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 an action plan for My Brother's Keeper San Antonio March 2016. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor, the first black woman to serve as mayor of a city with more than 1 million people, accepted the challenge to build lasting bridges of opportunity for boys and men of color when she agreed to take part in President Barack Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper Initiative.

Obama, the first black U.S. president, issued the challenge in October 2014 and Taylor, along with 250 other communities in the U.S., committed to create efforts to close the opportunity gap that plagues so many communities.

“The future of our communities will depend on whether everyone is connected to opportunities for success and prosperity,” Taylor stated in an email Tuesday.

The MBK program has four goals for boys and men of color: increase graduation rates, increase post-secondary attainment, increase job numbers, and reduce crime and recidivism rates, or their frequency of returning to jail.

Taylor appointed a special committee who, alongside the P16Plus Council of Greater Bexar County, began to identify goals and collect data to start an action plan to change the current opportunity tide by 2020.

(Read more: My Brother’s Keeper Unveils San Antonio Action Plan)

Andrew Solano, liaison to MBK San Antonio, called the movement a “data-driven effort.”

As of March, data from Bexar County shows that 15% of males of color ages 16-24 are not in school or working and only 28% of men of color ages 25-34 have obtained at least a post-secondary certificate, compared to 50% of their white male cohorts. In addition, 30% of young males of color deal with recidivism within three years of being arrested, compared to 22% of white males.

“With something as sensitive (as race) … the first question is why not include white males, but we are not excluding anybody, we need to look at data across the board,” Solano said. “College degrees, job numbers, rotation rates, crime rates … the numbers are always worse for boys (and men) of color.”

Closing the educational and employment opportunity gaps for local young men of color also means closing the gaps in communication and collaboration between all the leaders involved in the MBK initiative, which is why My Brother’s Keeper San Antonio decided to host an inaugural Texas Summit on Thursday, July 28.

The summit will feature MBK program participants from across the state who will come together to discuss their common efforts and ways to maximize their resources.

It is a way to continue the overarching dialogue of how to help boys and men of color thrive and reach their full potential in their communities.

“The My Brother’s Keeper Texas Summit allows us to share ideas and create a collective effort which will ultimately decide the future of our young boys and men of color,” Taylor said.

The summit will take place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the UTSA Downtown Campus. Organizers, panelists, and participants will meet at UTSA’s Aula Canaria Auditorium located on the first floor of the Buena Vista Building.

The purpose of Thursday’s event is to bring City and community representatives together to discuss the different ways they are approaching the challenge. San Antonio is heading into the “implementation phase,” Solano said, so what we do here will help other cities that are just launching their initiatives.

Taylor will speak after welcome remarks by UTSA President Ricardo Romo. Other speakers include U.S. Rep. Will Hurd (R-23) and James Cole Jr., general counsel, delegated the duties of deputy secretary of education.

“President Obama has said that there is nothing more important than investing in young people, and we’re proud that San Antonio is among the nearly 250 My Brother’s Keeper communities answering the call to do just that,” Cole stated in an email Wednesday. “Local leaders here on the ground are organizing to eliminate opportunity gaps, so that all young people have the chance to earn a great education, and live the American dream.”

The first half of the program will have a panel comprised of individuals leading efforts in their respective Texas cities.

“We have representatives coming from Austin, Houston, the City of Dallas and Dallas County, Tarrent County in Fort Worth, Prairie View, and Longview, Texas,” Solano said. “We are (coming together) to exchange information and to look at what has worked and what hasn’t.”

The second part of the program will focus on the Success Mentors Initiative supported by the U.S. Department of Education, which includes 10 other cities across the U.S., and will touch upon how San Antonio Independent School District is working to decrease chronic absenteeism in schools through mentorship.

Dr. Robert Balfanz, a mentorship expert from Johns Hopkins University, will highlight the successful mentorship program he started in New York and the importance of its implementation.

The summit is an opportunity to identify and discuss systemic barriers through data tracking across Bexar County, Solano said. The Mayor’s office aims to use the data to help bolster future educational opportunities and examine earning potential for individuals.

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Solano added that the program currently has grants through Wells Fargo, GM Financial, and other backers, which helps with day-to-day operations like community events, data collection, and upkeep of staff in the program.

“This really is a priority for the Mayor,” Solano said. “Working with boys and men of color and improving their outcomes helps everybody and we are working very hard to get results.”

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Top image: EastPoint Director Mike Etienne (left) walks with Mayor Ivy Taylor (center) to the stage at YMLA in March 2016 where she unveiled an action plan for My Brother’s Keeper.  Photo by Scott Ball. 

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Rocío Guenther

Rocío Guenther

Rocío Guenther worked as a bilingual reporter and editorial assistant for the Rivard Report from June 2016 to October 2017. She is originally from Guadalajara, Mexico and holds a bachelor's in English...