Broader Systems Change Recommendations
Transforming our communities for a better nation

While we believe pathways are needed for individuals to climb out of poverty, we also think big changes in various systems are needed to transform our communities. It should not take heroic resilience and major investments for individuals to tri­umph over systemic barriers. We need to create safe, welcoming, opportunity-rich communities for every child born in America.

Below we outline our initial thoughts in the areas of education, criminal justice, community development, and family.

Education is the key pathway for individuals to transcend poverty and for our nation to succeed economically and socially. We support the following as ele­ments of a successful public system of education:

  • Quality Head Start and other pre-kindergarten options
  • High-quality, passionate, caring teachers who are skilled, experienced, and culturally competent to work with low-income students
  • Well-managed, safe, organized schools with predictable policies and procedures
  • Instruction that is relevant and rigorous, that includes high level of engage­ment, high standards, and prepares students for college and careers
  • Increased funding—and more effective use of existing funding—that allows for:
    • Smaller classes
    • Individualized academic supports for students
    • Enough staff in the classroom to support all students and help them learn
    • Grouping by learning style
    • More technology resources like computers and internet access
    • More support for bilingual students
    • Guidance counselors
    • Enrichment programs such as art, music, poetry, and sports
    • Training in financial literacy, asset development, and entrepreneurship
    • Internships
  • Curriculum that includes the young people’s cultural history in an accu­rate and fair manner, life skills, and information about college access
  • Assessment measures that take into account different learning styles, are not too burdensome, and don’t put all the attention on the tests
  • Disciplinary policies that are used as learning opportunities, are more restorative than punitive, and that don’t serve as a pipeline to prison through expulsion
  • Greater community connection with the schools, engaging parents and family, police, and positive role models from the community
  • A college-going culture that offers early exposure to college and career options, and full information about college access
  • Multiple pathways to success, including college, technical trade schools, and internships. Each pathway should respect a student’s skills and inter­ests and not direct a student towards a single career pathway—college ver­sus trade schools, for example—based on race or income level
  • Second-chance alternative or charter schools for students who left high school without a diploma
  • A funding structure that does not favor wealthier communities

All of these elements should add up to schools in which every student knows that the teachers and other adults respect and care about them and are committed to their success.

Too many of our peers are expected to be dead or in jail before they are 25, and many internalize this expectation for themselves. We see evidence all around us that this is what happens in our neighborhoods when young men and women fall off track. It appears that the pipeline to prison has been well laid. We need young people to have ways to break this cycle. The improvements listed above in the public schools will help break that pipeline. In addition we support the following:

  • A renewed effort to build collaborative community commitment to safety and crime prevention by:
    • Engaging churches and community centers in supporting children and youth
    • Providing mental health and grief counseling for children and youth who have lost friends and family members through violence
    • Highlighting positive role models in the neighborhood
    • Rebuilding relationships and communication between the police and the community so residents can trust police and work with them
    • Making sure police are actually policing the hot spots instead of ignor­ing them
    • Training police in community relationships, sensitivity, and not stereo­typing young men of color and communities of color
    • Creating safe routes for children to get to school, and safe playgrounds
    • Bringing back activity programs like the Police Athletic League
    • Encouraging residents to take responsibility for correcting each other
    • Making sure young people and all residents are aware of the laws and the consequences of various types of action; new laws should be publi­cized widely
       
  • The elimination of unfair sentencing
    • Juveniles should not be sentenced as adults
    • Black, Hispanic, and Native American individuals should not be sub­ject to more severe sentences than white individuals who committed a similar crime
    • Mandatory sentences should be eliminated, “three strikes you’re out laws” reversed, and judges should have more discretion to recognize the potential of offenders to benefit from alternatives to incarceration
       
  • Second chances for youthful offenders to rebuild their lives
    • Create pathways other than incarceration for lesser offenses
    • Provide high quality education and group reflection behind the walls
    • Provide re-entry programs smoothing the path to employment, educa­tion, and community service
    • Allow for expunging records
    • Allow ex-offenders to submit their achievements to the criminal history systems bank so that potential employers can see not only the criminal record but the subsequent positive actions
    • Do not permanently deny offenders the right to public housing, voting, scholarships, running for office, and the like
       
  • Stop expanding the for-profit prison system. We do not believe that some people should have a financial stake in other people being incarcerated

We envision a community that is empowered and educated to know that every individual’s actions matter—that what you do, what you buy, whether you vote, whether you help your neighbors, matters. We need role models and leaders to carry out campaigns for engagement, for building social, financial, educational, and cultural capital. We would like to see residents of all ages volunteering to benefit the community. We would also aim to break the cycle of dependence and generate opportunity for residents to take responsibility for themselves and their community.

