A Conversation With Dr. Robert Ross, President & CEO, The California Endowment
America’s young men of color, particularly those from economically-distressed urban communities, face unique challenges. Many lack access to adequate educational opportunities and support systems that are necessary to succeed in today’s competitive economy. By 2018, six in 10 jobs will require at least a high school degree, but Black and Latino students in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles graduate from high school at rates well below those of their non-minority peers.
Dalila Wilson-Scott, President of the JPMorgan Chase Foundation, recently spoke with Dr. Robert Ross about the specific challenges facing young men of color and a few of the efforts underway to help them graduate from high school ready to succeed in college and beyond. Dr. Ross is the President and CEO of The California Endowment, a private health foundation committed to improving the health of underserved and low-income Californians.
Q: What kinds of challenges do young men of color face in America today?
Dr. Ross: There are number of challenges that young men of color, particularly Black and Latino males, are confronted by today. In particular, these young men face difficulties at school – including disproportionately high high-school dropout, suspension and expulsion rates. Many young men of color lack job opportunities and exposure to positive male role models. Data and research show many young men of color, particularly from urban communities, are dealing with a daunting sense of hopelessness.
These challenges manifest in a number of ways – the primary consequence being lower income and poverty. Persistent poverty erodes the possibility of future success for young men and spreads throughout their community a constant cycle of decline.
Q: Are there opportunities to help solve these challenges for young men of color?
Dr. Ross: The promising news is that we can disrupt this pathway to hopelessness by improving access to quality education and training and by introducing a caring adult in the right setting and at the right time.
The research conducted to date on this issue is very clear about critical opportunities for intervention for these young men. We must encourage our kids to stay in school for as long as possible. We must encourage our teenagers not only to apply and get accepted into a four-year college -- but to remain in their college of choice for the full four years and graduate. These are vital opportunities where the data shows that if we drop the ball with these young men at any one of these points, chances are we’re going to lose them.
I know this from personal experience. I grew up in the South Bronx, in a New York City housing project, and so I understand what it’s like to try and rise up from an underprivileged background and have an opportunity to achieve in school and in life.
Q: What kinds of programs are really working in tackling this challenge?
Dr. Ross: It is critically important for to have an adult role model who can help steer young people in the right direction and help them make better decisions. That can be a coach, teacher, mentor – anyone who sets the right example and demonstrates to a young person that they aren’t alone, that they will have support over the long-term.
The Fellowship Initiative, launched by JPMorgan Chase in 2010, is a great example. This program utilizes a combination of coaching, academic support and leadership development ignited by a mentorship component that matches participating Fellows to professionals. The Fellowship Initiative helps young men of color complete high school, get into, and ultimately succeed in college. In essence, The Fellowship Initiative says, “Okay, wait a minute, we’re going step in to help supplement the resources and experiences available to you beyond what your peers normally receive from their schools and communities.” The Fellows’ families are also engaged. They are educated about the college application process and experience to increase support for the Fellows’ college aspirations. Through exposure to meaningful opportunity in corporate America and access to tutors, mentors and role models, Fellows are provided with a sense of real possibility to accomplish their academic and life goals. The cohort model also provides youth with a positive peer support network.
Q: Is this just a problem for our communities of color? Why is this an issue the nation should care about?
Dr. Ross: First of all, we live in a global, competitive economy and we simply can’t afford to lose human capital; our young people are critical to our nation’s present and our nation’s future. The unique perspectives and diversity of experiences these students bring to our economy and corporate America is simply invaluable. Secondly, helping impoverished communities rise restores faith in the American promise. This is a country that has always said that if you work hard, keep your nose clean, pay your dues and go to school, then there’s an opportunity for you.
Programs like The Fellowship Initiative remind us of what’s so great about this country. America was built on grit, determination and people who have made it working against the odds. The young men of The Fellowship Initiative represent that. These are young men who have shown a remarkable sense of purpose--demonstrating that a true sense of grit and determination can result in overcoming the odds.
The California Endowment is a private, statewide health foundation with a mission to expand access to affordable, quality health care for underserved individuals and communities, and to promote fundamental improvements in the health status of all Californians.
JPMorgan Chase & Co. launched The Fellowship Initiative (TFI) in New York City in 2010. The initiative, which was recently expanded to Chicago and Los Angeles, enrolls young men of color in a comprehensive, hands-on enrichment program that includes academic, social and emotional support to help them achieve personal and professional success. For more information about TFI visit: www.jpmorganchase.com/TFI
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