The voices of Urban Institute's researchers and staff
February 26, 2014

My brother's keeper: helping young men of color achieve their potential

February 26, 2014

President Obama plans to announce a new initiative to provide young men of color with “an opportunity to get ahead and reach [their] full potential.” The concept is not totally new. Many programs across the country are already engaged in this work, but a nationally coordinated effort makes it easier to share promising practices, make strategic investments, and emphasize evaluation so we can invest in what works.

While the specifics of the initiative are scheduled to be unveiled at a White House event on February 27th, we already know the effort will feature public-private collaborations and evidence-based projects in areas likely to include education, health, employment, and criminal justice.

All of these are key levers for reducing barriers and opening doors so that these young men can succeed. Some small programs, run by local nonprofits, are already focused on particular leverage points, such as education or employment. Other programs are multi-faceted and serve a large number of boys and young men. A lot of attention is often given to early childhood development because it is widely accepted that early intervention can put children on the path to a bright future. But there are also programs that focus on pre-adolescents, teenagers, young adults, and young fathers.

While there is value in having program diversity in this field, a national initiative can add coordination. Resources are scarce and the problem is large. We maximize our chances of making a significant positive impact on young men’s lives if we test strategies and evaluate their success.

The Urban Institute has completed work on program effectiveness at many of these leverage points and is currently working with several jurisdictions to assess the quantitative and qualitative impact of programs focused on young men and boys of color. One program that we are currently looking at is the CUNY Fatherhood Academy, a project housed at LaGuardia Community College and funded by New York City and the Open Society Foundations. This program is designed to put young fathers on track to a better future by helping them pass the GED, enroll in college, obtain employment, and be a better father to their children. With this two-generation approach, the hope is that the young fathers will not only be able to provide economically for their families, but also to provide the nurturing and support their children need to achieve their own potential.

Because the outcomes we seek are sometimes far in the future, it is critical that we understand the connection between the short-term gains that these programs achieve and the long-term success that is our ultimate objective. This is where a tool like the Social Genome Model can help link programs to long-term outcomes. This is a data-rich model that uses the best research on what determines success in each life stage to figure out how a program that boosts success connects to long-term outcomes. The Urban Institute has been collaborating with the Brookings Institution to refine the model, including adding information that identifies differential impacts by race and gender.

The president’s announcement will be just the beginning of the effort to reduce barriers and provide supports for boys and men of color to achieve their potential. But with the evidence available from research and evaluation, plus ongoing evidence gathering to fine-tune and enhance program initiatives, it will be possible to help individuals get on and stay on the path to success.

Image from APImages.com (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak) of President Obama speaking about fatherhood at a Father's Day event. Similar themes motivate and will in part define Obama's new initiative aimed at helping young men of color overcome barriers to success.

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