Report urges help for Boston’s young black, Latino men

City gets a call to close a racial gap

Blacks and Latinos make up almost two-thirds of Boston’s young men 19 and under, a population that is often impoverished and faces numerous disparities, according to a new report that says the city’s success hinges on expanding opportunities for people of color.

Many young black and Latino men in the city were born outside the United States, and about half have been raised by their grandparents, according to the report commissioned by a group called the Black and Latino Collaborative.


The report urges city leaders to consider the social, economic, and demographic profile of the growing population of blacks and Latinos in deciding everything from the cost of housing to where to locate schools, transportation projects, and new workplaces.

“When we look at the future population of Boston, it’s these children and young people,” said James Jennings, a Tufts University professor of urban environmental policy who prepared the report. “If race and ethnicity are not at the table, then the future of Boston is not at the table.”

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The Black and Latino Collaborative includes representatives from more than a dozen philanthropies and businesses and aides to elected officials. Its members have been reviewing the report since April, searching for answers locally and around the nation to address the disparities that put black and Latino males at risk.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who had not seen the report Sunday night, vowed to address gaps in employment and achievement in education. The city must improve education for young students as well as those in high school, he said in an interview.

Walsh said his efforts to increase job training and workforce development are underway, with a plan to set aside space for business startups in Dudley Square’s Ferdinand Building, another initiative to provide free public Wi-Fi in Grove Hall and the rest of the city, and a push to increase summer jobs for young people.


“I think the future of Boston is going to be bright,” Walsh said Sunday night. “I think we’re going to make a lot of adjustments in this city over the next couple of years. And in the long term, as long as we’re going to implement changes, that can and will happen, the future will be OK.”

Boston is not alone in its efforts in attempting to respond to the disparities. A national movement has been building to nurture well-educated and well-rounded young black men who can land well-paying jobs.

Eleven other cities, for example, are participating in the City Leadership to Promote Black Male Achievement initiative, which was established by the National League of Cities and Open Society Foundations. And in February, President Obama announced the My Brother’s Keeper initiative, which the White House says is designed “to develop a coordinated federal effort to improve significantly the expected life outcomes for boys and young men of color.”

According to the White House, private foundations and businesses will spend at least $200 million over the next five years to target areas that have the “highest potential for impact,’’ including early childhood development, parenting and parent engagement, third-grade literacy, and school discipline. The White House also plans to highlight initiatives around the United States that have worked to improve opportunities for minority youths.

But even with the national spotlight shining on the issue from My Brother’s Keeper, change must happen at the local level, said Shawn Dove, manager of the Open Society Foundations’ Campaign for Black Male Achievement in New York.

“If folks are waiting on My Brother’s Keeper paratroopers to come in and take action, it’s not going to happen,” he said. “Folks need to take action. We need to convene, and we need the reports, but you have to act.”

Dove acknowledged the daunting nature of dismantling interlaced disparities in education, housing, family structure, health care, jobs, and criminal justice that are the legacy of nearly 400 years of slavery and segregation.

‘This is about investing in assets, in the citizenry of the city.’

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“This is not about helping and saving black and brown boys,” he said. “This is about investing in assets, in the citizenry of the city. If those assets are ignored in 2014 in the way they have been ignored and neglected in cities across the country, in 2020 we will as a city, as a country have to address this issue.”

The Boston report, for which Jennings analyzed census data from 2007 to 2012, examines the household, educational, and economic experiences of young men of color.

“The first thing that jumped out for us was really the concentration, geographically, where we’re going to see families of black and Latino male residents,” said Makeeba McCreary, executive director of AbekaM, a Boston-based academic and philanthropic consulting firm who is a member of the Black and Latino Collaborative.

The study found that over the next four years, the population of black and Latino youth is expected to grow in Mattapan, East Boston, and parts of Roxbury and Dorchester. McCreary said it raises a key question: How do these clusters of children affect schools and social service agencies?

“Let’s think about being a little more precise in looking at this,” she said.

Among the report’s other findings: Black and Latino young men tend to come from large families, some including nonrelatives, and their households can at times be crowded with six or more people. That is larger than their white and, to a lesser extent, Asian peers.

The report also says “the black community, generally, appears more ‘stable’ in terms of geographic mobility,” as about 83 percent of blacks lived in the same home for at least two consecutive years compared to 77 percent of Latinos, 73 percent of whites, and 72 percent of Asians.

City Councilor Tito Jackson, who authored an ordinance recently creating the city’s Commission on the Status of Black Men and Boys, said the city must figure out how to bridge the gap between men of color and their white peers.

“The data says men of color need help,” Jackson said. “If we are going to continue to be a city that leads in areas of education and medicine and technology and innovative careers, it is critical that we look to educate as well as elevate the majority of people, and the numbers tell us that the majority of people are of color and largely under 18.”

This study echoes part of a separate report from four years ago by Jennings that provided a broader demographic portrait of the black community.

In that report, called the “State of Black Boston,” Jennings found that a wave of young people of color from impoverished families was soon to come of age in Boston, but because of long-recognized yet unresolved disparities in jobs, income, housing, and education, these young people faced disadvantages that could leave them ill-equipped for the professional and personal responsibilities awaiting them.

Most of that still rings true today. Across the city — from philanthropies to candidates for mayor during the last election to community activists — a growing conversation has been taking place about improving the life outcomes for young men of color.

There have been some signs of action. The City Council, for example, voted this year to create the Commission on the Status of Black Men and Boys.

“If we want great results for everybody, we need to work in targeted ways for certain populations that are at a particular disadvantage,” said Rahn Dorsey, of the Barr Foundation, which is a member of the Black and Latino Collaborative.

Dorsey said the collaborative’s efforts started several years ago, when he and other black men who work in philanthropy were discussing how better to strengthen their network, Dorsey said.

In its first phase, the collaborative met with various segments of the community — including representatives of higher education and churches as well as with young people — about the obstacles young black and Latino men face in Boston, and how to overcome them.

Then the collaborative commissioned the study, hoping to more thoroughly understand what was happening .

There are plans to continue the research, with studies coming on which city schools best educate black and Latino boys and which community programs meet their needs.

But, Dorsey cautioned, “this shouldn’t just be a series of data projects” and vowed that the group’s work will prompt changes.

Akilah Johnson can be reached at
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