Literacy organization partners with DC Schools to improve reading

Seven-year-old Marqies Clark makes reading a priority by digging into at least one book a day. The second grader at Aiton Elementary in Northeast told ABC7 News, “It is very important for people so you can get smarter.”

Clark is doing exactly that with the the help of an organization called Reading Partners. Executive Director Karen Gardner explained, “Students enrolled in Reading Partners are any where from a few months behind grade level in reading to up to two and a half years behind grade level in reading. We work with them with a very tailored approach to help them close their literacy gap.”

The national program places volunteer tutors in 20 of D.C.’s neediest schools. The goal is to have students reading at grade level by the fourth grade. According to Reading Partners, students who are not reading at grade level by the fourth grade are four times less likely to graduate from high school on time.

Aiton Elementary Principal Malaika Golden added, “The one-on-one tutoring allows us to pair up students with a tutor and meet them where they are and they get that individualized attention; something that a classroom teacher with multiple students can’t necessarily provide every day.”

The White House invited Reading Partners to share details of its success at the My Brother’s Keeper What Works Showcase in October. Gardner says the program that once served 200 D.C. public school students is now assisting 975. “As a result of our program, 87 percent of our students this year were able to gain the essential skills that they needed to be on track to becoming proficient readers,” she offered.

Seven-year-old Essence Greene likes getting the extra attention from her reading tutor. “I think it’s fun,” she shared.

To learn more about Reading Partners or to volunteer as a tutor go to


Midstate police working to reduce minority youth arrests

Reducing the numbers of minority youth entering the criminal justice system is the goal of a Susquehanna Township program that is expanding across Dauphin County.

In the five years that Susquehanna Township has had a Disproportionate Minority Contact subcommittee, the rate of black youths arrested compared to whites has dropped by four times, said Lt. Francia Done, who leads the group.

Harrisburg is working to expand its DMC program into neighboring Dauphin County municipalities, said Karl Singleton, adviser to Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse.

The U.S. Department of Justice has mandated states to take steps to reduce disproportionate numbers of minorities at key stages in the juvenile justice system. The Pa. Commission on Crime and Delinquency funds DMC programs across the state.

Robert Martin, Susquehanna Township director of public safety, said the DMC subcommittee has helped promote understanding between the community and police, for police “to understand how we are being seen and perceived.”

“The goal overall is to reduce the number of minority youth entering the criminal justice system,” Done said, in part by educating youth on how to stay safe and teaching them what to do and not do when they encounter police.

She estimated the minority population in the township and school district at about 50 percent. When the DMC program began about five years, the Relative Rate Index for arrest of black youth compared with the total population was just over 4. It’s now around 1, Done said.

The Relative Rate Index is calculated by dividing the arrest rate of a minority group with the total population.

According to PCCD, black youths are more likely to be arrested for certain offenses, be detained before trial and be placed in secure facilities than white youth.

Susquehanna Township’s DMC program has held four youth forums for students in grades 6 and 10 to educate them and promote discussion on law enforcement and criminal justice issues,

Done believes the forums, along with Susquehanna Township School District’s programs, have made an impact.

“I attribute it to our kids,” Done said, also giving credit to Susquehanna Township School District, where most juvenile arrests originate.

“I think the school is doing a great job encouraging positive behavior, teaching the consequences, and my guess is they are defusing issues before they escalate,” she said.

Martin adds, “I believe with education and understanding, discretion is perhaps better applied and relations improved.”

Tod Kline, superintendent of Susquehanna Township School District, said Susquehanna Township police have built relationships with the community. Officers walk through school buildings regularly, and the School Resource Officer is well-liked by students.

Kline said the school district is one of the most diverse in the state, reflecting the community. “The diversity of the township is our district’s strength. The township police value it, too,” Kline said.

What Susquehanna Township DMC program offers

The theme of the township’s DMC program is “You Only Live Once – Make good Choices.” The yearly day-long youth forums are voluntary “field trips” for the sixth and 10th graders in Susquehanna Township. This year almost all sixth graders took part (more than 150) on June 2, while about 86 sophomores attended their forum in October.

The forums have been funded the past two years with a grant of about $50,000 from the Pa. Department of Crime and Delinquency.

The sessions focus on explaining why police do what they do, with hands-on sessions and reenactment of real-life scenarios.

