Mayor Bloomberg Donates $30M to Initiative to Close Race Achievement Gap

By Jill Colvin on August 4, 2011 1:21pm 

Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced details of the Young Men's Initiative Thursday, Aug. 4.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced details of the Young Men's Initiative Thursday, Aug. 4.
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DNAinfo/Jill Colvin

MIDTOWN EAST — Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled details of a new plan Thursday aimed at leveling inequalities between young black and Latino men and their white counterparts — and once again, he’s footing a chunk of the bill.

The “Young Men’s Initiative” will dedicate more than $127 million to a host of new initiatives, including middle school mentoring, new job training and fatherhood programs, designed to counteract long-standing achievement gaps.

While the public will be covering over half the cost, Bloomberg will be contributing $30 million of his own funds through Bloomberg Philanthropies, as will fellow billionaire George Soros and his Open Society Foundations.

The donation comes on the heels of announcement Wednesday that Bloomberg would be putting up $250,000 so that the state can hold Regents exams in January, which had been eliminated due to budget cuts.

“When we look at poverty rates, graduation rates, crime rates and employment rates, one thing stands out: blacks and Latinos are not fully sharing in the promise of American freedom and far too many are trapped in circumstances that are difficult to escape," the mayor told supporters at a breakfast co-hosted by Council of Urban Professionals and the New America Alliance at the law firm of Kirkland & Ellis in Midtown Thursday.

“I — we — have an obligation to try and extend opportunity’s promise to every community,“ he said.

Beginning this year, public school progress reports will include metrics that measure young black and Latino men’s performance compared to their white peers — information that will be used as part of an overall assessment of schools.

The Department of Education will also be working to try to reduce disparities in special education and suspensions, with a new after-school mentoring program for middle schoolers, among other changes.

Aside from the education initiatives, the plan targets the justice system in an effort to close the “revolving door” of repeat criminality that leads more than three-quarters of young men who leave Rikers Island to wind up back behind bars.

“If we don’t do something for those getting out of Rikers, they are going right back to Rikers,” Bloomberg said. “Everybody else is paying and suffering because of their suffering."

The plan will move probation officers into communities by basing them with neighborhood organizations so they can provide more hands-on mentoring, guidance and training.

To make it easier for those with criminal records to re-enter society, the city will also be working to change its hiring practices so that those with records have a better chance at getting jobs.

The city will also invest $25 million to expand its Jobs-Plus training program in public housing, and $9 million to expand the city-subsidized internship programs, which give young people the chance to learn new skills while still earning money.

The city will also be expanding its Fatherhood Initiative, including working with CUNY to extend job readiness, college prep and parenting workshops to low-income men.

The mayor hailed the efforts as “one of the most ambitious and comprehensive attacks on racial and ethnic disparities among young men that any city has ever undertaken" and said that he believes it has the potential to make a huge impact on young, minority men in the city.

“This can be a game-changer," he said.

Soros said the fact that more than one-third of African-American males end up in the criminal justice system is “appalling” and “inconsistent with the type of society we aspire to be.”

He said he hoped his investment would serve as a model for others.

“I hope that others will join us and we can make the effort even bigger and more comprehensive,” Soros said.

Donald Ruff, the director of strategic partnerships at Eagle Academy, which partnered in developing the plan, said there is a desperate need do something to reverse the dismal statistics for young men living in communities like the West Harlem housing project where he grew up.

"A lot of the change is happening in small pockets, but now you have an opportunity where folks who have been on the ground are bringing the best practices," he said.  "Honestly, this is the best thing that I think I've seen since I've been in the city."

But others were more tentative in their support.

Upper Manhattan City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez said that while he applauds the mayor's efforts and the fact that he's "putting his money where his mouth is," he worries about the types of jobs the initiatives will create.

"I...hope that this initiative will create more than just low-wage, low-skill jobs for our young people who desperately need skills and opportunities for advancement," he said.

"With nearly 200,000 disconnected youth in the city, it is literally the future of our city that hangs in the balance."

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