WASHINGTON, D.C. – When it comes to making a difference in educational outcomes for young men of color, it’s better to be in the trenches than at the podium.
That was the heart of the message that Eagle Academy Foundation president and CEO David Banks delivered recently at the National Press Club.
“We got a lot of people writing books. We got a lot of people speaking out from policy,” Banks said at the College Board event titled “Young Men of Color: Charting a Way for Educational Success.”
“We don’t have a lot of people on the front lines,” Banks said. Banks was invited to share his experience as one of several co-founders of Eagle Academy for Young Men in New York City—the first in a network of all-boys public schools in New York and one of several schools throughout the nation seen as exemplary for making a difference in getting more minority males into higher education.
The schools—which serve “at-risk inner city young men”—have distinguished themselves with a graduation rate of 87 percent and by sending 95 percent of their graduates on to college, according to the Eagle Academy Foundation website.
Whenever asked about the challenges faced in setting up the school, where 21 percent of the students have received special education services, Banks said he often quips, “there were no challenges.”
“There’s not a lot of competition for that space,” Banks said of educating young men of color. “We jumped into this not having all the answers, but we had the courage of our convictions to do something.”
The school has had a catalytic effect, Banks said, serving as a model for other schools, such as Urban Prep Academies in Chicago, and inspiring the creation of the Coalition of Schools Educating Boys of Color, an organization meant to “re-imagine and transform schooling for boys and young men of color.”
Banks was one of several speakers at the event, meant to illuminate strategies and solutions to reverse negative educational outcomes for minority males in the United States.
“There is nothing wrong with our boys,” said Shawn Dove, campaign manager for the Campaign for Black Male Achievement at Open Society Foundations. “It is the system and society that they are growing up in.”
While much of the conversation focused on young African-American men, several speakers emphasized the need to include men and boys whose plight as members of other ethnic groups has been overlooked in research and policy.
Hema Katoa, a counselor with the Jordan School District in Utah, said that Pacific Islander youths had high suspension rates and other educational issues; funding is not available to address their problems.
“When it comes to our group, there’s not a lot of money designated for our work in our specific community,” Katoa said. “So we’ve become invisible among minorities.”
Dr. Victor Saenz, assistant professor of higher education administration at the University of Texas at Austin, voiced similar concerns on behalf of young Latino men, citing a dearth of research “around anything related to the Latino male experience in this country.”
He also spoke of the promise of Project MALES (Mentoring to Achieve Latino Educational Success) in turning the situation around.
The project employs research to address the complex experiences of Latino males in higher education and mentoring to build a network for Latino males at UT-Austin and the Central Texas community, according to its website.
Neil Horikoshi, president and executive director of the Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund, spoke of why it is important to include young Asian men in the discussion of poor educational outcomes for “men of color,” because the overall success of Asians in education disguises some of the problems that plague certain Asian subgroups.
“We have some of the lowest educational rates in the nation,” Horikoshi said.
Evidence of the plight of Asian males in higher education can be seen in the breakdown of scholarship applicants, Horikoshi said, noting that 70 percent are female while only 30 percent are male.
While the conference—the latest effort in the College Board’s ongoing project called The Educational Experience of Young Men of Color (see http://youngmenofcolor.collegeboard.org/) — focused largely on poor educational outcomes, speakers were keenly aware of the need to avoid having minority men stereotyped by the negative aspects of the aggregate experience of their respective groups.
Saenz spoke of the need to avoid a “deficit construction” when addressing the educational issues faced by many young men of color.
“The data should not define and do not define these young men,” Saenz said