Sophomores get to take part in mock traffic stops and police encounters, use a driving simulator that shows the dangers of texting and impaired driving, and learn about the different kinds of police searches and use of force guidelines. There are also sessions on cyber-crime, including bullying on social media and dangers of sexting, motivational speakers and question/answer session with attorneys.

Done said frequent comments she’s heard from students include “You stop people for no reason,” as well as “Why can police do whatever they want and get away with it?”

“The main goal is for everyone to be safe, and understand what police officers doing,” Done said, while police also get a better understanding of what kids are thinking today.

Done said she’s still surprised people are hesitant to talk to a police officer, and the forums allow youth to meet police and realize “we’re people too At the end of the day I just want to go home to my family and be safe. That’s my goal for every citizen as well – that I can help everyone go home safely.”

“We want them to understand that being a police officer is a very dangerous and difficult occupation, and that certain core elements of civility need to exist for all of us such as respect, courtesy and support,” Martin said.

He added that the program is an ongoing recruitment tool, showing how officers can make a difference in the lives of those they serve.

For the future, Done said they are planning the first parents’ forum. Martin said he hopes to keep Susquehanna Township’s program running even as a county-wide DMC program begins.

What’s happening elsewhere

In Harrisburg, Karl Singleton has met with eight police departments to get the DMC program running throughout Dauphin County. Those participating, in addition to Harrisburg and Susquehanna Township, are Lower Paxton, Lower Swatara and Swatara townships, along with Middletown, Penbrook and Steelton.

Harrisburg School District, Pa. Human Relations Commission, PCCD and Dauphin County district attorney, probation and parole and several judges are also involved.

Singleton said the effort is to reduce “disproportionate arrest rates of black and brown youth in comparison to their Caucasian counterparts.”

“All youth are in this equation,” Singleton said, with arrest of white youth also a concern.

The DMC effort examines cases where minority youth are disproportionately arrested. “No one is getting preferential treatment,” Singleton said.

“But we would like to know whether some may or may not be getting preferential treatment or access to diversionary program, counselors, other options sometimes available to some as opposed to all,” he added.

“The ultimate goal is crime eradication, and that we don’t have to talk about adult recidivism, because we’re proactively engaging young people early,” Singleton said.

Harrisburg began looking at DMC  about 10 years ago, but the administration then did not pursue the program. Singleton said Harrisburg doesn’t have the malls and movie theaters that attract young people to the suburbs, which is where some are being arrested.

“Our young people that are coming in contact with the law, they’re embedded in the suburban numbers, which is why it is necessary for us to take a regional approach. This DMC piece does not have any borders,” Singleton said.

Law enforcement has been “very willing participants,” Singleton adds. “There’s been no pushback from any of them. They understand the value in today’s climate of the opportunity to highlight the good law enforcement can offer,” he said.

Singleton said they will use Susquehanna Township’s youth forums with police as a model, and hope to bring in national speakers to address parents.

Harrisburg is using My Brother’s Keeper 21st Century Policing recommendations as a guide. Another strategy is promoting community safe spaces as a diversion for students who are suspended from school or headed toward the prison system.

Workshops for youth, parents and law enforcement are being conducted by the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, Morehouse College and Morgan State University.

100 Black Men of America chapter is forming, and the Police Athletic League is involved in mentoring youth.

Minority youth are also learning about careers in the legal system, to attract more to that profession.

Helping to strengthen families are partnerships with Christian Recovery Aftercare Ministries, HACC and the South Central Workforce Investment Board.

In Swatara Township, Chief Jason Umberger said he is working with Singleton in his efforts to start a countywide group.

Umberger said he did DMC training in October with the eighth grade at Swatara Middle School. “We have much work to do moving forward,” he said.

Police in both Swatara and Susquehanna township have participated in training through the YWCA of Greater Harrisburg on forming better relationships with minority communities.

Chief John Bey of Middletown said DMC doesn’t mean police aren’t arresting minorities when they commit crimes.

“We are equal opportunity arrestors,” he said. “You have to have balance. The issue is when contact with minorities for the same crime results in more arrests for minorities, for whatever reason,” Bey said.

There are also DMC groups in Lancaster, Philadelphia, Allentown, and Allegheny and Berks counties, as well as Dauphin.

