School Yards, Prison Yards, and Graveyards

I’m not the one to bring dismal or bad news to people…that’s not my style.  I’d like however, to bring some interesting information for you to ponder.

The Educational School Yards of our Country

I visited the Nation’s Census website to review the data on higher education enrollment.  The latest data showed a 10-year spread.  From 1990 to 2009, the government had creditable information from gender, race, age and characteristics1.  It wasn’t a surprise to see the increased enrollment numbers year after year – all the way to 2009!  As I dug deeper to view the enrollment by race and class, the numbers were disturbing.

The racial divide shows a large gap toward the later years of 2007, 2008, and 2009.  When you analyze the report into gender class and among the races, the African-American males shows a downward trend of new enrollments2.

Yes, numbers are numbers – but these numbers represents children.  The children of our country and a small percentage of individuals who come from other foreign lands spend several years to receive a quality post-high school education.  Now that we’re entering a new phase of global workforce competition, how can we encourage more of our children to set a steady educational path for quality jobs and quality pay?  As it relates to a child in our community, could we do better from cradle-to-college?

The Young Prison Yards of our Country

For several years, A&E has aired a TV reality show call “Beyond Scared Straight”3 – a series of episodes following derailed, defiant and disrespectful teens as they enter immersive jail programs aimed at deterring them from a life of crime.  In its fifth filming season, we witness wayward children whose parents appear to have no control over them.  The show depicts law enforcement units from certain areas of the country attempt to make tough decisions on behalf the parents; when we all know the home is supposed to be the first institution of education!

I have a statistical snapshot just from a southern state (name withheld) here in the US on the matter of youth incarceration4.

• There are 8 youths serving life without parole sentences
• This southern state has 1.71 per 100,000 14-17 year olds serving life without parole sentences ranking it 32nd of the 40th state covered in the Amnesty International USA report The Rest of Their Lives: Life Without Parole for Child Offenders in the United States (2005).
• This southern state has a ratio of 5.4 black youths for every white youth sentenced to life without parole giving it the 21st highest black/white ratio out of 27 states.
• The minimum age for prosecution as an adult is 12.
• The minimum age for sentencing a youth to life without parole is 13.
• This southern state has mandatory life without parole sentencing.

The Grave Yards of our Country

Do you remember the Columbine tragedy in Colorado?  What about the Virginia Tech College School Massacre in 2007 – the deadliest shooting incident by a single gunman in U.S. history?  Or how about this year’s Sandy Hook Elementary School killings in Newtown, Connecticut?

I strongly encourage you to view this website that lists the total murders of young people in Chicago:

On this site, you’ll see in chronological death order the portraits of innocent, young faces – most of them smiling back at you. Most of their lives met a terrible fate of daily gang shootings throughout Chicago.  The site also mapquest the spot in which it shows their last living steps.  These killings just don’t happen in one town, but in all urban cluster cities.   After your visit to this site, you certainly feel uncomfortable. 

We don’t need to bury our future doctors, scientist, and educators of our country.

How can we make this better? Simple, get involved – starting in your own neighborhood. Serve on a community board. Join a youth volunteer organization. Share your educational skills with a younger person. Become a mentor…

As 2013 draws to a close, make a new pledge to yourself in 2014 to get involve.

Let go people and do some good!

4. Source from Amnesty International USA, The Rest of Their Lives: Lives without Parole for Child Offenders in the United States (2005)


The Microcosm of Birthing New Ideas for a Grieving Community

Last week I attended a piloted event co-sponsored by the United Way of Metro Atlanta and the Atlanta Promise Neighborhood Initiative.  The gathering was exclusive to adult men from the community and its purpose was to discuss ways on improving our neighborhoods.  The initiative is funded by the U.S. Department of Education which seeks to improve the educational achievement and healthy development of underserved children and families in northwest Atlanta.

Close to twenty men from all backgrounds, careers, and various generations came together with a feeling to take action that night.  As we assembled together at a day care center for an evening of food, fellowship and fatherhood, we kept the focus on Child Education.

The moderator of the evening distributed a United Way’s Fatherhood Café Newsletter; the main article opened up like this…

“Fathers and other male role models who are consistently involved in their children’s lives help them grow up with a strong sense of self, a feeling of security and other positive characteristics.  Research by the National Center for Education Statistics shows that children benefit from their father’s involvement in their schools.  Male involvement has a distinct and independent influence on a child’s success.  When a father (or other male figure) is actively involved in school, their children:

  • Learn more
  • Have fewer discipline problems
  • Perform better in school
  • Exhibit healthier behaviors
  • Take part in extracurricular activities
  • Enjoy school more
  • Model positive adult male behavior
  • Show an increase in problem solving skills”

For me, it was helpful to hear what was on the hearts of each brother.  The pressures of work, family expectations, finances, spiritual direction, and other challenges were all earnestly expressed.  It’s interesting that we all felt something common among ourselves – it was the future and outlook of our kids.  The court verdict of the George Zimmerman trial and the recent murderous crimes made by African-American teenagers highlighted in the front pages of national news are heart-wrenching and troublesome.  It became more obvious that these situations stem from the breakdown of the family.

Through the course two hours, we supported the idea of doing more in a child’s education.  And since we were meeting in a day care center, it was a good start to volunteer our time by reading books to the toddlers, helping them with their work curriculum and interacting with them through songs.

One of the men in the room recited a statement that appealed to us.  He said “We need to prevent the transfer of our kids from the school yard to the prison yard!”  I extend my own thoughts by stating that our kids shouldn’t meet the graveyard too!  Also, my hope is that we prevent our kids from being locked-out from educational and job advances; and also prevent our kids from being locked-up by unequal sentencing laws throughout the country!

On a positive front, we have come a long way…

1)      This country has seen its first African-American U.S. President

2)      This country has seen its first African-American U.S. Attorney General

3)      This country has seen its first Hispanic woman Supreme Court Justice

But we still have a way to go…

1)      The highest levels of prison inmate of men of color in a century*

2)      The highest unemployment rate for men of color

3)      Lowest college entries for men of color in twenty years

The exchange of thoughts and ideas continued in the small meeting room.  We believe that most of our “next step” ideas will come into fruition, but baby steps are needed as we gel together as a team.  It is amazing how just a handful of men from all walks of life and soon coming together to meet a common goal!  When a community is in dire need of help, the core of individuals from that same community should find time to resolve matters.

Initiatives like this create a movement to build purpose and empower a community.  And as we celebrate the March on Washington fifty years ago this week, I DREAM for equality shared by all, freedom for all, justice approved by all, and peace to all.

Let go people and do some good!

*U.S. Bureau Department of Justice – Prison Inmates 2009/Statistic Table