About the Opportunity Youth Network
The Opportunity Youth Network brings together national nonprofits, businesses, philanthropy, and government—along with young leaders—to align efforts to achieve the collective goal of reengaging one million young people who are disconnected from education and employment pathways to success. This population is often referred to as “opportunity youth.” The Forum for Youth Investment manages the Opportunity Youth Network in partnership with the Aspen Forum for Community Solutions and Gap, Inc.
As with all activities the Opportunity Youth Network undertakes, this playbook was a collaborative effort. We are indebted to all the Opportunity Youth Network participants who provided feedback along the way. A special thank-you to Stephanie Krauss from the Forum for Youth Investment for providing substantive edits. We also send our gratitude to Yelena Nemoy of the Aspen Forum for Community Solutions, Kisha Bird of the Center for Law and Social Policy, Kate O’Sullivan of the National Youth Employment Coalition, Lili Allen of Jobs for the Future, Anthony Smith of Cities United, Dorothy Stoneman of Youth Build USA, and Corey Matthews of Leaders Up for their contributions to this playbook.
This playbook highlights promising practices, strategies, and resources to help My Brother’s Keeper communities support boys and young men of color who are 16 to 24 years old and are neither in school nor employed. Such young people—commonly referred to as “opportunity youth” or “disconnected youth”—have distinct talents and needs, and require dedicated strategies beyond those targeted to boys and young men of color more generally.
The playbook is organized by the six critical milestones enshrined by the White House’s My Brother’s Keeper Community Challenge. Additionally, this playbook includes a section that outlines Strategies and Resources that Span the Milestones.
Section A: Strategies That Span the Milestones
Section B: Preventing Intergenerational Disconnection by Ensuring Boys of Color Enter School Ready to Learn and Read at Grade Level by the Third Grade
- Milestone 1: Entering School Ready to Learn
All children should have a healthy start and enter school ready – cognitively, physically, socially and emotionally.
- Milestone 2: Reading at Grade Level by Third Grade
All children should be reading at grade level by age 8 – the age at which reading to learn becomes essential.
Section C: Ensuring Disconnected Young Men of Color Graduate High School Ready for College and Career
- Milestone 3: Graduating from High School Ready for College and Career
Every American child should have the option to attend postsecondary education and receive the education and training needed for quality jobs of today and tomorrow.
Section D: Ensuring Disconnected Young Men of Color Complete Postsecondary Education or Training
- Milestone 4: Completing Postsecondary Education or Training
All Americans should receive the education and training needed for quality jobs of today and tomorrow.
Section E: Ensuring Disconnected Young Men of Color Successfully Enter the Workforce
- Milestone 5: Successfully Entering the Workforce
Anyone who wants a job should be able to get one that allows them to support themselves and their families.
Section F: Reducing Violence and Providing a Second Chance for Disconnected Boys and Young Men of Color
- Milestone 6: Reducing Violence and Providing a Second Chance
All children should be safe from violent crime.
And individuals who are confined should receive the education, training and treatment they need for a second chance.
Types of Content Contained in the Playbook
Within each section, you will find:
Overview // An introduction to the topic and relevant research.
Strategies for Action // Concrete steps to help boys and young men of color reconnect to education and employment pathways. Includes detailed hyperlinks to allow you to learn more about each type of action.
Field Favorites // Excerpts from some of the most influential publications in the field.
Spotlights // Leading examples of places that are already implementing one or more strategies for action effectively.
Voices // Quotes from young people sharing their lived experience.
Acronyms Used in the Playbook
BMOC // boys and men of color
BYMOC // boys and young men of color
Key Terms Contained in the Playbook
Disconnected Youth or Opportunity Youth
“Disconnected youth” was popularized by Douglas Besharov and others around the turn of the century, as a more accurate and less pejorative term than “idle youth.”
“Opportunity youth” was first widely used by John Bridgeland in 2012 as a more positive and optimistic way to refer to these young people, since they “represent enormous untapped potential for our society.”
In general, we prefer the term opportunity youth. At times, however, when using the term opportunity youth leads to an awkward sentence structure, we may use disconnected youth instead. Throughout this playbook we use the terms “disconnected youth” and “opportunity youth” interchangeably.
