The word for officials from young men of color: Education

Education Secretary Arne Duncan visited Philadelphia.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan visited Philadelphia.
Posted: July 13, 2014

For Quaris Carter, a recent graduate of Community College of Philadelphia, the answer is simple: Getting a college education is a direct route out of a life of crime, drugs, and poverty.

"I have to graduate from college if I want to better myself," Carter said in a roundtable discussion Friday at CCP that featured U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Mayor Nutter.

Carter, who said he came to Philadelphia from Houston a few years ago after two stints in prison, was among about a dozen young black and Latino men at the roundtable on President Obama's My Brother's Keeper Initiative, which focuses on boosting the educational and career prospects of young men of color.

Through the initiative, the White House is working with cities, towns, businesses, and foundations to provide mentoring, support networks, and the skills minority men need to find a good job or go to college.

The roundtable included students from high school to college. Most said they had come from troubled, poor communities.

"I've been to prison twice. . . . I used drugs. I've lived in transitional housing," said Carter, who has earned an associate's degree and plans to attend La Salle University.

Jason Myers, a student at CCP, said mentoring helped him focus on getting a college education.

"I just decided I didn't want to go to school," Myers said. "I didn't like school." He said he joined the Army, where he encountered several mentors. "They had expectations for me," Myers said.

Others spoke of the effects of violence on their communities.

"My brother got murdered in November," said Derrick Brockington, a student at Mastery Charter School.

"A lot of us need more male figures in our lives," Brockington said. "Some of our parents are right there with us selling drugs. I use my brother as an example. . . . He was in the streets."

Brockington, who said he wants to be a music engineer and producer, said he was determined to fulfill his educational goals.

Ricardo Rosario, a student at Esperanza College of Eastern University in North Philadelphia, reiterated the need for role models and mentors.

"I was born and raised in the ghetto of Kensington," Rosario said, adding that his father lost his life to street violence. "None of us had fathers. I was told at age 11 that I would never live to see 17.

"There is a lack of men in Philadelphia to show us how to live," Rosario said.

Some panelists said a lack of money prevented many young black and Latino men from attending college.

Duncan asked the group how much money the federal government spends on student loans and grants. Guesses ranged from a few million dollars to several billion.

"We put out 150 billion every year for grants and loans," Duncan said.

Duncan and Nutter said state lawmakers must provide more money for city schools. Nutter said funding for the schools "is the biggest crisis in the city right now."

Armani Reeves, a student at Olney Charter High School, presented a troubling question for Duncan and Nutter: "If you see us struggling, isn't it a civil right for you to help us?"

Duncan said: "I think the consequences of miseducating or not educating are huge. . . . I think we all need to come together to provide much better educational opportunities, early childhood and K-to-12 and higher ed. We don't have the resources as much as we'd like."


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