Over the past two years, a clarion call has gone out across the country to come to the aid of young men and boys of color to honestly address, and then overcome, barriers to their success and build stronger, connected systems of support.
In few places has intervention been more greatly needed than in Mississippi, a state that consistently ranks at the bottom of the country for educational and economic outcomes for young men of color.
The W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF) focused its work in the state in 2013 by supporting 25 organizations focused on building networks of support for these young men, through education, mentoring, workforce development and leadership development.
Expanding on that work, the foundation is supporting two targeted collaboratives focused on breaking down the single greatest barrier to these young men’s success: the school-to-prison pipeline. The American Civil Liberties Union defines the school-to-prison pipeline as the policies and practices that push school children, especially the most at-risk children, out of classrooms and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.
A study by the University of Pennsylvania shows that while half of all Mississippi students are African American, they endure disproportionately high rates of school suspension and expulsion. African Americans make up 74 percent of the state’s suspensions and 72 percent of all expulsions. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count Data Center, dropout rates for African American students in Mississippi are twice that of their white peers, and the rates are higher for boys compared to girls. Additionally, African American youth are five times more likely to be incarcerated compared to their white peers in the state.
WKKF’s efforts to combat these challenges are taking root in two parts of the state – one in Jackson and the Delta region, and one in Sunflower County. Both grantees are working to mobilize everyone in their communities to shut down the school-to-prison pipeline and position young men and boys of color for educational and, ultimately, career success.
If their efforts are successful, young men will have a united set of advocates from legislators to school leaders, teachers to parents, behavioral health professionals to juvenile justice officers and public sector agencies to private nonprofits to support their success.