For simplicity, we generally define and measure this population in the manner employed by Measure of America. Their methodology defines this population as “people between the ages of 16 and 24 who are neither in school nor working.” Young people in this age range who are working, who attend school part-time, or who are in the military are not considered to be disconnected. Youth who are actively looking for work are considered to be disconnected. Not being in school means that a young person has not attended any educational institution and has not been home-schooled at any time in the three months before the survey date. Not working means that a young person is either unemployed or not in the labor force at the time they responded to the survey. When we use these terms in this playbook, we are generally not referring to high school and college graduates living with affluent parents, even though they are not filtered out using Measure of America’s methodology.
Disconnected Boys and Young Men of Color
Disconnected boys and young men of color are defined as the intersection of two populations: opportunity youth and boys and young men of color:
- Black, Hispanic/Latino, Asian/Pacific Islanders, and/or Native American
- 16-24 years old
- Neither in school nor employed
Since saying “opportunity youth boys and young men of color” is awkward, in this report we often use the phrase “disconnected boys and young men of color” instead.
The Playbook Companion
Because no single document can do justice to the full range of extraordinary organizations and publications in the field, we created the online Playbook Companion which provides additional links to key organizations and resources. You can access both the playbook and the Playbook Companion at forumfyi.org/OYN-MBK-Toolkit.
Opportunity Youth Playbook: A Guide to Reconnecting Boys and Young Men of Color to Education and Employment
This playbook highlights promising practices, strategies, and resources to help communities support 16- to 24-year-old boys and young men of color who are neither in school nor employed. Such young people—commonly referred to as “opportunity youth” or “disconnected youth”—have distinct talents and needs, and require dedicated strategies beyond those targeted at boys and young men of color more generally. There are more than 1.5 million disconnected young men of color in the United States. While overall rates of disconnection are likely to go down as the country continues to recover from the economic recession, history suggests that this population may never fully recover.
Research has found that young men of color are disproportionately likely to be disconnected from school and work. The disparities are driven by the interplay of gender, race, and inequities among the communities in which they grow up. Boys and young men of color are resilient, but as leaders we have to do more than hope that they “make it” despite the adversities they are up against.
Accordingly, the Opportunity Youth Network developed this playbook to help communities take action to reconnect disconnected boys and young men of color. The playbook begins with a set of cross-cutting strategies. It is organized by the six critical milestones enshrined by the White House’s My Brother’s Keeper Community Challenge: entering school ready to learn; reading at grade level by third grade; graduating from high school ready for college and career; completing postsecondary education or training; successfully entering the workforce; and reducing violence and providing a second chance. Each section includes an overview, strategies for taking action, and links to key organizations and resources.
Some of the most effective strategies for reconnecting disconnected boys and young men of color span across the milestones established by My Brother’s Keeper. Supporting disconnected youth often requires helping in multiple aspects of their lives. Therefore, putting in place integrated approaches can be a particularly effective place to start.
Strategies for Action
- Include disconnected boys and young men of color in developing and implementing your strategy.
- Use a racial- and gender-equity lens and promote cultural competence and sensitivity in all facets of your work.
- Gather data on your community’s disconnected boys and young men of color.
- Determine how much funding is available and identify opportunities to leverage funds to accomplish your goals.
- Ensure there is a mechanism in place to align governmental efforts to aid disconnected boys and young men of color.
- Consider applying to become a federal Performance Partnership Pilots site.
- Learn from networks and national place-based initiatives focused on boys and young men of color and opportunity youth.
Nearly one-quarter of disconnected youth are parents of young children. If you include non-custodial parents, that number is even higher. Research and practice reinforces common sense: the success of disconnected youth and that of their children are inextricably linked. However, programs and services are often created and structured in a way that focuses primarily on either the parent or the child.