Here is the Relative Rate Index regarding minority youth arrests for some midstate communities, based on 2014 population data and 2015 arrest data (Source: PCCD). The RRI is the black or minority arrest rate divided by the white rate:

  • Harrisburg: 0.38 black, 0.25 all minorities
  • Middletown: 1.33 black, 0.65 all minorities
  • Steelton: 1.16 black; 1.1 all minorities
  • Susquehanna Township: 1.47 black, 1.21 all minorities
  • Swatara Township: 11.38 black, 3.03 all minorities
  • Lower Paxton Township: 10.61 black; 3.95 all minorities
  • Penbrook: 8.25 black; 2.9 all minorities

My Brother’s Keeper connects young Detroiters to jobs at career summit

My Brother’s Keeper Alliance (MBK Alliance), a nonprofit born out of President Obama’s call to action to expand opportunities for boys and young men of color, helped to connect hundreds of young Detroiters with jobs at its Pathways to Success: Boys and Young Men of Color Opportunity Summit in Detroit. The summit was sponsored by the Office of Mayor Mike Duggan, Campaign for Black Male Achievement (CBMA), and the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Many of those attending the summit on Monday received on-the-spot job offers, while others received other forms of support to help them along their career path.

  “My Brother’s Keeper Alliance works across the nation to break down the systemic and structural barriers that too often keep boys and young men of color from gainful employment. Our Opportunity Summits are catalyzing community events that engage public, private, and nonprofit leaders to address these challenges and achieve significant impact,” said MBK Alliance CEO, Blair Taylor. “Mayor Duggan, the City of Detroit, and other local partners have led the way with local My Brother’s Keeper efforts that are critical to the achievement of our mission. The demonstrated commitment by the City of Detroit’s philanthropic and corporate partners to boys and young men of color offers a powerful opportunity to address workforce challenges and build a positive future for all in Detroit.”

 MBK Alliance’s inaugural Opportunity Summit held in July in Oakland, California, resulted in thousands of participants connecting to supportive services and hundreds of on-the-spot job offers for young people in the Bay Area.  For today’s event, MBK Alliance and SER Metro-Detroit partnered to offer pre-trainings in the weeks leading up to the summit to help attendees increase their chances of success securing a job at the summit. In addition to on-site job interviews, the summit featured a wide variety of career readiness opportunities such as resume development services, mock interviews, legal advising, and pre-interview haircuts from local barbershops.

 “We are excited to partner with MBK Alliance and our other partners on this summit to prepare our youth for career opportunities and to help them connect with prospective employers,” said Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. “Through programs such as this one and others like Grow Detroit’s Young Talent, we are doing a better job of helping young men of color be prepared to meet the growing opportunity that exists in our city.”\

A growing list of confirmed employer partners that provided on-the-spot job offers and/or career support and exploration activities at the summit included: Starbucks, Lyft, FedEx, Macy’s, Walgreens, Sprint, the City of Detroit, Barton Malow, Red Lobster, the Detroit Lions, Uber, Whole Foods Market, CVS Health, J&G Pallets and Trucking, Henry Ford Health System, Detroit Animal Care and Control, Performance Driven Workforce, Detroit Water and Sewage Department, Slyde Restaurant, Detroit School for Digital Technology, Team Schostak Family Restaurants, Detroit Electrical Training Center, United Lawnscape, Linc, Meijer, Ideal Group, and Center Line Electric.

 “We are honored to partner with MBK Alliance to support its Detroit Opportunity Summit to build on the growing efforts of Mayor Duggan and local partners like the Skillman Foundation to improve the life outcomes for boys and young men of color,” said CBMA CEO, Shawn Dove. “CBMA and MBK Alliance are in the midst of a growing, collaborative movement to support cities like Detroit to achieve measurable outcomes of success in such areas as education, work, family, and safety for black men and boys and young men of color. The CBMA team witnessed first-hand the remarkable impact of the MBK Alliance Oakland Opportunity Summit this summer and we’re thrilled to play an active role in replicating that success in Detroit.”

 MBK Alliance’s Detroit summit is one of a series of catalyzing events and programs that the organization delivers in cities and communities across the country. MBK Alliance will work in Oakland, Detroit, Newark, Albuquerque, and Memphis as priority cities in the coming year, and the organization will provide resources in 2017 and beyond to the 250+ communities that have accepted the White House’s My Brother’s Keeper Community Challenge. Two examples of broader supports are a partnership with AmeriCorps VISTA that will send full-time resources to eleven nonprofits, city governments, and educational institutions across the country – including CBMA – as well as the 2017 launch of an MBK Alliance online community to share resources and best practices.

