Cedric, a 6th grade student at YMLA waits by the door to greet guests. Photo by Scott Ball.
Cedric, sixth-grade student at YMLA, waits by the door to greet guests. Photo by Scott Ball.

Organizers for My Brother’s Keeper San Antonio revealed an action plan on Monday that lays out steps to help close the educational and employment opportunity gaps for local young men of color.

City and community leaders involved in the program said achieving the six overarching goals outlined in the plan will mean boosting existing programs and starting new ones by expanding its coalition of public and private sector partners who can help fund them.

One such objective is to ensure that more youth graduate high school. While graduation rates in Bexar County have been rising, 83% of men of color graduate high school while 89% of white men get their diploma, said Mayor Ivy Taylor, who outlined the action plan at the Young Men’s Leadership Academy.

“Our goal is to increase that rate to 90% by 2020,” Taylor said. “To achieve this we need to build a supportive community around boys of color through culturally responsive systems that engage families, faith-based and cultural institutions.”

Eastpoint Director Mike Etienne walks with Mayor Ivy Taylor to the location of the event. Photo by Scott Ball.
EastPoint Director Mike Etienne (left) walks with Mayor Ivy Taylor (center) to the stage at YMLA where she unveiled and action plan for the six My Brother’s Keeper goals. Photo by Scott Ball. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Taylor accepted President Barack Obama’s national My Brother’s Keeper challenge in October 2014. San Antonio is one of 250 communities in the U.S. to dedicate time and resources towards improving life outcomes and closing the opportunity gap for boys and young men of color. P16Plus Council of Greater Bexar County has been the lead facilitating organization for the local effort.

One key, Taylor said, is to make sure minorities not only graduate but that they have the opportunity to receive the education and training needed to become an educator and role model in their community.

Four young men of color spoke about how they continued their education and are committed to professional success and helping their community despite their own past personal struggles.

“Stay in school and your dreams will be fulfilled,” said Nathaniel Smith, a Promise Zone to Work graduate.

Nathaniel Smith speaks to wanting to send a message to minority children in San Antonio. Photo by Scott Ball.
Nathaniel Smith, a Promise Zone to Work graduate, encouraged students not to give up on their dreams. Photo by Scott Ball.

Another goal is to ensure all youth finish post-secondary education or training because earning at least an associate’s degree bolsters an individual’s future educational opportunities and earning potential. In Bexar County, data shows that 28% of men of color ages of 25-34 have obtained a level 1 certificate or above, compared to 50% of their white male cohorts.

“Our goal is to increase that percentage for young men of color to 50%. This means building upon our existing mentoring and navigation support structure, and demystifying the higher education process through culturally relevant messaging,” Taylor said.

San Antonio Independent School District (SAISD), for instance, is getting help from its local community partners and the MBK Success Mentors Initiative to fight absenteeism in the Sam Houston High School feeder zone.

So-called “school success mentors” are borrowed from pre-existing school resources, and they meet three times a week with chronically absent sixth- and ninth-graders. San Antonio is one of 10 MBK communities nationwide where the Success Mentors Initiative, announced last month by the White House, is launching.

“As mayor, I’ll work with SAISD and other school districts to identify funds and resources to scale this program up to schools that find themselves in similar situations with chronically absent students,” Taylor said.

Pedro Martinez is welcomed to the Young Men's Leadership Academy at W. W. White Elementary School. Photo by Scott Ball.
SAISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez is welcomed to the Young Men’s Leadership Academy at W. W. White Elementary School. SAISD will be partnering with the local My Brother’s Keeper initiative. Photo by Scott Ball. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Wells Fargo, one of several financial backers so far of local initiatives, is working on a pending application with the SAISD Foundation to bring grant support that will fund a majority of the Johns Hopkins University’s School Success Mentor-Coach Model program that will be implemented locally.

A third objective is to ensure out-of-school youth are working. San Antonio has enjoyed an overall low unemployment rate in recent years, but that the rate is 15% for men of color ages 16-24 and 11% of white males in the same age group, Taylor said. The goal is to knock that 15% down to at least 11%.

“We’ll do that through initiatives like SA Works, an industry-led coalition working in collaboration with the City and the County that will empower the next generation of workers, leading to a long-term workforce and economic benefit for the community,” Taylor said.

The Mayor’s office is coordinating with SA Works so that more boys and men of color see opportunities to take advantage of summer jobs, internships, job shadowing and apprenticeships.

She encouraged the entire private sector in San Antonio to join the mission of My Brother’s Keeper San Antonio financially and in other ways. Toyota Texas, CPS Energy and Community of Churches for Social Action already are on board with supporting local MBK efforts.

The fourth and fifth goals are, respectively, to ensure all youth are safe from crime, and for young men of color convicted or incarcerated of a crime to have a chance to lead a productive life.

“For young men of color in Bexar County under the age of 35, the violent crime victimization rate is 1,492 per 100,000 of population. For white males, its at 949. The MBKSA strategic objective is to have that rate reduced by 27% by 2020,” Taylor said.

In Bexar County, 22% of white males who are convicted of a juvenile offense are rearrested within three years, while 30% of young men of color are rearrested in that same timeframe. Taylor praised the truancy prevention efforts pushed by John Bull and Clarissa Chavarria, judges presiding in the City’s municipal court.

“By intervening early, the number of truancy cases that end up in court have dropped from 36,000 in the 2013-2014 school year, to seven docketed cases as of March 1,” Taylor said.

By addressing the root causes of school absences through case management parent/student forums, fewer boys of color are ending up in the system and are instead staying in the classroom, she said, urging school districts to work closely with the judges to help prevent more chronically absentee young men of color from entering the criminal justice system.

As for young men of color who wind up in the system, the mayor has asked her staff to help to create a City and County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, which will prioritize juvenile justice system reform. Policy recommendations will be coming in the near future.

The sixth goal is to ensure these goals are sustainable as a long-term strategy of inclusion can help to bridge racial and cultural divides citywide, and promote more trust among community stakeholders.

Without going into detail, Taylor alluded to the Feb. 4 incident in which San Antonio Police Officer John Lee, who is white, shot and killed Antronie Scott, 36, an African-American man near an apartment complex in North Central San Antonio.

Taylor said San Antonio has seen its share of officer-involved shootings such as Antronie Scott and Cameron Redus, but she noted, “We are not Ferguson or Baltimore.”

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I believe that the vast majority of our officers are well trained and can handle the split-second decisions they have to make on a daily basis,” Taylor said. She briefed the crowd about how City officials are exploring additional opportunities for training, and at innovative best practices regarding use of force and race.

Police Chief William McManus has been promoting police reforms, including inherent bias training, for several months at community and council meetings.

“If we’re looking to bring a meaningful and lasting change for our young men of color, including how violence effects them, how they are viewed in the community, and whether they are given the opportunity to lead a productive life – even if they’ve been convicted or incarcerated, then that means having a constructive conversation that’s honest but respectful, frank but fair, and that challenges ourselves to do better,” Taylor said.

*Top image: Cedric, sixth-grade student at YMLA, waits by the door to greet guests. Photo by Scott Ball. 

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Edmond Ortiz

Edmond Ortiz, a lifelong San Antonian, is a freelance reporter/editor who has worked with the San Antonio Express-News and Prime Time Newspapers.