Out of Sight, Out of Mind

By Joe Brooks, Vice-President for Civic Engagement

The New York Times’ Bob Herbert wrote last week about “a tragic crisis of enormous magnitude facing black boys and men in America.”

Click here to download "Healthy Communities Matter: The Importance of Place to the Health of Boys of Color"

The underpinnings of the crisis are clear and myriad —parental neglect, racial discrimination, rising drop –out rate, joblessness, unwed mothers, disproportionate incarceration,  black-on-black crime, and homicide as the leading cause of death for black males.

But why is this so?

The black boys and men who are in trouble live, for the most part, in communities of concentrated poverty. These communities, over the past several decades, have become an after-thought for policymakers—if they don’t vote, why bother? After all, the problems are so huge and intractable, a better investment is to expand the criminal justice system.

In many communities, an expanding criminal justice system serves as an economic engine and rationalizes the $50,000 per prisoner incarceration cost – versus a front end investment in community and education.

On top of this reality, the community only hears through the media the bad news about black boys and men. The news is so bad that the community itself is afraid of its own sons, fathers, uncles, grandfathers, and cousins. This population is demonized and seen as predators, without a face. Denied—out of sight, out of mind.

There is some good news out there, but without leadership, and a policy campaign to bring to scale efforts that are underway throughout the country to improve outcomes for black boys and men, these efforts will die on the vine. There are community based efforts in almost every metro area of the country addressing this crisis. These efforts range along a continuum of birth to opportunity, fighting against the tide of birth to prison or an early death for black boys and men.

Many of these powerful examples are seen in “Healthy Communities Matter: The Importance of Place to the Health of Boys of Color,” a product of the collective research efforts of PolicyLink, the RAND Corporation, Drexel University’s School of Public Health and Department of Emergency Medicine, and The Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School and the Center for Nonviolence and Social Justice.

There are many of us joined together in the campaign to improve outcomes for black boys and men. We, along with others want to spread the word about the good news, lift up what works and put a face on black boys and men. We cannot allow the process of out of sight out of mind to go any further.

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