Protest all you want; the real change happens here.
The most effective protest against racial inequality is an investment in youth development programs. Furthermore, the remedy for the very conditions that you are protesting happen right in your local after-school program.
Never has there been a time when the need to support youth programs in our cities was more urgent. Every day our news feeds are fresh with events highlighting the wrongful deaths of people of color. This is set with a backdrop where a disheartening proportion of Americans affected by COVID-19 in America have been those in Black and Hispanic communities. The frustration is palpable and creating a deeper, widening divide in our politics. But through all these crises, there is no room to argue against the fact that our youth are deserving and in dire need of enriching, educational programs that will make their time outside of studying fun and inspiring. Here are three major reasons why:
1. Social emotional learning has economic benefits
Effective youth programs such as summer camps and after-school programs initiate significant gains in a child’s social emotional learning (SEL). Not only does SEL increase a child’s intangible skills such as self-confidence, self-management, and teamwork, but numerous institutions have pointed to studies suggesting that there are long-term economic benefits, with recipients staying out of trouble and earning higher wages in the long run. Studies conducted in connection with Columbia and Penn State Universities have estimated that for every $1 dedicated to effective SEL programs, the return on investment is between $11 - $21 in long-term benefits to students, schools, families, and communities. This is likely a result of reduced crime rates and public assistance service needs, combined with higher employment rates and tax revenue.
2. Youth employment programs are critical
A known drain on America’s economy has been that millions are unemployed, yet we have a major gap in sectors like health care, education, and information technology, leading to many American companies struggling to compete globally. This is called the “middle skills” gap and it is remedied through training and opportunity after high school but before a bachelor's degree is earned. In addition, as recently noted by a New York Times article, participation in entry-level job programs such as NYC’s Summer Youth Employment Program not only led to “better self-esteem and academic accomplishment,” but also that it “found that the young people who applied but did not get selected were at greater risk of incarceration or death."
3. Mentoring pays forward
No effective youth program is complete without the great role models who mentor our young people. Children remember the names of their favorite counselors and teachers long after attending, and as MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership notes, “disadvantaged youth who have had a mentor are 130% as likely to hold leadership positions, 55% more likely to enroll in college, and 90% more likely to become a mentor.”
What these programs represent is equity, an attempt to alleviate deficits in society’s fairness. That could mean helping little kids in the South Bronx learn how to read – literacy is power. Asking firefighters, union delegates, salon owners, podcasters, photographers to speak to kids in East Harlem – mentoring is contagious. Putting a kid from Brownsville in a life-altering internship that inspires them to choose a major and look for scholarships – fascination is a currency.
“Policing” communities that are under-resourced, under-represented, and perpetually underestimated is tantamount to putting a band-aid on a broken leg. Although people want to protest, donate money to bail out other protesters, and support memorial funds, we simply cannot afford to raise the bare minimum on education, mentorship, job readiness, college access. If we do, we will be right back shouting in front of City Hall, heartbroken over more incidents that showcase glaring inequities for years to come.
There are dedicated institutions whose mission and outcomes support the very building blocks to a prosperous trajectory for young people, particularly those in communities vulnerable to systemic cycles of poverty and racism. And despite any progress that may come out of current calls-to-action for institutional reform, no progress can truly be made without our entire communities donating anything they can, be it small contributions, large donations, or simply spreading the word.
So go ahead and black out your profile picture for a few days for #BLM, repost articles, give money to someone running against your least favorite congressman if you care to. But now is the critical time to ask yourself… which youth charity will you support?