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Leaders Seek to Close the Achievement Gap for Black Males

Black male education and employment success was the agenda for a gathering of senior-level public and private-sector leaders and decision makers at the National Press Club in Washington on Friday.

Corporate, political, government, education, and association leaders gathered for a meeting of the minds to close the gap in educational outcomes, workforce preparation, and economic success for at-risk African-American men.

While African-American males are underrepresented on college campuses and are overpopulating U.S. prisons, studies also show that increases in educational attainment in high school, college and post-graduate work have a significant impact on employment rate increases. In a study prepared by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, employment rates in 2005 increased steadily for African-American males, for whom rates rose from a low of 33 percent among high school dropouts to 57 percent among high school graduates, and to a high of 86 percent among four-year college graduates.


The Thought Leader Symposium, held by Jobs for America’s Graduates, Inc. (JAG), included three panels and an audience of leaders representing a broad cross-section of programs to address African-American male education and employment.

“The success of a nation depends on the success of its people,” said Maine Governor John Baldacci. “Our challenge is to work with people to ensure that a light is turned on.”

Dr. Bernard E. Anderson, a professor at the Wharton School of Business, has been involved with JAG from its inception 26 years ago, which he said works to counter the negative and haunting statistics about Black men.

“While we don’t have all of the answers to the problems, there are three lessons that we’ve learned: education matters, earnings for high school graduates is three times that of a dropout. The economy matters; Black youth in relation to the economy are like the caboose on the train. If the train slows down or speeds up, so does the caboose, but it never catches up. And the third lesson is that race matters. We need a vigorous assault on racism to ensure that African American and Hispanic men are not denied employment based on race or ethnicity.” 

Panelists called for increased government support for successful programs, relevant educational training and testing, job preparation, mentors, and support for young men throughout the education experience and their entrée into the work world.   

John Hofmeister, president of Shell Oil Company, chairman of the National Urban League and chairman of JAG, was among those calling for more programs that prepare an inclusive and diverse workforce. “I’m proud to be a part of JAG and the Urban League because it’s an organization that knows what works. This is an opportunity to raise our voice and get things done in this town,” Hofmeister said.

JAG, a 26 year-old organization, boasts a 90 percent graduation rate including helping participants earn a high school diploma or GED, and 80 percent positive outcome rate for graduates who secure employment, enroll in a postsecondary institution or serve in the military.  

National Urban League President Marc H. Morial said, “I am proud and honored to be involved in such an important discussion recognizing the needs of our young African-American men. It is my great hope that today will launch a process of real change that substantially improves the educational and economic outlook of one of our nation’s great assets – young African-American males.” 

JAG is a national, non-profit organization established in 1980, dedicated to helping at-risk youth graduate from high school and make successful transitions to postsecondary education or meaningful employment. JAG has served more that 500,000 youth in its history and is currently helping 35,000 young people in 700 schools and other locations in 30 states to achieve academic, career and life success. JAG has operated for more than two decades. 

–Dianne Hayes

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