It is a tragedy that drains billions of dollars of our county’s resources, resources that could be directed to far more constructive and positive endeavors within the most stricken communities. While violence and incarceration are the most tragic, there are other symptoms of failure. Sixty percent of African American boys in the Los Angeles Unified School District fail to graduate from high school, and African Americans are suspended from school at far greater rates then their white counterparts.
As this inner-city carnage and educational failure continues at horrific rates, most recent public conversation has consisted of accusations of police misconduct, discriminatory prosecution and incarceration. Such conversations have diverted us from focusing on solutions. These disproportionate racial outcomes can only be diminished with a massive infusion of effort and resources that cushions boys from family breakdown. This means mentoring.
This in no way ignores the plight of women. While most of the victims of violence, incarceration and educational failure are men, their failure directly impacts the women close to them. If boys are not emotionally nourished to become caring husbands and loving fathers, women are deprived of potential life partners who will share in the economic and child-rearing duties of parenthood. When men do not learn to respect and honor women, they are far more likely to physically, sexually and psychologically abuse them. Men and women in all communities require each other’s support to provide economic and emotional stability.
Providing competent and caring male mentors for all inner-city boys in need is key to reducing their risk of crime while fostering greater educational success. Few would dispute this conclusion, but how and where to put resources and energy to achieve the most benefit? The complexity of human beings and the needs of specific communities do not permit a one-strategy fix for youth who are deprived of competent childrearing.
In Los Angeles County there are a number of dynamic programs that use different methodologies but show great promise. I have had the opportunity to witness the efforts of three: A Place Called Home, an after-school program serving elementary to high school students in South L.A.; Concerned Black Men of Los Angeles, a national program that mentors boys and teens, and The Sunburst Youth Academy, a National Guard-funded school located in Los Alamitos, providing high school dropouts an opportunity to acquire their GED and secure employment. All three have a robust strategy with impressive oversight, staff and a track record of accomplishment. There are many others.
The inner city will not be liberated from violent crime or economically revitalized by fighting wars against racism. The bigot does not distinguish between the incarcerated and the accomplished. To expend energy on trying to shame or change his attitude is a waste of time and energy.
All effort must instead be used to empower inner city youth with the tools for their advancement. Massive community mentoring efforts and improved primary education will propel African-American boys to fulfill their potential and help inoculate them against violence and the remaining bigotry that stains our society.
Joseph Charney is a former Los Angeles County deputy district attorney. This is the last in a three-part series on the need for mentoring inner-city youth. Earlier commentaries were published Aug. 28and Sept. 4.
Programs that are helping
• Concerned Black Men of Los Angeles: Contact Mark Anderson, president, 323-868-0299; cmbla.org
• A Place Called Home: 323-232-7653; apch.org
• Sunburst Youth Challenge Academy: 877-463-1921; sunburstyouthacademy.com
• Spark LA: 213-344-4848; sparkprogram.org
• Youth Mentoring: 323-731-8080; youthmentoring.org
• Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles: 213-213-2400; bbbsla.org
• BOND (Rebuilding the Man): 323-782-1980; rebuildingtheman.com
• Los Angeles Team Mentoring: 213-742-6733; latm.org
• Flintridge Center: 626-449-0839; Flintridge.org
• Fulfillment Fund: 323-939-9707; fulfillment.org
• A World Fit for Kids; 213-387-7712; worldfitforkids.org