A “two-generation” approach is needed to help disconnected fathers and their children simultaneously, ensuring families as a whole have the tools they need to thrive and to break free from intergenerational cycles of poverty. Not only do these approaches provide the necessary interventions for young fathers, but they also help prevent their children from becoming disconnected later in life. Quality early education is critical to laying the groundwork for future success. Not reading at grade level by the third grade is a significant indicator—more so than poverty alone—that a young person will drop out of high school. By the fourth grade, white boys are two times more likely than Hispanic boys and three times more likely than black boys to read at grade level.
Strategies for Action
Supporting Disconnected Boys and Young Men of Color through Two-Generation Approaches
- Learn the different features that make a policy or program two-generation.
- Cultivate partnerships across agencies and sectors.
- Align and link systems, and coordinate administrative structures between entities supporting disconnected men of color and their children.
- Identify and blend or braid funding streams to serve disconnected youth and their children.
- Leverage federal programs to apply two-generation strategies, like the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).
Supporting Disconnected Boys and Young Men of Color through Two-Generation Approaches
- Eliminate zero-tolerance policies in early childhood education.
- Prioritize and address the needs of children with incarcerated parents.
- Design innovative and culturally competent curricula that boys of color find relatable.
- Implement small-group instruction and other pedagogies that promote active engagement.
- Minimize learning loss and maximize opportunities during the summer months.
- Employ strategies such as educational technology and media solutions.
Become a mentor, ensure that there are quality mentor programs in the area, and incorporate mentoring as a part of education, community, and youth development programs.
A high-school diploma or credential is an essential step on a young person’s path to gainful employment and a successful future. However, in today’s economy such a credential no longer guarantees a family-sustaining wage. Compared to those who do not graduate from high school, however, the auxiliary benefits are undeniable. These include better overall health, a longer life expectancy, a lower chance of involvement with the juvenile justice system, and a greater propensity to vote and volunteer.
Young people disconnect from high school for a variety of reasons, some of which are in their control. Surveys show that disconnected youth take accountability for their decisions: over 75 percent believe they are personally responsible for getting a good education and job. Other reasons stem from things that are out of their control, such as being born in the wrong neighborhood and consequently being zoned for under-resourced schools with high dropout rates; dealing with toxic stress from severe adverse life experiences; and being subjected to harsh, ineffective school discipline policies that disproportionately remove young men of color (especially those with learning disabilities) from school, forming a “school to prison pipeline.”
Strategies for Action
Supporting Young Men of Color to Prevent Disconnection from High School
- Ensure programs incorporate “elements of success:” rigor and academic support, nurturing relationships, college knowledge and access, relevance, youth-centered programming, and effective instruction.
- Increase dedicated staff, counselors, and mentors to promote well-being; invest in teacher and staff professional development; and implement trauma-informed approaches.
- Find out how boys and men of color are faring academically.
- Become a mentor, ensure there are quality mentoring programs in the area, and incorporate mentoring into education, community, and youth development programs.
- Improve school climate, eliminate zero-tolerance policies and adopt restorative discipline practices to help reduce the school-to-prison pipeline.
- Ensure that policies and practices promote college and career readiness for all high-school students, including young men of color with disabilities.
Supporting Young Men of Color Who Are in the Process of Disconnecting from High School
- Establish an accurate and timely early warning signs tracking system.
- Pinpoint students who are chronically absent from school, and address their needs through strategies such as mentorship and parent/family outreach and engagement.
- Identify, target, and design systems for overage and under-credited youth who are likely to fall off track before earning their diploma.
- Ensure curricula are culturally competent and incorporate social and emotional learning.
Supporting Young Men of Color Who Have Disconnected from High School
- Use data to make an economic case for investing in reconnecting students who have left school.
- Conduct segmentation analyses.
- Encourage Local Education Agencies (LEAs), Workforce Investment Boards (WIBs), and Community-Based Organizations (CBOs) to partner to create multiple pathways to graduation.
- Leverage the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) of 2015 to implement a statewide reengagement system and use average daily attendance funds to reconnect disconnected youth at scale.
- Eliminate seat-time requirements and time-based graduation requirements in favor of performance-based ones.
- Utilize blended learning strategies and other forms of learning via technology.
- Expand comprehensive residential programs.
- Create or expand reengagement centers.
