During my recent travels to Tanzania, I had the opportunity to learn more about the education system. The most important lesson I learned was community members play a key role in the building a network of support for each student. This network plays a critical role in accelerating academic achievement and advancing personal development. While visiting classrooms in Tanzania, I met aspiring doctors, lawyers, engineers and even a young woman who stated confidently, “I will be president of Tanzania.” Throughout our visit, I witnessed firsthand community members working together to help children learn, thrive and grow. I also watched as the adage that it takes a village to raise a child came alive. One example is the notion of “harambee” which means “let’s pull together.”
We do not have to look too far to see that we must pull together in order to dismantle the cradle to prison pipeline when an African American boy born in 2001 has a 1 in 3 chance of going to prison during in his lifetime. The Cradle to Prison Pipeline Campaign seeks to remove the barriers limiting a child’s ability to have a healthy start in life. These barriers include: access to quality healthcare, poor educational outcomes, and lack of early childhood education programs.
This year, President Obama launched My Brother’s Keeper Initiative which focuses on how to dismantle the cradle to prison pipeline. The purpose of this initiative is to unlock the full potential of young men of color. This initiative can serve as a blueprint for communities across the nation to empower our youth to learn, grow, and excel. My Brother’s Keeper provides us with six key recommendations for policy reform in order to create new inroads for a brighter future for generations to come.
1. Getting a healthy start in life and school.
This begins with access to early childhood education. The critical years for a healthy start are 0-3 years old since this when a child’s brain is developing rapidly. In the early stages of life, a child’s brain is like a sponge that is absorbing new information and making sense of the world around them. Yet, 96% of infants and toddlers who qualify for Head Start are not served due to the lack of funding. Investing in early childhood education will yield residual benefits as young men of color gain the skills needed to compete in a global economy.
2. Reading well by the third grade
Some argue that third grade reading scores can be used to project the prison population 10 years out. The premise of this argument is that there is a direct correlation between illiteracy and incarceration. In fact, 85 percent of all juveniles who come into contact with the juvenile justice system are functionally illiterate. Further, 60 percent of all prisoners are illiterate. We can address this entry point into the cradle to prison pipeline by investing in reading literacy programs.
3. Graduating from high school
Malcolm X wisely stated: “Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.”
However, this passport has been permanently revoked for far too many of our youth. Especially, when a mere 52 percent of African American boys are graduating from high school in a four-year period. A concerted effort to expand academic support must be undertaken to address this issue.
4. Completing post-secondary education or training
By 2018, two-thirds of all jobs will require a college education. An estimated 47 million jobs will be created and roughly 33 percent of those jobs will require a bachelor’s degree and another 30% will require an associate degree or at least some college training. We need to find ways to prepare our young people for college and vocational training. This begins with each of us of taking the daily challenge of asking a young person what are their hopes and dreams while offering the support to make their dreams a reality. This is a village principle of lifting as we climb.
5. Getting a job
Being gainfully employed is the foundation of wealth building which in turn supports strong families and safe communities. A missing link to the job puzzle is the message that everyone should be an entrepreneur. This means you should know your self-worth, be able to identify your gifts and talents, and add value to your organization or create your own business. Dr. Dennis Kimbro, author of The Wealth Choice, makes this point clear when he stated: “the average individual in our society gets 4 ideas per year. Any one of which would if you had the guts, courage, fortitude to chase your dream would make you financially independent!” How can we help young people chase their dreams and become entrepreneurs?
6. Staying on track and getting a second chance
4,028 children are arrested each day in America. That’s 1 in every 21 seconds. Some of our youth have hit a bump on the road and entered the pipeline to prison. It is a myth that a juvenile record magically disappears at the age of 18. The truth of the matter is that a juvenile record can have a far-reaching impact on the lives of young people whether it be access to housing, college or jobs.
We can support alternatives to detention and restorative justice programs in order to create second chances for our children. Second, we must also address the collateral consequences (hidden consequences) of a juvenile record by advocating for additional expungement remedies.
The time is now to pull together for the sake of children. We must pull together to ensure our children have healthy starts, are given second chances and have the support they need to make their visions for the future a reality.
What steps will you take to dismantle the cradle to prison pipeline in your community?