Cindy Rodriguez is the Urban Policy reporter for New York Public Radio.
Policy experts, social service providers and others say the Mayor's efforts to improve the lives of black and Latino young men have been badly needed in low-income communities for a long time. High unemployment rates, low educational levels and the revolving door of the prison system are among the problems the Bloomberg Administration plans to tackle.
Teaching young men to be better fathers is among the list of initiatives in the Mayor’s plan. Three million dollars will fund a City University program that will offer parenting skills to dads and try to get them jobs.
Terrell Chambers is 18 years old and falls within the demographic at which the Mayor's initiative is aimed. While Chambers is on the right track and is starting college this year, he said he has friends in prison and he knows plenty of others who are struggling.
“I see a lot of my friends having babies and they're not ready for a kid," Chambers said. “They don't know how to support or be that father figure because they didn't have that father figure themselves, so it's kind of a hard transition from being a boy to a man."
David Jones from the Community Service Society has consistently called for investing in the high number of the black and Latino young people between the ages of 16 and 24 who are not working or going to school. He applauded the Mayor's focus on young men. Jones said that while young women also struggle, young men are doing far worse. According to Jones, just 25 percent of African American males without a high school diploma had a job in 2010 and Jones said that hurts an entire family.
“They can't build families unless they can get work. And that has an implication not only for them but on young women who are black and Latino and of course the children who are coming from those families”, said Jones.
Estimates are that roughly 90 percent of the city jail population is black or Latino, compounding the unemployment problem. The Bloomberg Administration plans to revamp its Department of Probation in order to get parole officers more focused on job development. It also plans on advocating for a process that would help young men clean up their rap sheets.
Oma Holloway, Director of Career Development at The Door, a non-profit that serves a large population of black and Latino youth, said that would be a great help to the many people who have mistakes on their records. Holloway said that recently in Brooklyn, the District Attorney’s office ran a two-day event called 'Safe Surrender' that allowed people to expunge low-level misdemeanors.
“One day it was pouring raining and people stood in line because they knew that was there second chance,” Holloway said. According to Holloway, a marijuana misdemeanor is a common low-level offense that can cause major obstacles to finding a job. Plus, she said arrests without a conviction can remain on a rap sheet and turn off a prospective employer.
Beyond increasing employment, the Mayor's initiative also aims to better prepare more black and Latino youth for college. While the Bloomberg Administration has long tried to close the achievement gap at schools, this time it's going a step further by creating a new category for measuring the achievement of black and Latino males specifically. David Banks, founder of Eagle Academy, a school for black and Latino boys, said this population should not lurk in the dark.
“We want to make sure we put the spotlight on this population and we want to be able to hold school leaders accountable for what are you doing with this population”, said Banks.
Banks co-chaired the Mayoral commission that set the agenda for supporting black and Latino males. He said their progress will now affect a school's evaluation.
Mayor Bloomberg is putting in $30 million of his own money to fund these programs and so is his friend, billionaire philanthropist George Soros. Both men have grand expectations for the programs and call the overall initiative a “game changer.” But others worry that the next Mayor may not have the deep pockets to keep the programs running.