Some specifics in our vision include:

  • Access to basic services like low-cost public transportation, public health clinics, affordable housing, good public schools, weatherized homes, child care, healthy food, and neighborhood gardens
  • Special attention to the needs of tribal and rural communities for low cost public transportation, broadband access, and rights to natural resources especially including water
  • Voter registration, education, and engagement
  • Youth forums to strengthen youth knowledge and voice
  • A process of engaging youth in mapping the assets and needs of their communities and making these known to others, using a zip code search process
  • Basic community organizing, knocking on every door, to engage people in community improvement projects
  • A full array of positive recreational activities including football, basketball, soccer, music and art
  • Support for small business and nonprofit development: training, capital, loans, fundraising assistance

In our experience the reality of family has changed, and so has the definition of family. Most of us do not have two parents. In our families the oldest boy is the man, siblings raise siblings, foster care or grandparent care is common. We deal with negative family influences daily, including drugs and alcohol, unemploy­ment, dependency, and poverty. The family once influenced and defined society. Now it seems that various forces in society have broken our families.

For children and youth to overcome these negative influences, society must find ways to answer our deep need for human connection. Every child needs a father or another strong positive male influence, and we all need a mother, someone to talk to, someone to hug us, whether it’s a blood relationship or not. We need something we can call a family, where we know that people care about us. We are struggling to answer the questions “Who Am I” and “What’s my Purpose in Life?” We need people to help us answer these questions.

In a larger sense, we also need to belong to a more united society with a posi­tive culture that does not discriminate against people based on race or culture, income level, or residential zip code, and where neighbors take an interest in each other and help each other. We understand this is a big challenge. Neighbors are more afraid of helping each other than they used to be.

Here are some specific suggestions:

  • Strengthen all nonprofit community-based support organizations for children and youth, including things like Big Brothers, Big Sisters, com­munity centers, and all forms of mentoring programs.
  • Create caring and smaller school communities where teachers and coun­selors take a personal interest in the students.
  • Reform foster care, screening foster parents much more thoroughly and making sure the motive for serving as foster parents is not money.
  • Add respectful and sensitive curriculum in schools and community cen­ters about various groups’ cultural history to help us answer the question, “Who Am I?” and to counteract the internalized negative stereotypes that we experience growing up.
  • Expand the job, education, and service programs that allow us to belong to a positive peer group gaining skills, supporting each other, finding car­ing mentors, and giving service to our communities, so we can build a positive identity and realize that we have value and can build a responsi­ble future. This brings us back to our top recommendations.
  • We believe that in the absence of a strong family it does take a village to raise a child. However, not only our families but also our villages are in disrepair. Now it will take a nation to repair the village.
  • We ask the leaders of our nation to please invest in the programs that have already saved our own and many other young lives, and will do the same for the young people coming behind us. These programs help repair our villages and they cre­ate surrogate families.
     

Be sure to check out our SIX PRIORITY RECOMMENDATIONS  and our PRINCIPLES FOR ACTION.

Our economic system needs to provide adequate employment and entrepreneurial opportunities for all to earn and contribute at the highest level possible, while producing useful products and infrastructure, and not destroying the planet as a habitat for humans.

EMPLOYMENT

Employers should:

  • Provide internships and hire opportunity youth, consistent with the 100K Opportunities Initiative of employers;
     
  • Provide the training, education opportunities, and support systems that  enable employees to advance;
     
  • Offer a decent minimum wage, health insurance, and sick days (including to care for sick family members);
     
  • “Ban the box,” that is, not require potential employees to indicate on their applications if they have a criminal conviction.

Unions should:

  • Make pre-apprenticeships and apprenticeships available for opportunity youth.
     

FINANCIAL LITERACY AND ASSET DEVELOPMENT

Schools, job training programs, community-based organizations, one-stop job centers, and even banks should:

  • Provide training in financial planning, credit management, savings, home ownership, avoidance of predatory loans, investment;
     
  • Connect young people to Individual Development Accounts (IDAs) for asset development.

ENTREPRENEURSHIP

Government and nonprofits should:

  • Offer small-business development opportunities in low-income communities for entrepreneurs, including low-interest loans; business incubation centers with co-working space, computer access, mentors, and training in business planning and pitching to investors; and other support.

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