Oakland leads self-help answer to blacks’ crisis

Brenda Payton

Oakland will host the launch of an ambitious national initiative in two weeks to address the multifaceted crisis facing African American children, particularly boys.
Called “A New Way Forward: Healing What’s Hurting Black America,” it reflects growing alarm in the African American community over the dismal realities of too many African American children. A program to recruit mentors, it adopts a self-help approach that has a long tradition in the community. Yet, there is a conundrum here. As many of the ills are systemic – inadequate education, poverty, joblessness – how can the community heal itself?
The initiative cites disturbing, though known, statistics. Eighty percent of black fourth-graders read below grade level, and 56 percent are functionally illiterate. In some cities, 80 percent of African American young men drop out before finishing high school. Each day, 1,000 black children are arrested. One in eight African American males between 25 and 29 is incarcerated. It’s an emergency of violence, chronic unemployment, deteriorating health, skyrocketing incarceration and increasing dropout rates.