FREE SPEECH ZONE | Countering the Statistics About African American and Hispanic Males

By now, the disproportionate number of African American and Hispanic males in prison and without jobs is common knowledge.  Indeed, recent figures from the College Board continue to support this reality.  Lagging behind starts early and sets a grim stage.  But last week, a coalition of Twin Cities educators did something to counter that troubling longtime trend.Male Hispanic and African American eighth-grade students from eight northwest metro school districts took part in a new week-long program held at the University of St. Thomas aimed at reducing what has become known as the “achievement gap.”   The Step-Up program works to increase student understanding of the importance of goal-setting, sacrifice and academic achievement as well as increase self-efficacy and pride.  It is patterned after a model created by Dr. Donna Ford and Dr. Gillman Whiting of Vanderbilt University in Nashville.“I remember, as I look at you guys, what my life was like when I was in the eighth grade,” Tony Hunter, a former University of Minnesota football player who also played professionally said as he addressed the youth attending the summit.  Hunter went on to describe his own teen years, filled with some mistakes, but a determination to make it out of his rough Memphis neighborhood and the good fortune to have legendary Chicago Bears football player Walter Payton as his coach while a student.The reality of the odds he faced hit Hunter, now a community and cultural liaison for Highview Middle School in New Brighton, during one his youthful brushes with the law. “It was only when I was arrested for something I didn’t do that the light bulb went off,” Hunter told the youth.  “I was guilty by association.”Given a second chance by the court system, Hunter began to disassociate himself from others who were getting into trouble and refocused his energies on school and athletics. For college, he chose the University of Minnesota, he said, because he knew academics would be stressed there.  That focus led to professional football and a career in education.It’s that ability to focus that organizers from the Northwest Suburban Integration School District (NWISD) hope they were able to get across to the 50 mostly African American and Hispanic eighth-grade boys who attended the summit.  The NWISD is a consortium of eight school districts: Anoka-Hennepin, Brooklyn Center, Buffalo-Hanover-Montrose, Elk River, Fridley, Mounds View, Osseo and Rockford.  Activities included a rope course at Camp Ihduhapi, a scavenger hunt in downtown Minneapolis and group sessions designed to challenge and inspire. All of the keynote speakers were African American men.Free Speech ZoneThe Free Speech Zone offers a space for contributions from readers, without editing by the TC Daily Planet. Continue Reading