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Philanthropic Investments Focus on Rural Boys of Color

Cross-posted from District Dossier.

By Lesli A. Maxwell

Improving the lives of boys of color has become a more urgent public policy issue in the last couple of years, most recently evidenced by President Barack Obama's collection of initiatives known as  "My Brother's Keeper, which 60  big-city school districts have joined.

But the challenges facing boys who live and attend schools in remote and rural communities differ from those faced by their peers in more urbanized settings.

That's why the leaders of a new philanthropic endeavor are sinking new resources into an effort that specifically targets the needs of African American, Latino, and American Indian boys who live in rural communities in the South and Southwest. 

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, working with Public Interest Projects, announced this week that it will invest $415,000 apiece in so-called "catalyst grants" in four different regional philanthropies that will put up matching dollars to then invest in local nonprofit partners already working directly with young men of color in their communities. It's part of the Robert Wood Johnson's broader $11.5 million "Forward Promise Initiative" to improve the health and academic outcomes for middle school and high school boys of color.

Maisha Simmons, a program officer for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, wrote in a blog post that most of the organizations that originally sought grants through Forward Promise were located in major cities, revealing a need for the foundation to tailor part of its grantmaking to the states that stretch across the southern United States.

"If we want to build a culture of health for young men of color in America, we cannot ignore rural communities," Simmons said in a press release.

The four regional philanthropy groups that will be heading up the local grantmaking include:

  • Black Belt Community Foundation--the organization works across 12 mostly-rural counties in Alabama where roughly one-third of the population lives below the poverty line. Improving educational outcomes, health, and increasing employment opportunities for African-American boys is its focus.
  • First Nations Development Institute--the nonprofit will provide grants to local partners who work with Native American boys and  young men in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. Its focus will be on projects that address dropout prevention, increasing middle school retention and high school graduation rates, and re-engaging youth who have dropped out or are not employed.
  • Foundation for the Mid South--the philanthropy will support projects for 16 to 21-year-old African-American males living in rural communities in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi with an emphasis on efforts that use tutoring, mentoring, and counseling to help them graduate from high school and secure employement.
  • Hispanics in Philanthropy--the nonprofit group will partner with local providers in Arizona and New Mexico on projects that have proven to increase education, health, and employment outcomes for Latino boys and young men.
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