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U-Md. symposium challenges society's minority youth school-to-prison track


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Photo by Alexis A. Goring. From left, Pedro Noguera, Oscar Barbarin, Becky Pettit, Ruth Zambrana and Howard Stevenson on the podium comprised the panel of presenters and speakers for the “Pre-K to Prison Pipeline: Changing the Odds for Boys of Color” symposium, an all-day event on Sept. 9 with sessions at Adele H. Stamp Union at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Photo by Alexis A. Goring. From left, Pedro Noguera, Oscar Barbarin, Becky Pettit, Ruth Zambrana and Howard Stevenson on the podium comprised the panel of presenters and speakers for the “Pre-K to Prison Pipeline: Changing the Odds for Boys of Color” symposium, an all-day event on Sept. 9 with sessions at Adele H. Stamp Union at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Published on: Wednesday, September 18, 2013

By Alexis A. Goring

Boys of color face a unique challenge: negative educational and incarceration trends amongst their peers are increasing and causing concern within academic and public dialogues.

In an effort to address these concerns, the African American Studies Department at the University of Maryland, College Park hosted a discussion called, “Pre-K to Prison Pipeline: Changing the Odds for Boys of Color” in order to discuss prevention, recovery and education — all key factors in the department’s goal to break the cycle of boys of color serving time.

“I’m here today because I work with our young, black males and females and Hispanics. And, one of the things I’m looking for is some solutions of how we can not only bridge the two groups together but ensure their success,” Dr. Yvette Butler said.

According to statistical data from Odis Johnson Jr., associate professor and department chair of the African American Studies Department at University of Maryland College Park, “In Prince George’s County, African Americans between the ages of 10 and 18 are referred to Juvenile Intake at a rate 2.40 times that of whites, just .04 points lower than the statewide relative rate. The relative rate for Latinos in Prince George’s is 1.87 higher than that of whites. Also in Prince George’s County, African Americans between the ages of 10 and 18 were held in secured detention at a rate 2.87 times that of whites, exceeding the state relative rate by .45 points. The relative rate for Latinos in Prince George’s is 2.63 higher than that of whites.”

Butler said the challenges faced by black and Latino males it is a societal issue that is deeply embedded into our communities and the human psyche.

“One of the things they talked about is that our young black men and young Hispanic men have post-traumatic stress syndrome and don’t even know it, and no one’s treating the cause of the post-traumatic stress,” Butler said. “We’re losing a whole generation, so where is my future?”

Butler attributes the cause of the black youth’s PTSD to living in a system where there aren’t jobs and they’re living in crime-infested neighborhoods.

“When you live in those kinds of situations, you don’t realize the psychological impact that it does to you, and you don’t see anything else besides that,” she said.

When it comes to steps that should be taken to solve the disparities in the black and Latino communities, Butler said the mobilization of our youth is vital.

“We need to have a movement because I don’t think they even understand the impact of what their societal realm has caused for them,” she said. “So I think we should train our students, train them to understand how the world looks at them and then having them learn to respond positively to make a difference because the future of this country is in their hands. They need to start preparing themselves for the next senators, the next president. It is not no post-racial America.”

Pedro Noguera, professor of education for New York University, has witnessed the injustice of the justice system first hand. He shared a story of his interaction with an African-American principal who was showing Pedro around his school during a visit. Midway through the tour, the principal saw a little boy waiting to see him in his office.

“He (the principal) says (to me), ‘There’s a prison cell in San Quentin waiting for that little boy.’ And I said, ‘How do you know that?’ And he said, ‘Well, his father’s in prison, his brother’s in prison and I can tell from the way he behaves that he’s going to go to prison.’

“And I said, ‘Well what are you doing to keep him out of prison?’ And he looks at me surprised because that’s not what he was thinking. He was going to get that boy a long-term suspension. The reason why I gave the example is because we see educators who are writing kids off early. Instead of intervening, they are excluding them, they’re relegating them to a path that leads to nowhere and that’s what we’ve got to change, early on.”

Ruth Zambrana, moderator of the panel, shared why this topic is so important and impacts not just her but American society as a whole.

“I think it is a tremendously important topic because it has to do with the intersections of poverty and the consequences of poverty. And one of the consequences of poverty is bad schools and therefore when you’re in bad schools, your life chances and opportunities are very limited,” she said. “I think that we tend to look at all these things in silos. We only look at education or we only look at prisons.”

At the end of the symposium, Johnson said the day’s discussions were only the beginning.

“I think we barely scratched the surface. There are so many things that need to be addressed,” he said. “The fact that so many of our black and brown boys of color are being referred through our schools to juvenile justice is a problem. … We haven’t really talked about the ramifications of these school policies.

“So we need to talk about schools as introducers of black and Latino boys into a life of incarceration. I hope that we can continue this work and take the ideas and put them behind policies so we have data-driven and science-driven policy approaches. So, that I think would be a great start.”

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