Committee calls for investment in young men and boys of color

A hearing room in the capitol building was packed yesterday with youth and families, local and state leaders and advocates urging legislators to take part in the effort to improve the lives of boys and men of color in California.

A year ago, the Select Committee on the Status of Men and Color established by Speaker of the Assembly John Pérez and led by Assemblymen Sandré Swanson (D-Oakland) began efforts to alert the state on the most critical issues facing these young men.

The committee held a series of hearings stopping in Oakland, Fresno, Los Angeles, and Coachella Valley. Over 1,600 people throughout California attended.

Yesterday, the committee presented a draft report and action plan with legislative and policy recommendations to advance outcomes in health, education, employment, juvenile justice, and youth development for this group.

“It is incumbent on us as leaders to change those numbers,” said Attorney General Kamala D. Harris at the hearing.

The committee collected research, data analysis, and the testimony of more than 145 youth to show that overwhelming numbers of young men have grown up with unequal opportunities to health and success.

Nearly one in two African American and Latino males did not graduate from high school from 2006-2007, for instance, a rate more than double that of white males, according to a select committee brief. Unemployment rates are also high for males of color who live in distressed areas, according to the brief. More than 45 percent of African American men aged 16-24 are unemployed in Alameda County. Nearly one in five Latino young men in Fresno are unemployed.

“I believe in opportunities,” youth speaker Rigo Fuentes said at the Sacramento meeting. “If you give somebody opportunities and show them how to get there, and how to take them on, this will teach them how to take on other opportunities and how to start to think for themselves.”

Fuentes is from Coachella Valley and a member of the Inland Congregation United for Change. Fuentes’ story indicated how day-to-day struggles affected his physical and mental health.

“Knowing that my fate is already being decided based on where I live and what I look like really causes mental strain that drains me, leaving me weak and not able to fight for my future,” he said.

According to the 2010 census, 70 percent of Californians under 25 identify as people of color. This population suffers disproportionality from disease and unhealthy conditions in their communities, according to the draft report.

About 27 percent of California’s African-American and Latino youth live in poverty, the report said. These conditions lead to higher rates of health problems like obesity and diabetes. Poverty is also correlated with higher rates of infectious diseases, the report noted. Asthma in Latino and African American youth runs up to five times the rate for non-Hispanic whites, particularly in rural and dense urban areas, the report added.

“We know that place does matter. The environment in which you live, is the environment you struggle or the environment where you strive,” said Sarah Reyes, regional program manager at The California Endowment.*

Joevente Kelly, 19, from Oakland said his hometown, which he referred to as “the land of the lost,” is an environment of struggle.

The changes Kelly wants is a community where “people can walk safely down the streets, and babies can live past five years old.”

“When you look at the statistics and the data surrounding young boys of color, their health is at great risk,” said Reyes.

According to a report by the California Department of Public Health, African Americans continue to experience significantly higher rates of death from cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and strokes compared to any other racial or ethnic group in the state. In 2007, nearly three times as many Latinos were murdered in California compared to whites. In 2009, the homicide mortality rate for African Americans was nearly eight times more than the Healthy People 2010 target at 21.9 per 100,000 populations.

The action plan provides a platform and 65 recommendations that build off existing programs and resources that would help the committee achieve its goals.

According to the draft report and action plan, health plans and providers should meet language and cultural competency standards.

It asks that low-income health programs are created for boys and men of color that involve local health workers, preventative approaches, and target specific needs for communities and hard to reach populations.

The action plan also suggests using school-based centers and community partnerships to identify and respond to chronic trauma that children may face as a result of unsafe social environments.

In addition, the report calls for reform in school financing. The reforms should directly reach the needs of students and address poverty, English learning practices and transportation costs.

The committee also seeks full health care coverage for boys and men of color through public and private health plans and to reduce health disparities for this population.

Given the demographics of the state, we must invest in improving the health and success of boys and men of color in California, Assemblymen Swanson said. “If we do not do this given the demographics of the state,” he said, “then we are turning our back on the state’s future.”

*The Endowment is a funder of

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