Brave work from our YLI Boys and Men of Color Fresno Crew

There is another issue in our San Joaquin Valley that may not be making headlines, but is just as important as the drought, and we are pleased the president is once again showing strong leadership: Young men of color need more opportunities.

President Obama began the dialogue in his State of the Union Address when he said, “I’m reaching out to some of America’s leading foundations and corporations on a new initiative to help more young men of color facing especially tough odds stay on track and reach their full potential.”

This is the news that millions of boys and young men of color have wanted to hear. These words represent opportunity and hope, and now the president is keeping his word. Recently, The California Endowment in partnership with eight of America’s leading foundations, announced a joint effort with the White House to help America’s young men of color reach their full potential in school, work and life.

For too long, young men of color have faced extraordinary economic, social and political barriers. These barriers lead to incarceration, unemployment and a lack of an education. These young men are either pushed to the side, ignored or steamrolled.

There are many different numbers that help tell the story, but here is one key statistic: According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 24% of African-Americans and about 16% of Latinos are unemployed in Fresno County. The highest rate of unemployment during the Great Depression was just under 25% for all working Americans.

Nationwide, there are already significant efforts underway to turn this tide. The Center for Urban Families in Baltimore is testing new ways to help men and boys who can’t find work. The Young Men’s Initiative in New York works with African-American and Latino youth to steer them away from trouble and toward opportunity.

But you don’t need to look that far to find progress. It’s happening right here in Fresno with the Boys and Men of Color (BMOC), which is funded by The California Endowment. We are an alliance of change agents committed to improving the life chances of our boys and men of color that include youth, community organizations, foundations and a variety of civic leaders in education, public health and law enforcement.

The BMOC efforts in Fresno began last year in Sacramento. Youth organizations were asked to send young men of color to the state capital so that legislators could hear directly from them. These young men delivered compelling messages about the effects that laws and policies have on their lives — both positive and negative. The result was transformative. It opened our young men’s eyes to a whole new world, and gave our elected leaders a chance to engage with a group that is too often ignored.

Our young men were empowered. They shared their hardships, challenges, inequities and successes and were able to deliver heartfelt messages directly and unfiltered. Then they carried that momentum back home to Fresno.

Our young men have helped organize health care events to encourage citizens to get enrolled in Obamacare, collected and donated Christmas gifts to families in need of help, produced a variety of art exhibits featuring images of our city, and joined advocacy groups focusing on youth incarceration, early learning opportunities and many other issues.

They have shown the commitment to helping others, as they help themselves.

We are building a strong alliance and we can use your help. Join us. We can increase opportunity for all Fresnans, regardless of race, by focusing on helping these young men succeed.

Let’s build a better and healthier Fresno together. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”

Let’s take the steps together.

For too long, young men of color have faced extraordinary economic, social and political barriers. These barriers lead to incarceration, unemployment and a lack of an education. These young men are either pushed to the side, ignored or steamrolled.

Alex Gutierrez, Cesar Rodriguez and Nathaniel Brown are members of the Fresno chapter of Boys and Men of Color.

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