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Increasing Opportunities for Latino Boys and Men

Image: Omar Hernandez is a student at TecCentro, a training center which has received funding from the Opportunity Finance Network as part of the My Brother's Keeper Initiative to spur increased education and career opportunities for young men of color.

Omar Hernandez is a student at TecCentro, a training center which has received funding from the Opportunity Finance Network as part of the My Brother's Keeper Initiative to spur increased education and career opportunities for young men of color. Kelsey Snavely

When President Obama announced his initiative My Brother’s Keeper, one of the main goals was to spur organizations to expand their efforts to focus on resources for young boys and men of color.

Across the country, some community groups working with Latino young men are seeing the opportunity to expand their reach after receiving additional funding.

One such group is the Spanish American Civic Association (SACA) in Lancaster, Penn. SACA was established in 1971 by community leaders who saw the need to create a civic infrastructure to help struggling families integrate into the social and economic fabric of Lancaster.

“The Latino community in Lancaster faces 18 percent unemployment, 40 percent underemployment, and the community lives at 60 percent below the poverty level,” said Carlos Graupera, SACA's President and CEO.

SACA recently received funding from the Community First Fund, the largest community development financial institution (CDFI) serving central Pennsylvania. It is part of the Opportunity Finance Network (OFN), which announced a $1 billion dollar Youth Opportunity Pledge in support of the President's initiative.

"It is important for us to do what we say we are going to do and to hold ourselves accountable," said OFN's CEO and President Mark Pinsky. "It's the right thing to do." OFN is a national network of community development financial institutions investing in opportunities that benefit low-income and low-wealth communities throughout the U.S.

Several of the SACA programs which have received additional funding work directly with Latino young men.

Among them is Tec Centro, a bilingual technology center that works with out-of-school youth and students who want to pursue a technical career path. The program serves, in part, many young Latino males. In the case of one immigrant who worked in the medical field in his native country, his short-term goal was to work in his field of expertise here in the U.S.

“We feel that, working through these initiatives, young Latino males in our community will find a place to go for a second chance, to regroup, recover, and refocus."

On July 2013, he enrolled in the GED program and received his diploma two months later. He’s now enrolled in the Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) program and taking intensive language classes at Tec Centro to improve his English. Intent on pursuing the American dream, he hopes to fulfill his dream of starting a career in the medical field.

Another program which has received funding is the La Academia Charter School, a small learning community which serves Latino students in grades 6-12. Currently, it is adding a new wing to serve additional students from the neighborhood.

“We feel that, working through these initiatives, young Latino males in our community will find a place to go for a second chance, to regroup, recover, and refocus,” Graupera said.

The importance of these kinds of programs is echoed by Dr. Pedro Noguera, the Peter L. Agnew Professor of Education at New York University and author of the book, The Trouble With Black Boys…and Other Reflections on Race, Equity and the Future of Public Education.

One of the biggest challenges that Latino males face is enormous pressure to work. “This is a major factor influencing their high dropout rates. This is why we need more career academies and more care and technical training so that they have access to jobs that pay higher salaries,” Noguera said.

Across the country in San Jose, California, the Low Income Investment Fund (LIIF) has provided financing to the ACE Charter School, which serves students in fifth through eighth grade. Over 95 percent of them are low-income Latino students, and over 50 percent are English-language learners. The students enter the school far below grade level but are among the top performers in the state and the region by the time they finish eighth grade, said Executive Director Greg Lippman.

LIIF provided a $3.75 million construction loan to ACE to build a new school, which enabled the school to grow its enrollment from 340 to over 450 students.

“Having our own site in the neighborhood we serve has been absolutely critical to our success, especially around our connection with families.” said Lippman.

“The success of boys of color is contingent upon access to good schools, supportive adult mentors, and access to good jobs," said NYU's Pedro Noguera.

Small programs such as these are increasing opportunities for boys of color in neighborhoods around the country. But education experts say advancing opportunities for Hispanic young men requires extensive commitment from both the private and public sector.

“The success of boys of color is contingent upon access to good schools, supportive adult mentors, and access to good jobs," said NYU's Pedro Noguera.

Dr. Julian Vasquez Heilig, an Associate Professor of Educational Policy and Planning at the University of Texas at Austin, argues that more My Brother’s Keeper resources should go to programs that bolster opportunities for Latino boys and young men in the public schools, as well as on community-based initiatives.

“Our Latino families should be seen as the solution and not the problem,” said Vasquez-Heilig.