Foundations that Last a Lifetime
Firearm violence plagues communities in a number of large cities across the United States. This violence is linked to children's access to high-quality education. Mark and Gabe are two residents in Philadelphia who differ in age, but have grown up in similar environments. They have both experienced the realities of under-funded schools. They have seen first-hand the failure to invest in inner-city youth and its negative impacts. One organization that has been successful in addressing this gap is 100 Black Men Philadelphia. They provide programs and resources to students - and their parents - in order to break the cycle of firearm violence.
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Education to shift generational outcomes
“It’s been danger, trenches, gang violence, all that, I’ve been surrounded by that my whole life — we don’t get a lot of opportunities in this environment because of the lack of resources we all get, so we just got to work with what we have,” said Murrell Dobbins Technical High School senior, Gabe Galloway.
It is easy to paint impoverished and urban areas as naturally violent communities, but there are underlying factors that contribute to the issue. According to a study in JAMA Pediatrics shared in a US News report, the majority of firearm-related deaths occur in areas with a greater number of residents living below the federal poverty line. Even before this study, this correlation has existed for generations in communities with a lack of economic resources and employment opportunities. There are ways, though, that this reality can shift for future generations, and one of them is through educational programs that impact the youth.
The 100 Black Men of Philadelphia is an organization that is working to address the disparities in schools within low wealth communities by uplifting the youth and giving them the resources to build an economically stable future with positive relationships. This organization emphasizes growth for students of all ages through programs that focus on mentoring, education, health and wellness, and economic development.
The president of the Philadelphia chapter of 100 Black Men, Lawrence Price, stated how traditionally with education, “We spend so much time trying to leash human potential and there’s consequences to that; when you leash anything, sooner or later it wants to break free very violently, whether you like it or not.”
“Now we have to figure out, you don’t want a leash, just put a nice huge kennel around them and that’s what we do here; we wrap our arms around these kids and never let them go,” said Price. “We don’t always group our kids by age, we group them by interest.”
A lack of resources such as funding, available school programs, technology, and efficient practices in these disproportionately affected communities means that school systems cannot provide a path to economic promise for their students, which perpetuates the cycle of poverty and breeds an environment conducive to violence.
“The higher the poverty levels, the higher the violence is going to be. There’s no research to support that because someone is BIPOC, automatically they commit violence,” said Assistant Professor of Teacher Education at Cabrini University, Dr. Zakia Gates. “The lack of equitable resources are very paramount, but even if teachers don’t have these equitable resources, they can always use their practices to make it more culturally responsive and more culturally relevant for all of their students.”
As noted in a study in the New York Times, graduation rates in big cities are lower than in suburban areas, which affects a student’s ability to pursue higher education and succeed in the workforce. The nationwide study cited in the article showed an apparent gap in graduation rates, with 53 percent of students graduating from high school in the nation’s 50 largest cities as compared to 71 percent in the suburbs. In environments with distractions that could make a child fear for their life, high impact educational programs can keep inner-city youth motivated.
These disparities in education can also be attributed to the allocation of funds to public schools nationwide, which has historically relied more on local property taxes than state and federal funding. According to the Public Citizens for Children and Youth, Pennsylvania’s public school funding consists of 11 percent federal funding, 36 percent state funding, and 53 percent local funding through taxes. Whereas nationwide, public schools rely on about 12 percent federal funds, 40 percent state funds, and 48 percent local funds through taxes. With this reality of funding, public schools will continue to reflect the environments they are in, and the ones without affordable means to reach private or charter schools will remain in the same low-performing environments.
“When I was going to school, there were a lot of budget cuts going on that really slashed out all of the programs we could’ve gone to, like after school and even in-school elective classes,” said Frankford High School alumni, Mark Wan You. When it comes to students in inner city public schools, “overpopulation, low funding, and staff not understanding how to deal with and interpret certain kids, is what I think really changed the outcome of how kids looked at life itself.”
Better local funding has propelled public school systems in the suburbs to have more resources, technology, and extracurricular activities at their disposal for generations, whether these schools are public or private. In higher-income areas with more wealth than lower-income areas, municipalities have the ability to spend more on educational resources than that of city school districts.
Since the founding of the Philadelphia Chapter of the national organization of 100 Black Men in the early 1990s, they have provided a variety of programs that have grown to cater to children from as young as second grade to young men as old as 29.
“When you look at our core values from health and wellness, to finance, to education, they’ve always been there — we believe that’s the foundation,” said Vice President of Programs, David Chaney, Sr. “We’re their mentors for a lifetime.”
The Philadelphia Chapter currently operates at Vaux Big Picture High School, located in North Philadelphia, and they encourage the youth to be part of something that can benefit their future. Two examples of their programs are the ones that run year around, on the first and third Saturday of every month, for kids from 2nd to 12th grade as well as parents: The Leadership Academy and The Parent Academy.
Within their Leadership Academy, they host break out groups that can offer education, activities, and national competitions that align with their core values and foundation, and they can implement many of their programs on any given Saturday. Character building, leadership development, conflict resolution, goal setting, and networking are some of the key topics that they discuss with the youth during these sessions.
During the Parent Academy, parents gather on those same days when the Leadership Academy is taking place and discuss how they can raise their boys in these types of environments, create a healthy home, help them create healthy relationships, and help them stay on top of their personal finances. This program is also organized with the help of the Coalition of 100 Black Women, Philadelphia Chapter.
“We started branching out. Vaux is our home base school. Watching what we did here and the success within the community just naturally made me think of a way of extending this opportunity,” said Price. “So now we’re in James Rhodes Middle School, we’re in Kesington Kappa, we’re doing a relationship with Boys Latin Charter, so we’re in about eight other different schools following the same model we have here in Vaux.”
When creating a partnership with a school, that school can then choose which one or two programs they want to participate in, which could be the African American History Challenge, Dollars and Cents, or Money and Banking, which focus more on financial development, their health and wellness program, or many more.
“We have brothers that will go around the schools and do check-ins to see how things are going, making sure they are doing things the 100 way,” said Price.
With programs like 100 Black Men Philadelphia, the youth in this city are positioned to grow into well-rounded professionals who can maintain connections, create a stable economic future, resolve conflicts with smarter decisions, and stay healthy mentally and physically. As such, their goal to reduce gun violence is coming into fruition one step at a time.
“You have to figure out a way of engaging young people where they are and what their interests are, and at the same time while you’re doing it, you have to show them that there is more than just one solution to what their dream is,” said Price.
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Children in low wealth communities have fewer opportunities for a high quality education. Lower educational outcomes can keep generations of families in poverty, and research shows a link between poverty and gun violence. Lawrence Price helps to lead 100 Black Men of Philadelphia, an organization that aims to combat gun violence through youth education.
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