 For more information, including volunteer and attendee opportunities, please visit For information on employer and nonprofit partnerships or general summit information, contact

My Brother’s Keeper Alliance (MBK Alliance) is an independent, nonpartisan 501(c)(3) born out of President Obama’s call to action to ensure all of our nation’s boys and young men of color (BYMOC) have equal opportunity to live up to their full potential. In order to improve life outcomes, MBK Alliance is working to elevate the voices of our nation’s BYMOC and to unite business, philanthropy, nonprofit, government, community leaders, and youth around this critical work. This collaborative, cross-sectoral movement led by MBK Alliance is breaking down barriers that BYMOC disproportionately face along the life path to create lasting social change. MBK Alliance was established in 2015 and appointed former Starbucks executive Blair Taylor as CEO in April 2016.

In Chicago, can ‘thinking slow’ prevent crime?

November 5, 2016 In a large classroom on Chicago’s South Side, six teenagers in the Becoming a Man program sit in a tight circle with their counselor and talk about their summers. DJ, a tall boy with glasses, tells the group that he gave his girlfriend a promise ring. The boys laugh, teasing him and congratulating him in equal measure.

But when everyone settles down, DJ becomes serious. He says he’s been moving around a lot. He’s been trying to get bond money for his dad, who’s in jail. And he got into an argument with a boy from a rival high school after the boy threatened him and trashed the swimming pool where DJ worked as a lifeguard.

“I got to the level where I wanted to fight with him,” DJ, who asked that his last name not be used. “I told him to meet me after work.”

But DJ ultimately decided not to fight, choosing to work at a pool in another neighborhood instead. His counselor, Michael Anderson, was pleased: Small disagreements can quickly escalate into life or death fights for youth in Chicago.

The city has had more than 620 homicides so far this year, making 2016 the deadliest year in more than two decades. Gang violence and the heroin epidemic play a role. Police also say that the spike in violence is partly due to tensions between officers and communities of color following the release of several police shooting videos, including that of black teenager Laquan McDonald in 2015.

The school-based mentoring program meeting here today is trying to address these problems by helping young men like DJ stop and think before they respond with violence. And they are having some impressive success.

A study by the University of Chicago Crime Lab found that Youth Guidance’s BAM effort – which involves 3,000 young men in grades 7 through 12 in 51 schools – decreased violent crime arrests by 50 percent and increased high school graduation rates by 19 percent. The researchers estimated that based on the costs of crime alone, society gained up to $30 for every $1 invested in BAM.

Run by the nonprofit Youth Guidance, BAM has also garnered the support of President Obama, who sat in on a BAM circle in Chicago in 2013. The president’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative – a mentoring plan aimed at helping young men of color reach their full potential – was partially inspired by that visit. According to the White House, nearly 250 communities across the nation have established mentoring programs since My Brother’s Keeper was launched in 2014. Mentoring programs have been shown to increase an at-risk youth’s school attendance rate and reduce the likelihood that they will use illegal drugs or drink.

The key to BAM’s success, researchers say, is its use of the principles of cognitive behavioral therapy to help young men examine their instantaneous responses to everyday situations.

“Some 70 percent of homicides stem from an altercation that escalates. They’re murders that sort of happens in the moment,” explains Anuj Shah, an associate professor of behavioral science at the University of Chicago Booth School of Busines, who co-authored the study. “BAM is about getting young men to think about their thinking, to slow down and notice their thought patterns or the automatic ways that they respond to a situation.”

Professor Shah says that people often think that events around them make them act a certain way. One of the goals of cognitive behavioral therapy, however, is to help people see that there are multiple ways of interpreting events, and to slow down their responses to them.

While BAM is not a therapy, it uses CBT’s principles of “slow thinking” in its curriculum and meeting structure. BAM participants gather for an hour once a week in a small group, called a circle, with their counselor. Every session begins with a check-in where the counselor asks about their week or how they’re doing physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. The counselor will also check how the boys did with the homework assignment from the previous week.

Then the group works through exercises in the BAM manual. The curriculum is organized around six core values: integrity, accountability, self-determination, positive anger expression, visionary goal-setting, and respect for women. While studying a particular value, they might watch an inspiring video or do an exercise. Before teaching, every BAM counselor goes through the lessons themselves with a group of other counselors, so they can better understand what challenges each exercise poses.

