The George A. and Ruth B. Owens Health and Wellness Center of Tougaloo College is leading the Mississippi Action Network for Uplifting Promise (MAN UP) to remove barriers and create long-term support for young men and boys of color in the state.
In collaboration with three other community partners, the group is working to identify and address environmental and individual risk factors that affect young men and boys in East Jasper Public Schools, Humphreys County Public Schools and Jackson Public Schools.
“We have to take a multifaceted approach, involving a number of stakeholders, to truly address the environmental and social factors that affect young men,” said Dr. Sandra Hayes, executive director of the Owens Health and Wellness Center. “Each of our partners in this collaborative has a role to play, but real, lasting change will come from the community stakeholders.”
Those stakeholders include parents, teachers, school administrators and board members, as well as the young men themselves.
The collaborative includes four partners, each with strong relationships with the school districts they ultimately seek to affect:
- Tougaloo College is the backbone organization of the initiative, convening the partners, serving as the fiscal agent and using their relationships with the schools through their 21st Century Community Learning Center activities to engage school leaders in the decision-making process.
- One Voice, a nonprofit organization focused on building community awareness and empowerment, is leading community engagement and outreach.
- Southern Poverty Law Center is providing legal expertise and advocacy support to prevent and address racial discrimination in student discipline, and when possible, negotiate with districts to inform and craft better policies to help keep young men in school and out of the legal system.
- The Mississippi Economic Policy Center is conducting data analysis to inform the work, provide best practice models from other communities, offer guidance to improve policies and evaluate MAN UP’s impact.
By working collaboratively, and with support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, MAN UP’s leaders are creating a connected system that helps students stay in school, get the support they need, complete their education and be ready for future work. Hayes said success is not just about policy change, but also about school districts’ ability to align resources to help young men on an individual basis.
“This is about being preventative. When an at-risk child is identified, are there support services in place to help them?” Hayes said. “Do they have access to a school counselor or behavioral health professional? And if the school doesn’t have those things, how can we work together to identify other agencies or resources that could bring that into the school?
“Policy is not just about a rule. It’s about the resources schools could and should have, and if they don’t, how do we help them to get those services?"
The work includes training that identifies and addresses structural and implicit biases among those who have the potential to help advance young men and boys of color.
“It may be an issue of increasing sensitivity,” Hayes said. “There are biases that we all carry, just based on our experiences. It may be unconscious, but it’s there. Those are the kinds of things we are trying to change.”
Hayes expects MAN UP to have short- and long-term success.
“In the short term, there will be specific changes: discipline policy changes that take the circumstances and needs of individual students into account, decreases in suspension rates, trainings for teachers, a slight increase in graduation rates and best practice models for dealing with students with behavioral issues to keep them in school,” she said.
Toward the end of the two-year grant, findings from the collaborative – such as what’s been learned at parent meetings, town hall and school district meetings, through fact sheets and news articles, as well as through peer-reviewed journals and conferences – will be shared with the community to help them continue advocating and supporting young men and boys of color.
“In the long term, we want to put things in place that will be there when we leave: better ways to engage parents in their child’s education, changes in teacher preparation curriculum at Tougaloo, higher graduation rates, test scores, college attendance and completion and employability after school,” Hayes said.