City program will boost men, boys of color

Mayor Martin J. Walsh has launched an initiative this month targeting the city’s black and Latino boys and men, a population at risk for joblessness, poverty, and a host of health disparities, according to several studies.

Building on the lead of President Obama earlier this year, the mayor is introducing Boston’s version of “My Brother’s Keeper,’’ a network meant to bridge the gap between men of color and their potential achievements.

“There are a lot of young black and Latino men that we have here in our city that need this initiative,’’ Walsh said in an interview. “This can be helpful in changing their lives.”


Blacks and Latinos make up almost two-thirds of the city’s men age 19 and under. Many of Boston’s young men of color were born outside the United States, and about half have been raised by their grandparents, according to a recent Tufts University study.

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Young men of color are thriving, holding down jobs, getting good grades, and helping to sustain their families. But a disproportionate number of them are struggling, failing school or dropping out, according to recent studies.

The mayor said he heard Obama’s call in February for cities across the country to help remove obstacles that bar men of color from turning a critical corner. “As the mayor of Boston, the issue of race and about helping black and Latino boys and men comes up a lot’’ in conversations with residents across the city, Walsh said.

The mayor has convened a task force of some 40 members, including police officers, educators, city youth workers, and advocates. The list also includes Roxbury native Michael Bivins, a singer of the popular 1980s boy band New Edition and Bel Biv DeVoe.

Walsh wanted to tap into “a frustrated population that doesn’t feel they are plugged in, that doesn’t feel that things are moving ahead for them,’’ said John Barros, the city’s chief of economic development and cochairman of the task force.


The task force held its first brainstorming session last week and lists among its goal assessing current city programs that focus on education and economic development for men of color.

The city is also teaming with Mass Mentoring Partnership to recruit 1,000 adults over the next two years to help guide both boys and girls. City officials said the mayor’s “mentoring movement” hopes to highlight the need for more adults to become involved in helping individual young people reach their potential.

“When you look at any socioeconomic status, you will see that men of color are on the wrong side of the questions’’ around public safety, educational achievement, and economic success, said Boston’s health and human services chief Felix G. Arroyo, who is cochairman of the new task force. “What our mayor has said is that for Boston to work it has to work for everybody.”

The mayor’s effort is part of a string of local and national initiatives aimed at giving young men of color a path to stable jobs, higher education, and access to homes they can afford.

Earlier this year, the Black and Latino Collaborative — made up of representatives from more than a dozen philanthropies, businesses, and aides to elected officials — was formed. The group commissioned the Tufts University study in its search for answers on disparities that put black and Latino males at risk.


Councilor Tito Jackson has spent the past eight months working on the creation of a commission of black men and boys to advise the mayor on such things as economic empowerment and building political influence.

“The vast majority of young men of color are seeking to do well,” said Jackson, who will also serve on the mayor’s task force. “Most are in school; most are seeking work. We are working on replicating the successes that are already out there.”

Meghan E. Irons can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @meghanirons.