Our editorial: Saving the city’s men a complex task
Rebuilding a city means little if a large percentage of its people get left behind. Mayor Mike Duggan acknowledged that this week when he asked: “What does Detroit’s recovery mean if everybody doesn’t have the chance to participate?”
Duggan was speaking at the My Brother’s Keeper Detroit Summit II, an effort to build a support network for young African-American, Latino and Asian males in the city. The city is teaming with foundations and corporations to nurture and educate teens and young men with the goal of keeping them out of prison and in jobs.
There are 320,000 such males in Detroit, and too many are already disconnected from the institutions of society. Half of African-American men ages 20-24 are unemployed in Detroit, and a third of minority males will not graduate from high school.
The My Brother’s Keeper initiative, launched nationally by President Barack Obama, seeks to change those outcomes with early intervention and ongoing support. The Detroit push has five pillars:
■All boys will enter school cognitively, physically, socially and emotionally ready to learn. That will require stronger preschool programs, an idea Gov. Rick Snyder supports, and encouraging families to take advantage of programs that already exist. Literacy before kindergarten should be the goal.
■All boys of color are present and participating in school. Officials with both the Detroit Public Schools and the Education Achievement Authority have pledged to reduce suspensions and expulsions with early intervention and alternative discipline. Suspensions, says Veronica Conforme, head of the EAA, “puts young men on a path out of school.”
■All young men will be prepared to succeed in careers. Business will be asked to employ more interns and summer workers, and the school systems will establish 15 college and career academies and increase technical education.
■All men of color are present and participating in the new economy. Entrepreneurship will be encouraged, and guidance provided to steer young men into growing industries.
■All boys and men are supported by the community.
These are good goals, and will benefit both the young men and the community. Certainly, if carried out successfully, it will result in less crime, fewer drop-outs and a smaller percentage of the population dependent on taxpayers for support.
But with any good idea, success will lie in the execution. For this initiative, getting education right in Detroit is an essential first step, and one that is still missing.
While Duggan noted that he is requiring that construction projects hire 50 percent Detroiters, the reality is that those workers don’t exist today, largely because of the failure of the schools. Detroiters actively looking for work make up just 61 percent of the working age population, and only 53 percent have held a job in the past year.
Blame a lack of skills, and a school district that fails miserably at providing them. DPS has a series of vocational/technical schools, but most remain either nearly empty or closed. So graduating students are not prepared to take jobs on construction sites, despite the city’s 50-percent mandate.
In addition, the average reading-grade level equivalent of Detroit adults is 8.9, according to the Detroit Employment Solutions Corp., and the average math grade-level equivalent is 7. That skill level will not open the doors to high-paying careers.
Cutting suspensions 50 percent by 2020, without allowing unruly students to disrupt those who want to learn, will require innovative programs to identify and address problems early. Focusing on rates without changing behavior will only lead to chaotic classrooms.
Finally, the initiative must not just engage the young men, but also their families. Too many children live in poverty, or in homes without strong parental support. The infant mortality rate in Detroit is worse than in many Third World countries. And violence in their neighborhoods forces too many young men into bad choices.
To be successful, the My Brother’s Keeper project has to help fix the places where boys and young men live and learn.