Young People Really Are Our Future: Making It a Bright One

The course to all of our health and prosperity starts with changing the odds for our sons and brothers which will build opportunity for all of us. There are real signs of hope and momentum building around the country.
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I've been thinking a lot about the future lately. I turned 58 this year and my sense of urgency about what kind of country we are leaving our children has gone into turbo speed. I have the great privilege of living in California, where many say we see the future first. And in the Golden State, it's becoming quite clear that our future is in color. Seventy percent of youth under 25 identify as people of color, according to the latest Census. Across the U.S., the majority of our youth will be young people of color before 2020. These kinds of numbers demand that we plan in a new way for health and prosperity.

From these numbers, we see that our future is inseparable from the future of young people of color. And I take this analysis a step further: we know that boys of color have many of the worst outcomes in terms of health, education and employment. It's easy to lose hope when we look at the barriers facing boys of color. One example is new national data analyzed by UCLA that spotlights how harsh school discipline pushes hundreds of thousands of young people out of school and off track as early as Kindergarten.

But we can't lose hope because we can't afford to let this continue. The course to all of our health and prosperity starts with changing the odds for our sons and brothers which will build opportunity for all of us.

There are real signs of hope and momentum building around the country.

In California, state legislators are focused on advancing common sense school discipline, increasing graduation rates and improving health access for young people through health care reform, under the leadership of the Assembly Select Committee on the Status of Boys and Men of Color and their partners.

In early April, The California Endowment joined 25 of the nation's leading philanthropic organizations to pledge to work together to address the issues facing boys and young men of color. Foundation leaders committed to promote promising approaches, advocate for effective public policy and invest in America's future by investing in young men of color.

Leadership is coming from the White House as well. President Obama will soon introduce the Presidential Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for African Americans.

Let me say a bit more on the epidemic of harsh discipline. In California, the state suspends more students than it sends to college each year, according to the California Department of Education.

The decision to suspend a student represents a high-stakes moment in the life of a young person. Research shows that even one suspension doubles a student's likelihood of dropout and triples his chance of becoming involved in the juvenile justice system.

This doesn't bode well for our future. There is a better way. Schools in California and across the nation have started to use proven approaches to school discipline that keep kids in school while holding them accountable for their actions. Schools using these approaches also see an increase in test scores.

Outside of school, our young people experience high levels of violence and toxic stress in their communities. Two of three children are exposed to violence every year. Exposure to childhood trauma is the leading predictor of school misbehavior and the second leading predictor of academic failure. But it can be reversed. Providing counseling services has been shown to help kids process their feelings and behave better in school.

Trauma-informed approaches have been incorporated into the implementation of health care reform, which has the potential to greatly enhance the health of boys and young men of color. These young men often have limited access to health insurance which means they cannot access a doctor when they are sick.

Under health care reform, young men will be able to join a health system that is more accessible, more cost-effective and more focused on keeping us well. Health care reform also incorporates mental health and substance abuse treatment services for the first time.

These are just a few solutions that are making health happen for and bettering the lives of our sons and brothers and in the course of it, for all of us. Young people, wherever they live, should have access to the tools and resources they need to grow up healthy and happy. That is the promise of America. And that is the America that will put us on a path to health and prosperity.