The mayors of Minnesota’s two largest cities say they’re ready to share a different kind of story about the boys and young men of color who live in the Twin Cities.
Tuesday, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman laid out their strategy for taking part in My Brother’s Keeper, a White House initiative that aims to boost the success of minority boys and young men in school and at work. The two cities formally signed on for the program’s “community challenge” last fall and leaders have spent several months drawing up the 28-page plan.
The mayors spoke to a large crowd at the University of Minnesota and shared the stage with several young men, including a handful who performed songs they’d written themselves. All talked about the importance of giving boys and young men of color more opportunities to get help and get involved in their communities — and ending a tradition of writing them off as “at-risk” youth.
One of the young men, north Minneapolis resident Isaiah Hudson, suggested the term be replaced with “at-hope” youth.
“Let’s stop talking about deficits,” Coleman said. “Let’s stop talking about the things our children don’t have and start talking about the things they do have. Let them realize that potential.”
Minneapolis and St. Paul are among 145 communities that have signed up to participate in the My Brother’s Keeper program. Each has agreed to review existing programs that aim to tackle issues like dropout rates or job training and figure out how to strengthen those efforts.
Two other Minnesota communities are also involved: Brooklyn Park and the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.
In the Twin Cities, leaders have held several meetings with young people to gather their thoughts and suggestions. They are now asking existing organizations working on related efforts to appoint a My Brother’s Keeper liaison who can meet regularly to share and gather information on what other groups are doing.
Organizers suggested that those liaisons might themselves be young men of color.
Como High School student Chue Yang Chang, of St. Paul, said he’s part of a school group that teaches technology skills to other students. He said in that role, he’s already seen how younger people can have plenty of useful knowledge to share.
“There are lots of us with the ability to teach others,” he said. “We just need the chance.”
Though some of the effort involves goals that are tough to quantify — such as shifting overall perceptions of boys and young men of color — it does come with some specific targets.
They begin in elementary school, where organizers hope to boost the number meeting reading benchmarks. Currently, one-third of minority boys in third grade meets the reading comprehension levels for that grade. Officials also want to improve high school graduation rates, which lag behind state and national averages, and boost the number of young men of color graduating from college. Statewide, 63 percent of students graduate from four-year colleges in six years or less. For black and American Indian students, the numbers fall below 50 percent.
Other goals cover unemployment rates, which are dropping statewide but appear to be on the rise over the previous year for black workers.
Both mayors will spend more time sharing positive stories of young minority men when they make appearances at events in their cities, and organizations have been encouraged to think about the effort when deciding how to divide up funding.
Hodges said the conversations sparked by the effort may be difficult, but could lead to significant change.
“Let’s be honest,” she said, “it’s going to be uncomfortable to do something as different as we’re inviting ourselves to do.”