NYC Boasts $127 Million For Black, Latino Youth
ALLISON KEYES, Host:
And now we're going to hear about a program aimed at giving young African-American and Latino men the tools to rise above the circumstances that often trap them into a cycle of failure. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently announced a plan, the Young Men's Initiative, to tackle the many disparities that slow the advancement of young men of color.
Besides taking on the obvious, such as job placement and improvements in education, the initiative also seeks to train mentors and peers who are essential to helping them get ahead. The billionaire mayor is even backing the $127 million plan with some of his own money.
We wanted to talk more about this, so we've called on Linda Gibbs. She's deputy mayor of health and human services for New York City and she will be working with the city's education department to develop and implement the program.
Hey, Linda, welcome.
LINDA GIBBS: It's so nice to be here with you.
KEYES: Let's talk first about some of the reasons for this in the first place. I know last year New York implemented an investigation into some of the barriers black and Latino youth face. And the statistics are a little, you know, upsetting. The poverty rate is 50 percent higher than that of white and Asian men. Their unemployment rate is 60 percent higher. They're two times more likely not to graduate from high school and more than 90 percent of both young murder victims and suspects are black and Latino. Why are the circumstances for these young men so dire?
GIBBS: We've seen so much progress in a lot of fronts in the city, improved graduation rates, lower incarceration rates. But even with those - all those indicators pointing in the right direction, we still see that black and Latino men are over represented in systems of negative outcomes like our jails and our prisons and underrepresented among high school graduates and college-going students.
And so what we wanted to do is rather than rest on our laurels and declare victory because of these overall improvements, we wanted to say we need to build on that foundation and close the gap and look really hard in a very explicit way across all city agencies and, really, across all facets of a young man's life and understand what are the barriers that are keeping them from succeeding as well as their white peers and as well as their female peers.
KEYES: Let's talk a bit about the job piece of this program because millions of young black and Latino men are looking. How does this program work? Does it only provide training or does it create real jobs as well?
GIBBS: The employment strategies are pretty diverse. Everything from literacy training - we have the unfortunate situation where a number of our young men are not even able to participate in a GED program. If they're a high school dropout and we want to get them that certificate to improve their employment, they can't even qualify for a GED program because their literacy level doesn't get them at the starting point.
So we have everything from literacy training that is assisting them to be ready to take a GED course, to explicit job training and subsidized employment, which can be really critical in the light of the interviews you just had preceding this one, lots of conversation around how difficult the economy is. What oftentimes makes a difference for a candidate is whether or not they have a relevant recent experience.
And so by providing subsidized employment with employment placement assistance at the end of that internship, we can help improve the odds that that individual can get a leg up in that competition for those jobs that are out there.
KEYES: So there's not a certain number of jobs guaranteed is what you're saying.
GIBBS: That's right. We have - while there are many strategies that include job placement where the program is subsidizing the income, what we know is that the real strategy for success is to help as many individuals as possible to compete for the jobs that are available in our local economy. And for employers we want them to know that we are gearing our training programs to meet their employment needs.
So instead of training individuals for jobs that are no longer existent in New York City, we're working closely with our labor market in order to understand - where are the job growth opportunities? Health care, service industry, New York and technology. We have a lot of areas even in the face of this recession where we see employment growth and so the lining is really important.
KEYES: Let me jump in a second and ask about the fatherhood classes that are a part of this. I was very interested in that. You have not only fatherhood classes for this group of young men who are more likely to become teen fathers, but there's also a piece here involving reducing barriers to father engagement. Talk to us a little bit about that briefly.
GIBBS: Sure. What we know about being raised black or Latino in the city is that you are so much more likely to be raised by a single mom and that you have very attenuated contact with your parent, your father, who is not living in the home. And what we want to do is to help young men who maybe prematurely became parents, but that's, you know, the fate that they are living with at this point.
We want to help them to be better parents to their sons and their daughters. To help to strengthen that young person's chances as they grow up, to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty. But we also want to make sure that when we as a city government or nonprofit organizations that operate in the communities of the city, when we offer services, we don't want to inadvertently exclude men.
Oftentimes programs, you know, you'll see a poster, come on in for this great childcare program and it'll be a mom and a child. Well, let's get some posters up that show a dad and a child to send the message out to the men, you're welcome here. These are things that are available to you that you can access. Creating teen-friendly clinics is a great example of that. Let's help boys feel comfortable walking into that community clinic and getting their family planning assistance just as girls can.
KEYES: Linda, I need to jump in here for a moment and say, if you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Allison Keyes. We're speaking with New York City Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs about the Young Men's Initiative, a new plan to help the advancement of the city's black and Latino men. An important piece of this program is also helping young people with criminal records have a better chance at getting jobs. Tell us how that works.
GIBBS: Sure. We have, unfortunately, much higher rates of incarceration among black and Latino men than white men. What we have been working hard on is strategies to allow for community-based alternatives, rather than incarceration when public safety allows for that. And we have a good, strong program where a person who's taken a wrong step, made a mistake, can get the chance to get their lives back on track in the right direction.
Many of the programs include employment components that are very focused on community service. And so the young men actually work together with community groups to discuss what the community wants. And then the young men are engaged in a project that allows them to appreciate their value as contributing members of their community. And it allows the community to see them as somebody who adds value to my street and my block and not just a potential problem.
And so it's really creating those - not just giving them training and employment opportunity, but really re-engaging them in their community as an asset to the community.
KEYES: Linda, really briefly, what's the incentive to get young people to do this and stay involved?
GIBBS: Well, sometimes it's the incentive that if they can successfully do that, they can avoid detention. They can stay at home with the family. And ultimately what we want to do, though, is really to help them shape a vision of them self and their future that is full of potential and opportunity rather than one that is bleak and might cause them to give up on themselves. It's really building confidence and a set of personal goals for themselves that help to motivate them along.
You mentioned earlier in the introduction the importance of mentors. And this is really where the mentoring comes in. If a young person has a mentor that they can turn to when the going gets rough, the chances are that they're going to have a better opportunity to sort of muscle their way through that problem. And then instead of seeing it as, you know...
KEYES: Linda, I've got to cut you off. I'm so sorry. Linda Gibbs is New York City's deputy mayor for health and human services. She joined us from our bureau in New York. We will check back and see how this program is going.
GIBBS: Thank you so much.
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