Foundation to invest in programs to help black males

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

The Skillman Foundation has announced it will invest $500,000 in programs that seek to invest in men of color in the Detroit area, who are up to 24 years of age.

The My Brother’s Keeper Detroit Innovation Challenge is a partnership with the Campaign for Black Male Achievement, and is a localization of the national My Brother’s Keeper Initiative President Barack Obama announced in February 2014.

Said Obama at the time: “There are some Americans who, in the aggregate, are consistently doing worse in our society — groups that have had the odds stacked against them in unique ways that require unique solutions; groups who’ve seen fewer opportunities that have spanned generations. And by almost every measure, the group that is facing some of the most severe challenges in the 21st century in this country are boys and young men of color.”

The first round of applications will be accepted through March 18, and anyone with an idea whose “end user” is a male of color can apply. Those who make the initial cut will be asked, in April, to flesh out their ideas and “ground (their) work in (their) end user.” Each group that applies must have two boys or men of color involved in the project, said David McGhee, program officer with the Skillman Foundation.

Twenty teams will receive $5,000 each to prototype and test their program, a process that will run from mid-May to early July.

The week of July 11, the 20 teams will pitch their plans to a panel of community members, including some of the people their ideas are meant to help. Five or six of those teams will be given $50,000 each to scale their projects.

The rest of that $500,000 will come in the form of “skill-building workshops,” mentorship and “a suite of technical assistance including developers, designers and builders” for the groups receiving $50,000 grants.

“Just because you have a phenomenal idea doesn’t mean you have the capacity to see it through,” McGhee said.

To that end, successful groups will be matched with a Detroit entrepreneur who can light the path ahead.

The innovating challenge is hoping to amplify its reach on social media via Thunderclap, McGhee explained. If 250 users commit to supporting the innovation challenge on social media — Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter users can participate — a “thunderclap” will come through on Wednesday, Feb. 24, at noon, with the supportive tweets.

This, McGhee said, is a way to “rise above the noise” on social media.

That stage of the process will run from July 18 to Nov. 11. In late November, teams will share their work publicly

Individuals and private businesses can apply, as well as nonprofits, but those who secure $50,000 grants “must have a nonprofit act as a fiduciary.”

Locally, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, former Mayor Dave Bing, Detroit City Councilman James Tate, and Tonya Allen, president and CEO of the Skillman Foundation, are co-chairs of the My Brother’s Keeper effort.

The local effort has five goals: for all boys of color to enter school ready — cognitively, physically, socially and emotionally; that they progress and participate in school; that as young men they are prepared for career success; that they are included in the new economy; and that they are supported “in a community that is rapidly building capacity.”

The Campaign for Black Male Achievement recently published a report called “The Promise of Place: Cities Advancing Black Male Achievement.” That report contained the Black Male Achievement City Index, which grades 50 cities, which have nearly one-third of America’s black male population between them, “on their visible level of engagement and committed action on behalf of black men and boys.”

Detroit, along with Oakland, California, and Washington, D.C., scored the highest on the index, 95 out of 100. The lowest-scoring city of the 50, Columbus, Georgia, rated only 15 out of 100.

Detroit may seem to have a high score for a city where almost 40 percent of the population — and 35 percent of black males — are below the poverty line, according to U.S. Census figures. But that number, 95, is based on several factors: a high presence of black males among the male population, a city-led initiative supporting black men and boys (the black male engagement task force); city support for My Brother’s Keeper; local membership figures in the Campaign for Black Male Achievement; the presence of national initiatives supporting black males; and how much local funding was targeted to black males from 2008-12.

The campaign’s life outcomes dashboard shows the depth of the problems facing black males in Detroit. Only three percent of black boys in Detroit are proficient in fourth-grade math; only 5 percent were proficient in fourth-grade reading. Those numbers, respectively, are the same for eighth-grade math and reading: 3 and 5 percent proficient. Some 24 percent of black men in Detroit have less than a high school diploma or GED, compared to 16 percent of all males nationwide. Only 14 percent of black men in Detroit have an associate’s degree or more, compared to 35 percent of all males nationwide.

Black male life expectancy in Wayne County is about 69 years old, seven years less than the national average for all males, 76 percent.

In Wayne County, the homicide rate for black males, per 100,000, was almost 81 from 2004-2010. The national average for all men is 9.39 per 100,000, and the national average for black males is about 39 per 100,000.

One-third of black males in Detroit, ages 25-44, are unemployed, according to 2007-11 Census figures. That compares to less than eight percent, nationwide, who were unemployed at that time.

Only 21 percent of black males in Detroit, ages 18 to 64, live in the same home as their children, based on 2007-11 Census figures, compared to about 36 percent nationally.

Shawn Dove, CEO of the Campaign for Black Male Achievement, said in a statement that "where there is peril, there is promise.”

“There’s no city in the country that’s doing well when we look at life outcomes of black men and boys,” Dove said. "There is no calvary coming to save the day. The iconic leaders we're looking for are already in our community."

“What they need, and what the grants are meant to provide, are the resources and guidance to turn good ideas into executed ideas, and to make a change in the data,” Dove said.

This particular effort is targeted for boys and young men of color, as is My Brother’s Keeper at a national level.

The point, McGhee explained, is not to exclude girls and young women, but to “intentionally include” a group often left behind when others make progress.