Postsecondary education and training is more critical now than ever. The job market is increasingly populated with middle- and high-skilled positions, while low-skilled jobs, which once allowed for those with just a high-school credential or less to secure a decent paycheck, are becoming harder to find. Estimates predict that jobs requiring a postsecondary credential will increase to 63 percent of the economy before 2020. As the Center on Education and the Workforce found, “postsecondary education has become the gatekeeper to the middle class and upper class.” Young people who are born into the bottom 20 percent of household income and go on to obtain a college degree improve their odds of getting out of the bottom bracket of income distribution by over 50 percent.
Transitioning to and completing postsecondary education and training poses unique challenges for disconnected boys and young men of color. Many report that they did not know how to apply to college or research federal aid and scholarships to help pay for it. Other barriers include the lack of: support and resources needed to navigate education institutions and systems, necessary life and fiscal management skills, and general advisement and assistance. Another common obstacle is the requirement to complete noncredit-bearing remediation courses, which expends grants and scholarships. Connecting these young men to postsecondary education requires multiple entry points attuned to different types of young people with different strengths and facing different obstacles.
Strategies for Action
Form partnerships among high schools, employers, and postsecondary institutions.
- Design pathways that provide enriched academic preparation, bridge programming, and postsecondary support geared specifically to 16- to 24-year-olds who are off-track to graduate or disconnected from education and work.
- Develop multiple on-ramps and off-ramps when students need to start or stop postsecondary education.
- Improve the quality of remedial coursework and GED programs and adopt competency-based principles instead of relying on seat-time.
- Blend education and workforce opportunities, combine delivery of services across systems, and provide professional development for staff serving disconnected young men of color.
- Dedicate staff to support men of color in navigating college and balancing personal, academic, and financial obligations.
- Support and improve dual-enrollment programs and policies.
- Adopt an “Anti-Deficit Achievement Framework” when working with young men of color in postsecondary environments.
- Learn about the efforts of higher-education institutions to promote opportunities to attend and graduate from college for young men of color.
- Promote strategies that encourage and support engagement in postsecondary programs for young men of color.
- Identify students who left college before attaining a credential but who were near completion or entitled to an associate degree or other certificates.
- Encourage corporations and businesses to support employee efforts to complete postsecondary education or training.
The unemployment rate for young people aged 16 to 24 is double the national average. The numbers are even worse for young men of color who are not in school. The employment-to-population rate of 16- to 24-year-olds who do not attend school is 71.7 percent for whites, 68.7 percent for Latinos, and 46.9 percent for blacks. In addition to depriving youth of a paycheck to help support their families, unemployment also robs them of the opportunity to accrue early work experiences that lead to higher wages later in life.
These young people need supports that will place them on a pathway to employment and ensure their success after obtaining a job. To provide these supports, stakeholders across sectors must act in concert. Having businesses provide jobs in isolation, without the aid of partners to provide the training and postplacement support necessary to ensure long-term success, is generally insufficient. Alternatively, training and supports provided by nonprofits mean little if the young person can’t get a job at the end of the program.
In the past several years, corporations have increasingly recognized the business imperative to recruit opportunity youth and young men of color as a vital part of a company’s talent pipeline. As described in the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance Playbook for Corporations and Businesses, businesses that support young men of color will build their brand, diversify their talent pool, and reap both recruitment and retention benefits from this recruitment. For example, graduates of This Way Ahead—the paid internship program Gap Inc. has created for low-income opportunity youth—had higher engagement scores and double the retention rate of employees who did not participate in the program.
Strategies for Action
- Engage your business community to recognize the untapped talent represented by disconnected young men of color.
- Change employers’ perceptions of opportunity youth and young men of color with atypical résumés.
- Align training programs to reflect employers’ needs.
- Use an intermediary to retain and recruit opportunity youth and young men of color.
- Adopt sectorial strategies by working with a partnership, identifying small- and medium-sized businesses, and building a program based on industry-specific needs.
- Encourage local small businesses to take steps to become a part of the solution to combat youth unemployment.
- Train, hire, mentor, graduate, and revive.
- Create, preserve, and expand YouthBuild programs.
