U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan was at Austin Community College Friday afternoon meeting with male high school and college students of color. It’s part of the White House’s 'My Brother’s Keeper' initiative to close the achievement gap between young men of color and their peers.
Sitting in a circle, about 15 young African American and Hispanic male students sat with the secretary telling him about their role models, their aspirations and the struggles they face at home and school. Some had disciplinary problems, many were raised by single parents. Others were bullied or said they needed mentors.
Alberto Garcia is an ACC student who’s also taking care of his sister’s son. He says one of the big problems for minority students in low-income neighborhoods is a lack of employment networking opportunities.
“Those are the only resources they have. They don’t have, ‘Well, come over here my dad works for IBM, my dad works for Dell, and here goes this job," Garcia said.
The ‘My Brother’s Keeper’ program started earlier this year. More recently, some young women have asked to be in the mix, after activists criticized the program for excluding females. Duncan says young males of color are farthest behind.
“Yes, we want to lift everybody but we have to have an intentional focus and strategy and dialogue about what we do to strengthen our young men," Duncan says. "Many of these young men, their fathers are not in their lives. And the absence of their fathers is a huge contributor to their challenges."
One area Duncan says schools can focus on—especially in Texas—is reducing the number of minority students who are suspended from school. Last year, one in eight African American students in Austin public schools was suspended at least once.