Funded by the Robert Bowne Foundation's Edmund A. Stanley Jr. Research Grant, the working paper is a comprehensive review of out-of-school programs for young, urban males of color - a report on not only what after-school programs for boys and young men of color (BYMOC) exist and are like, but what does the current scientific literature say about out-of-school work for BYMOC, and, more pressingly, what constitutes successful gender- and culturally-responsive practices in these programs? The report is currently under review by the Afterschool Matters Journal.
Young men of color face a daunting number of obstacles in education, employment and general well-being - from the structural barriers of poor-quality schools, fewer well-paying jobs, and a fast-track-to-prison system in our schools and courts. Compounding the effects of all the barriers is the constant message that men must be tough and unexpressive of emotions. This is the context where it is thought that out-of-school programs can have such a supportive impact in learning to successfully move through this phase of life.
After-school programs, however, have historically been focused on narrowly addressing negative behaviors, such as violence, aggression, idleness, and survival strategies, and basically viewing young
people of color as deficient. The purpose of this report was different though: To compose a synthesis of the existing literature on such programs, singling out which ones are the most effective at empowering boys and young men of color to be resilient and successful, to tap their own rich personal and group inner resources to flourish despite the negativities in their environment.
The project was a collaboration between Senior Researcher Shawn Ginwright and Jon Gilgoff, LCSW, Executive Director of Brothers on the Rise (BOTR) - an Oakland-based, non-profit, preventive and empowerment program focused on boys and young men of color, their families, and the schools, non-profits and public agencies that serve them. Co-authoring between an academic and a community-based organization is not common, but it is an approach both CCI and the funder particularly support.
The report begins with an overview of the general paradigms and strategies used to work with this population since the 1960s, and their evolution over the last fifty or so years. Early writings highlighted the self-reproducing interdependence of economic deprivation and racism on the one hand and social disintegration, eroded community values, and maladaptive, violent or high-risk behavior. In the 90s, a "boy code" had been identified, whereby gender socialization, lack of social capital, environmental stressors and structural inequities combine to make life situations for young men of color difficult to manage.
Naturally, programs for this population focused for many years on prevention of maladaptive behaviors (e.g., drug use, dropout rates, violence, early sexual activity), including after-school programs. It wasn't until later that asset-building rather than problem prevention began to be promoted, viewing youths as agents and recognizing their inherent self-worth and self-awareness. It is this newer paradigm of supporting the development of BYMOC, and a set of strategies based on that outlook, that are the focus of this paper's exploration.
Gilgoff and Ginwright identified five categories of strategies that have proven effective in supporting the development of BYMOC:
- Rites of Passage strategies - programs that address the needs of BYMOC by focusing on restorative strategies rooted in the youths' particular cultures of origin. These programs posit that young men rediscovering their culture builds ethnic pride, strengthens knowledge about their history and fosters a worldview that values community, balance and harmony;
- Academic strategies - programs that primarily support school success, usually involving academic support and college preparation activities;
- Mentoring strategies - programs that provide positive and consistent male role models;
- Enrichment strategies - programs that offer skill building and leadership development through modalities such as sports, media/arts and technology;
- 5. Policy advocacy strategies - programs that engage BYMOC in personal and political transformation work through consciousness raising, research, organizing and advocacy. Such initiatives build awareness and catalyze youth to action around structural barriers that are the root causes of challenges they face.
While these five strategies are distinct, effective programs often combine one or more of them to holistically build resiliency and facilitate success.
Finally, the authors went on to explore each type of strategy, identify programs in the Bay Area or other parts of California that exemplify successful implementation of these strategies. The approaches cited in this research synthesis hold the promise to improve the quality of life for millions of BYMOC.
About our Community Partner for this project
For well over a decade Jon Gilgoff has been working passionately to create safe and supportive spaces where boys and young men at risk for being lost in the school-to-prison pipeline can come together and learn vital life skills, leadership attributes, and tools for personal, academic and professional success. Jon's experience has been that, given the proper opportunities and supports, urban male youth from low-income neighborhoods can and do achieve success, in spite of the many social inequities they face.
At Brothers on the Rise, which Jon founded and has led since 2008, youth receive manhood training that addresses the oppressive burden of traditional male gender roles, such as suppressing vulnerable emotions, and acting tough and ready to fight. BOTR's approach validates the challenges of this gender socialization as well as boys' experience dealing with violence, gangs and drugs, and systemic injustices such as poverty and racism. With increased awareness and guidance, boys gain skills to navigate the difficult path of urban male adolescence.
As boys move into manhood, BOTR also provides career development training for young men to enter health and human service careers, where they are greatly underrepresented yet vitally needed. And we build capacity for schools and agencies to implement gender and culturally responsive practices, policies and procedures. BOTR engages in training, technical assistance, research and writing, which leads to larger scale and longer term systemic change.