between 90 and 95%. If this school can achieve these outcomes, then success for other schools is within reach.
We left the 2019 symposium with an established target of 90% of young men of color graduating high school in five years (2024). This goal is specific, measurable, time sensitive, and achievable. The question is, “Can we muster the courage, political appetite, will and skill across New York state to fill the MBK prescription and meet the audacious goal of realizing success of all of our youth?”
We believe we can.