Community leaders in Sacramento have gathered three times in the last year to talk about improving the future of boys and young men of color.
Friday it was the youths’ turn to weigh in.
Nearly 500 middle and high school students from throughout Sacramento County took part in the My Brother’s Keeper Community Convening to tell the adults what support they need to succeed.
The initiative was started by President Barack Obama in 2014 when he challenged communities to make changes to address the opportunity gaps in lives of minority youth. Mayor Kevin Johnson, invited to the White House for the announcement, picked up the gauntlet and carried it back to Sacramento.
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A lot of us don’t have examples like these in our lives.
Valley High senior Oscar Cervantes-Reyes, about the speakers at the summit
In May the group issued “My Brother’s Keeper Local Action Plan” – a report on the status of minority children in Sacramento. According to the report, more than 53 percent of black and Latino students in Sacramento are not proficient in English language arts. Only 18 percent of African American and 20 percent of Latino students graduate from high school eligible to attend a university.
“The opportunity to have the My Brothers Keeper summit is a wonderful opportunity for the leaders of Sacramento to hear the voice of the kids,” said City Councilman Rick Jennings, who helped to emcee the event. “This summit gives us an opportunity to listen and then to help develop a strategic plan.”
The goal of the program includes ensuring students arrive in kindergarten ready to learn, read at grade level by third grade, graduate from high school, go to college or learn a trade, are able to find a job after graduation and stay safe from violent crime.
Two out of five African American third-graders in Sacramento County scored at, near or above the grade level standard for reading literacy in standardized testing in the 2014-15 school year.
Sacramento State was selected for the summit to give the students an opportunity to step on a college campus, Jennings said. “You take advantage of the situation,” he told the students. “You take a look at this environment and you make sure this is your destination.”
The students used electronic clickers to respond to questions about videos they were shown and talked with facilitators at their tables about obstacles they face. The information will become part of an action plan.
Between speakers and question-and-answer sessions about education, jobs and public safety, students heard spoken word artist Yeshahyah Yisrael, a senior at McClatchy High School, and rapping Sacramento police Officer Filmore “Izreal” Graham.
Mentor Justin Phan of Asian Resources Inc. sat amid a group of kids from Hiram Johnson High, Valley High School and Rosemont High and asked the students about the barriers to getting an education that they have experienced.
The students complained of boredom in the classroom, courses that are too easy, and teachers and lessons to which they can’t relate.
“What can teachers do to make it more fun and to help you learn the material?” Phan asked.
“Stop and ask students questions,” said Jimmy Vang, of Luther Burbank High.
Later Oscar Cervantes-Reyes, a senior at Valley High School, said the biggest barrier for students of color is a lack of connection with their teachers and family problems.
He recounted a discussion between two boys at a community event in Fresno who were enviously watching a family of four. “They said they will never have that,” Cervantes-Reyes said.
Cervantes-Reyes plans to be the first member of his family to graduate college. He wants to major in journalism at San Diego State University. He called the event’s speakers inspirational.
“A lot of us don’t have examples like these in our lives,” Cervantes-Reyes said.
Two hundred adults also were in attendance, including an array of former sports greats including Mayor Johnson, who played for the Phoenix Suns; Jennings, who played for the Oakland Raiders; and Lawrence Funderburke, a former Kings player and founder of a nonprofit that aids at-risk children.
“My story is very similar to a lot of you,” Funderburke said, holding up a food stamp. “I grew up in public housing, on welfare for 18 years and, to this day I carry a food stamp with me. I keep this as a constant reminder of what poverty means.”
Funderburke, now the founder and CEO of a nonprofit that helps youths in Columbus, Ohio, attended college while in the NBA – earning a master’s degree in business finance.
“I knew one day that ball would stop bouncing and I would have to do something in my life,” he said.
He encouraged the kids not to make excuses, but to take responsibility for their lives. “As long as you have oxygen in your body you have a shot at being successful in life,” he said.