Town hall elevates national conversation on health of boys

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LOS ANGELES – Community leaders and experts from around California and the nation convened in Los Angeles at a two-day national town hall to address the health and social issues facing African-American, Latino, Asian and Native American boys and young men. The Building Healthy Communities town hall has brought together community leaders, policymakers, researchers, advocates, journalists and philanthropic stakeholders to address and put forth solutions to the most pressing challenges of boys and young men of color in California and the nation.

“We need a national conversation to elevate how the health and well-being of boys and young men of color impact the health of our communities, our state and our nation,” said Robert Phillips, director of health and human services for The California Endowment, [www .calendow.org] a sponsor of the town hall. “There is a growing body of research that shows that the health of African-American and Latino boys stems from their neighborhoods, their schools, their environments being unhealthy. The Building Healthy Communities town hall must serve as a call to action to forge a path toward better health for all communities in the United States.”

New research released in June shows that boys and young men of color are more likely to suffer from poor health outcomes as a result of growing up in poor families, living in poor neighborhoods and going to poorly resourced schools. The research included the combined efforts of RAND Corporation, PolicyLink, The Center for Nonviolence and Social Justice at Drexel University and The Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School.

Many children growing up in low-income communities and communities of color witness some kind of violence in their youth. This exposure has damaging, long-term effects.

“Unfortunately, the systems assigned to help these boys and young men often take a punitive rather than healing approach,” said John A. Rich, director, Center for Nonviolence and Social Justice, Drexel University School of Public Health. “But successful programs to address the reality of trauma are making headway nationally. These programs have helped youth of color find ways to stay safe while moving them out of the cycle of violence and toward a future of hope.”

Advocate Angela Glover Blackwell and researcher Manuel Pastor argue that the future generation of workers and taxpayers will be significantly affected unless trend lines are reversed. According to their research, young men of color under 24 currently make up only 7.4 percent of the entire U.S. population, but represent 46 percent of male children under age 5 and 42 percent of children 6 to 17 years old.

“America is hemorrhaging talent,” said Blackwell, founder and CEO of PolicyLink. “We can no longer waste the skills and dreams of countless young men and boys of color. If we can harness their talents and help them fulfill their full potential, we will build a stronger and more sustainable America.”

There are examples of successful programs. In Los Angeles, a program at Locke High School prepares a largely African-American and Latino student body for high-paying careers in the skilled and building trades. The academy was developed by the Youth and Workforce Development Alliance, a broad-based partnership of community, business and labor organizations.

Flipping the disparities will, indeed, have positive implications for the state. According to the California Dropout Research Project, [cdrp .ucsb.edu] doubling high school graduation rates would reduce the number of juvenile crimes in California and save the state $550 million per year.

“We must invest in neighborhoods to improve the places where boys and young men of color live, play and go to school,” said Manuel Pastor, professor of American Studies and Ethnicity, University of Southern California, Los Angeles. “With the coming demographic changes, this is not a special interest issue: Improving communities and tangibly improving the health and well-being outcomes for boys and young men of color is critical to the economic future of our country and its metropolitan regions.”

Speakers at the town hall are previewing research and findings from the forthcoming book, “Changing Places: How Communities Will Improve the Health of Boys of Color.” The book is an edited volume of research from the top public health, policy and social science researchers in the country. The UC Berkeley School of Law’s Warren Institute is publishing the book in conjunction with The Endowment, and will be made available at no cost from UC Press.

The Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Race, Ethnicity and Diversity (Warren Institute) is a multidisciplinary, collaborative venture to produce research, research-based policy prescriptions, and curricular innovation on issues of racial and ethnic justice in California and the nation. For more information, visit www.law.berkeley.edu/ewi.htm.

The California Endowment, a private, statewide health foundation, was established in 1996 to expand access to affordable, quality health care for underserved individuals and communities, and to promote fundamental improvements in the health status of all Californians. The Endowment makes grants to organizations and institutions that directly benefit the health and well-being of the people of California. For more information, visit www.calendow.org.