- Support and utilize national service and the Conservation Corps.
- Leverage the new Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act and help your local Workforce Investment Board use this funding to create a system of comprehensive career pathways.
- Pass local or state budgets that include subsided employment for disconnected youth.
- Use state workforce data in analyses and research.
- Construct and strengthen state, regional, and local career pathways systems.
- Implement or expand apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs.
- Identify federal programs and resources to develop career pathways.
- Discover private funding opportunities to expand promising or scale evidence-based approaches to reengaging disconnected young men of color to employment pathways.
- Support and implement equitable transportation polices, and adopt “ban the box” and other fair-chance hiring policies.
- Utilize best practices and positive youth development approaches in employment programs.
Not only do disconnected boys and young men of color deserve a second chance, but many never really had a first chance. Genes, environment, and experiences work in concert to impact behavior. Recent research reveals that important changes in brain function occur not only in childhood but also during the late teens and early twenties, especially in those areas affecting impulse control and forward planning. Most young people are raised by supportive families living in safe neighborhoods, which affords them an opportunity to bounce back from the types of mistakes and “youthful indiscretions” that are a normative part of brain maturation.
However, many disconnected boys and young men of color have not been so lucky. Many have grown up in families and communities that compound rather than mitigate youthful missteps. In fact, many have already faced more challenges and traumatic experiences than a typical adult faces in their entire lifetime. Too often, these boys and young men live in communities with high levels of poverty, violence, and punitive punishment, in which the effects of mass incarceration play a dominant role. More than 37 percent of black children and almost 32 percent of Hispanic children live in poverty compared to 12 percent of white children. American-Indian/Alaskan-Natives are more likely than any other racial group to be incarcerated for school-related and status offenses (such as skipping school and drinking alcohol) by state courts.
Not only do such environments contribute to disconnection, but they also make reconnection considerably more difficult. Individuals, who have returned from correctional facilities are unable to access student loans to finance an education to find gainful employment, or to receive public benefits because of their prior conviction. Disconnected boys and young men of color are also more likely than their peers to be victims of homicide and other violent crimes. Black youth are more likely than their white counterparts to witness violence—even when controlling for household income.
Ill-advised decisions are a normal part of adolescent development, disconnected boys and young men of color must deal with this in addition to a challenging family and community environment, as well as a series of violent and traumatic experiences. Consequently, it comes as little surprise that so many end up in homeless shelters, the foster care system, and the juvenile justice system. These systems often push young people away from rather than toward a productive adulthood.
- Boys and young men of color are disproportionately represented in the justice system and are more likely than white youths to be detained and given long sentences. Moreover, those who are incarcerated are frequently exposed to overcrowded facilities, physical and sexual violence, and trauma. More than 65 percent of young people involved with the juvenile justice system have mental health disorders. Youth returning from the justice system are much more likely than their peers to be disconnected from education and employment, which leaves them at a high risk of reoffending.
- More than 22,000 young people age out of the child welfare system each year without a permanent connection to an adult or a family. More than 67 percent of young people transitioning out of foster care identify as a racial minority. Young people who age out of foster care are significantly less likely to be employed, to graduate from high school, or to attend or complete college. They are significantly more likely to be arrested, incarcerated, and experience periods of homelessness.
- On any night, more than 46,000 youth can be found living on the streets throughout the United States. Every year, almost two million young people experience at least one night of homelessness. Youth experiencing homelessness are often victims of abuse, neglect, trauma, sexual exploitation, and poverty. Young people who have experienced homelessness are 87 percent more likely than their peers to stop going to school.
Leaders should provide targeted interventions for specific vulnerable subpopulations of disconnected boys and young men of color. These include youths who have been involved with the juvenile justice system, who are in or have recently aged out of foster care, or who are experiencing homelessness, especially those who identify as LGBTQ.
Strategies for Action
Reducing and Mitigating Exposure to Violence
- Tackle youth violence through cross-agency and cross-sector approaches.
- Promote community policing in neighborhoods of color and in low-income areas.
- Promote equity in discipline and dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline.
- Identify evidence-informed and evidence-based programs and practices to address crime, juvenile delinquency, prevention, and child safety.
