‘Your Life Matters’ summit highlights ways to better serve black youth

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — After months of research, community leaders with the task force “Your Life Matters” showcased their solutions to solve problems young black men face in the city.

Their research found:

  • 40 percent of black children in the city live in poverty.
  • 60 percent of black children live in single-parent households.
  • Black youth are 30 percent less likely to have a mentor than white youth
  • Black males are six times more likely to be incarcerated in Indiana than white males.
  • A young black boy has a 1 in 3 chance of going to prison in his lifetime compared to a 1 in 17 chance for his white male counterpart.

Those are just a few statistics that the task force aims to fix. The categories they focused on were mentoring, justice and re-entry, employment, health, and education.

They wanted to find the root of the problem for young black men for each category. The good news is some of the solutions are already in place.

There are challenges in this classroom. But for students Jermaine Davis and John Coffer, they’re nothing compared to what they used to face on the streets.

Both are high school drop outs who about six months ago realized no education plus no direction was a bad equation.

“Most young people, especially young men of color, experience a lot of pain growing up. So they speak of language, of pain,” said Clint Johnson.

He’s the director of Youthbuild Indy, a federally funded year-long job readiness program that helps students get a GED, learn job skills, and become self-sufficient.

“Everything that they went through and experienced is not all their fault. As adults we have to be and have to assume some of that responsibility,” he said.

Davis and Coffer are two of the 32 students in the program this year.

“These two young men have been through the most, the same struggles as any other young man that’s going through. They came to get guidance. They came to see how they could improve their life,” said Johnson.

That’s part of the message dozens of community leaders want to send across the city.

At the summit for Your Life Matters, people learned how programs like Youthbuild Indy can help young black men avoid a life of crime or at least start over.

“When we make sure that a young person is well educated, well fed, we’re going to see improvement in their life, their standard of living. We’re also going to see crime drop and drop dramatically,” said Troy Riggs, Public Safety Director.

Mentorship was another topic task force members feel have impact the lives of troubled youth.

Ontay Johnson is the executive director for “100 Black Men of Indianapolis,” a non-profit that offers mentorships, said there are plenty of teens who want a role model but not enough adults willing to volunteer.

“What about your neighbor’s son? What about your neighbor’s daughter? She needs you. He needs you,” he said to the crowd at the summit.

Research found that 40 percent of the 601 children currently on the waiting list to receive a mentor through Big Brothers Big Sisters are black boys.

“Our tag line is ‘What they see is what they’ll be.’ And so if you see positive role models in your life then you’re more apt to identify, become what you see,” he said.

If you’d like to be a mentor through 100 Black Men of Indianapolis, click here.

To get registered for Youthbuild Indy, click here or call 317-602-3260.

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