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The Case for Including Girls in 'My Brother's Keeper'

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Many women and girls of color believe President Obama's My Brother's Keeper initiative is unfairly overlooking their gender. The president launched the effort to "to address persistent opportunity gaps faced by boys and young men of color and ensure that all young people can reach their full potential." Efforts include recruiting mentors, collecting data about black and Latino boys, and partnering with private organizations to address educational challenges.

U.S. Secretary of Education  Arne Duncan and officials from the White House Initiative on Education Excellence for African Americans participated in a Philadelphia roundtable today as part of My Brother's Keeper efforts.

"Boys of color are too often born into poverty and live with a single parent," a fact sheet about the initiative says. "And while their gains contributed to the national high school graduation rate reaching an all-time high, in some school districts dropout rates remain high. Too many of these boys and young men will have negative interactions with the juvenile and criminal justice system, and the dream of a college education is within grasp for too few."

But those problems are also true for girls of color, proponents of expanding the initiative say. I mentioned in an Absolute Best School Climate round-up a few weeks ago this June letter from more than 1,000 black and Latina women and girls questioning why the effort only targets boys. From the letter:

"The need to acknowledge the crisis facing boys should not come at the expense of addressing the stunted opportunities for girls who live in the same households, suffer in the same schools, and struggle to overcome a common history of limited opportunities caused by various forms of discrimination.

We simply cannot agree that the effects of these conditions on women and girls should pale to the point of invisibility, and are of such little significance that they warrant zero attention in the messaging, research, and resourcing of this unprecedented Initiative. When we acknowledge that both our boys and girls struggle against the odds to succeed, and we dream about how, working together, we can develop transformative measures to help them realize their highest aspirations, we cannot rest easy on the notion that the girls must wait until another train comes for them. Not only is there no exceedingly persuasive reason not to include them, the price of such exclusion is too high and will hurt our communities and country for many generations to come."

In addition to the problems that face boys of color, girls from racial and ethnic minority groups face high rates of sexual assualt, rape, and violence, the letter says. And the needs of boys of color are more well-known not because they are more significant, but because they are researched at greater depth, the letter says. "Although the exclusion of girls has been justified as data-driven, the fact is that little data is gathered on them," it says. "This situation creates a vicious cycle in which the assumptions that girls are not in crisis leads to research and policy interventions that overlook them, thus reinforcing their exclusion from efforts like MBK to bring successful programs to scale."

To be sure,  black and Latino males are frequently the subject of some of the most startling statistics related to incarceration and school discipline disparities. But girls in those groups often face challenges at higher rates than their white peers, the data show. The newest nationwide survey by the Education Department's office of civil rights shows that both black boys and black girls are suspended at much higher rates than their white peers of the same gender.suspension rates.JPG

It's an interesting discussion. On the one hand, maybe the initiative can accomplish deeper impacts by targeting efforts toward a narrower group. On the other hand, if girls face many similar challenges, many say it makes little sense to overlook them. The African American Policy Forum hosted a webinar this week about the subject, sharing with the Twitter hashtag #WhyWeCantWait. Here are some of thoughts from participants in that discussion.

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