- Provide mental health supports and address exposure to toxic stress using trauma-informed care.
Supporting Disconnected Boys and Young Men of Color in Second-Chance Systems
(Disconnected boys and young men of color involved in the juvenile justice system)
- Advocate for federal policy reform, including the reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA).
- Collect and track data disaggregated by gender, race, ethnicity, and offense, and implement plans to minimize disproportionate minority contact across different points of interaction in the justice system.
- Advocate and support reform of the status offense system and promote the use of community-based alternatives to incarceration.
- Ensure practices and policies in the juvenile justice system are developmentally appropriate and trauma-informed.
- Shift to a Balanced and Restorative Justice approach.
- Provide programming and supports to disconnected boys and young men of color in correctional facilities.
- Form cross-system collaborations and partnerships between the justice system and other agencies, including workforce, mental health, arts and culture, and colleges to meet the comprehensive needs of disconnected young men of color.
- Reduce recidivism by adopting rehabilitative models and behavioral interventions to help reconnect young men of color released from the justice system to education and employment pathways.
- Support and utilize national service and the Conservation Corps for formerly incarcerated youth and those at risk of being incarcerated.
Disconnected boys and young men of color in, or recently aged out of, the foster care system
- Prevent youth from becoming disconnected when they age out of the foster care system by leveraging youth permanence, extended foster care, and research on brain development.
- Adopt cross-system approaches to address the needs of youth transitioning out of foster care.
- Invest in the social, emotional, and physical well-being of older youth in foster care.
- Use a race and gender lens.
Disconnected boys and young men of color experiencing homelessness
- Create and implement a comprehensive community plan to end youth homelessness.
- Ensure your community is employing effective strategies to reconnect homeless boys and young men of color, including runaway and trafficked youth.
- Help homeless boys and young men of color stay in school.
- Support LGBTQ homeless youth.
Disconnected Youth—Also Referred to as Opportunity Youth —Are 16- to 24-Year-Olds Who Are Neither in School nor Employed. There Are More Than 1.5 Million Disconnected Young Men of Color in the United States.
Overall, across all races, there are 5.5 million disconnected youth in the country. Women comprise 2.6 million; men 2.9 million. And while overall rates of disconnection are likely to go down as the country continues to recover from the economic recession, history suggests that disconnected young men of color may never fully recover.
Young Men of Color Are Disproportionately Likely to Be Disconnected From School and Work.
Among 16- to 24-year-old males, 11 percent of whites are disconnected, compared with 15 percent of Latinos, 25 percent of African-Americans, and 28 percent of Native-Americans. Researchers have found that race and the place in which young people grow up can have compounding effects on whether they will disconnect from school and work.
This Disproportionality Is Driven by the Interplay of Gender, Race, and Disparities Among the Communities in Which Boys and Young Men of Color Grow Up.
For boys and young men of color—as with all young people—the environment in which they grow up shapes their mental, social, emotional, and developmental health. The domains of family, community, systems and institutions, and society and culture act in conjunction to influence young people’s readiness for school, work, and life. At best, these settings are welcoming, safe, and structured. They allow children and young people to (1) learn and acquire skill sets and form positive habits, attitudes, and beliefs; (2) be engaged and challenged; and (3) develop authentic, positive, and productive relationships. But when these settings fail to foster positive environments and healthy development, they leave young people without the tools and access to opportunities they need to lead productive and successful lives. It comes as little surprise, therefore, that “disconnected young people tend to come from communities that are themselves disconnected from the mainstream by segregation and concentrated disadvantage, and young people’s struggles with education and employment mirror those of their parents and neighbors.”
Taken together, the interplay of race, gender, and neighborhood disparities has created a vicious cycle of intergenerational disadvantage among males. As the Urban Initiative report “Understanding the Environmental Contexts of Boys and Young Men of Color” affirms, the environments we create “can either support or constrain their development and well-being as they mature into manhood. And though most boys and young men do have the power to make their own decisions, we—as adults and as a society—are responsible for the choice sets and consequences they face.” Moreover, as Forward Change Consulting’s report, “Life Course Framework for Improving the Lives of Boys and Men of Color” demonstrates, the choice sets and consequences that boys and young men of color face systemically stack the deck against them. Poor policymaking and resource allocation (including the off-shoring of jobs, suburbanization of low-skilled jobs, mass incarceration, and school discipline policies) have created a decline in employment, earnings, and educational attainment, and an increase in neighborhoods of concentrated disadvantage among boys and men of color.