For the anger expression unit, for example, counselors bring in boxing gloves and have the students hit focus mitts. It’s a way for the students to learn how to express anger in a healthy way, says counselor Michael Anderson.

“I challenge [the students] to find their own way of expressing anger, whether it’s listening to music, playing sports, lifting weights, or yelling in a pillow,” says Mr. Anderson. “If you have to get anger out, get it out. But find a way to get it out that doesn’t hurt yourself and doesn’t affect others.”

Every BAM session ends with a check-out time, where the young men can say how they’ve changed in the past hour. If the students want to talk more, they can visit their BAM counselor for a drop-in session or schedule an hour-long private counseling session. Since BAM counselors have offices at the schools where BAM operates, they are available to students throughout the school day.

Anderson says that the conversations he has with the students are one of the most important aspects of his work. The students can vent their feelings and talk about the challenges they are facing at home or at school. Anderson can then help them pick apart the decisions they’ve made so far to address those challenges and make suggestions on how they might set goals for the future.

Anderson says that he wishes he had that kind of a safe place to talk when he was growing up.

“I pretty much had the same group of friends my whole life and we never had a conversation like these guys have, because of the stigma,” says Anderson. “Especially as a black man, you don’t talk about stuff like that. That’s soft. That’s emotional. That’s what girls talk about. But, no, it’s needed. It’s very needed. Because it’s going to come out eventually and usually from my experience it doesn’t always come out in the best way.”

Kobe, a 16-year-old, knows this well. He says he joined BAM to better his life. He was having trouble with his step-dad and getting angry a lot. Before meeting Anderson, he didn’t have anyone he could go to for advice.

“[BAM] has helped me express my anger some,” says Kobe. “I can go to my counselor and talk to him and explain how I felt and tell him what’s going on. And he’ll give me positive feedback and recommendations.”

Kobe visits Anderson nearly every day now. He says that with the help of his counselor, he’s learned to cope with some of his family problems. He no longer lives with his step-dad and is devoting more time to playing guitar. Thanks to BAM, he also left Illinois for the first time recently, to go on a college tour.

The University of Chicago Crime Lab is working on a set of core design principles for mentoring programs that want to incorporate cognitive behavioral therapy in their work. Researcher Shah says that as more mentorships start teaching at-risk young people how to “think slow,” society can hope to see less violence among youth.

“The truth is, everybody acts automatically from time to time,” says Shah. “It’s just that people growing up in violent neighborhoods pay a higher cost if they don’t pause and reflect.”

Sprint wants to bridge the digital divide for 1 million low-income high school students

On Tuesday, the Sprint Foundation announced an initiative that aims to tackle the digital divide by helping 1 million low-income students close the homework gap due to lack of access to technology.

The initiative, called the 1Million Project, will provide students with a device such as a smartphone or laptop and 3GB of high-speed LTE data each month. Students will receive unlimited data at 2G speeds if their usage exceeds 3GB in a month and smartphones can be used as hotspots for unlimited domestic calling and texting while they are on the Sprint network, according to Sprint.

Sprint said it will work alongside nonprofit agencies EveryoneOn and My Brother’s Keeper Alliance to recruit community organizations, such as schools and libraries, to implement the program.

The digital divide and subsequent homework gap students in lower income communities face are very real matters. The Pew Research Center estimates that five million U.S. families with school-aged children lack broadband access at home, even as low-income children are four times more likely to lack access to broadband than their middle and upper income counterparts. Moreover, the Federal Communications Commission’s Broadband Task Force found that 70 percent of teachers assign their students homework that requires Internet access.

The 1Million pilot program will begin in 2017 in seven to 10 markets, according to Sprint. A nationwide rollout is planned for the start of the 2017-2018 school year.

Sprint has implemented other technology initiatives for low-income students in the past. In 2014, the company said it planned to provide K-12 students in low-income school districts with wireless broadband through President Obama’s ConnectED and My Brother’s Keeper initiatives.

“Through our participation in ConnectED, we heard loud and clear that students need devices and internet access to complete their homework,” said Marcelo Clure, Sprint CEO, on the company’s website. “Sprint’s 1Million Project is an end-to-end solution that enables 1 million low-income youth to keep learning after they leave the classroom.”