Disconnected Boys and Young Men of Color Have Distinct Talents and Needs, and Require Dedicated Strategies Beyond Those Targeted at Boys and Young Men of Color More Generally.
My Brother’s Keeper strives to address persistent opportunity gaps faced by boys and young men of color and ensure that all young people can reach their full potential. MBK’s work cuts across ages and subpopulations. Many strategies, such as mentoring, are effective at helping a wide range of boys and young men of color. However, helping those who are disconnected requires a specialized strategy. Since this population is not in school, it will not benefit from education reforms. Since it is not employed, it will not benefit from labor protections, wage increases, and family-friendly policies. Different strategies are needed to find boys and young men of color (since you can’t track them down at schools or workplaces), serve them (since they often have multiple overlapping needs), and interact with them (since their ages and life experiences warrant considerable respect).
Utilizing the Strategies in This Playbook Is Less Costly Than Inaction.
Many of the strategies in this playbook could be implemented with modest resources. Others require substantial investment. However, even implementing all of the strategies at once would be less costly than inaction. Factoring in criminal justice system and corrections expenses, welfare and social service payments, taxpayer-funded health care costs, as well as lost tax revenue (which must be made up by other taxpayers), failing to reconnect disconnected youth (of any race or gender) adds an annual financial burden of $13,890 per youth to taxpayers, and $235,680 over the course of the disconnected youth’s lifetime. Additionally, the costs to society don’t end there. If you include other costs borne by citizens—such as lost gross earnings, lost productivity spillovers across the workforce, and criminal justice victim costs—the true cost is $51,340 per year per youth and $939,700 over the course of a lifetime. Young adults who are not in school or working cost taxpayers nationwide about $93 billion annually and $1.6 trillion over their lifetimes in lost revenues and increased social services. These costs are even higher for young men of color and are shouldered primarily by state and local governments. As the following pages show, we know what works to reconnect disconnected boys and young men of color. What’s more, the return on investment for implementing effective programs for opportunity youth is estimated to be at least 500 percent.
Boys and Young Men of Color Are Resilient.
Despite the barriers they face—poverty, violence, and insufficient access to education and health supports—some disconnected boys and young men of color are beating the odds each and every day. As leaders, we must do more than hope that disconnected boys and young men of color “make it” despite the adversities they are up against. We have to change the game altogether. Fortunately, there is promising work happening across the country to do just that.
With young people at the helm, leaders at all levels are taking a hard look at systemic and institutionalized racism, violence, and bias, and are pushing for change. National attention focused on boys and young men of color and My Brother’s Keeper has brought a diverse group of stakeholders into the conversation. Cradle-to-career initiatives, collective impact approaches, and place-based efforts are providing the comprehensive and holistic supports necessary to re-engage disconnected boys and young men of color and to prevent disconnection in the first place. Countless leaders across levels of government have examined their policies and programs and developed an agenda to improve the lives of these people in their communities. Businesses and philanthropic organizations have stepped up to underscore the untapped potential of disconnected youth and the economic imperative of addressing youth unemployment.
However, there is still much to be done to improve the environments in which disconnected boys and young men of color grow to ensure they reconnect and remain engaged. Accordingly, the Opportunity Youth Network developed this toolkit to help communities take action to reconnect disconnected boys and young men of color. The toolkit begins with a set of cross-cutting strategies and approaches, and is organized by the six critical milestones enshrined by the White House’s My Brother’s Keeper Community Challenge: entering school ready to learn, reading at grade level by third grade, graduating from high school ready for college and career, completing postsecondary education or training, successfully entering the workforce, and reducing violence and providing a second chance. Each section includes an overview as well as strategies for taking action and provides links to resources and key organizations.