Maurice Grier could have been like one of the young black men the 200 people at Saturday’s My Brother’s Keeper forum gathered to help.
Instead, he’s become an example of what can happen when a community commits to providing opportunities for improving lives of young black men who often fall behind on academics and job prospects.
Grier, who attended the forum aimed at improving prospects for young black men, was raised on Charlotte’s westside by a single mother and at times he and his three brothers were homeless. But his “strong mother” was determined her sons would have a chance. His teachers at West Charlotte High pushed him along a path to college and a career. And initiatives like the Mayor’s Youth Employment Program set him up with internships and a lawyer to shadow.
“When a school and a city believes in you that’s when they’ll harvest the potential here on the westside,” said Grier, 18 and a sophomore at UNC Chapel Hill.
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This is what President Barack Obama hoped would happen across the country when he introduced his My Brother’s Keeper Alliance in May. The private-sector initiative is designed to build commitments for local programs devoted to education, literacy, mentoring, job training and other efforts to steer young men of color from violence to productive lives.
At Saturday’s discussion, Mayor Dan Clodfelter said groups in Charlotte weren’t new to this work. “We didn’t just discover the things that we need to be doing,” Clodfelter said. As an example, he cited 100 Black Men of Charlotte, a group that’s been mentoring young black men since the 1960s.
“This is not only a problem for young black men. It’s a problem for all us – we need to own it,” Clodfelter said.
The group heard from Ivory Toldson, deputy director of the White House’s initiative for Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
A panel discussion focused on literacy, mentoring, high school graduations and legislators who are increasing academic demands but limiting resources. The panel included Clodfelter; U.S. Rep. Alma Adams, D-N.C.; Charlotte-Mecklenburg School Supt. Ann Clark; Erlene Lyde, president of a teachers association and Charlotte’s Web Director Cory Carter.
Mentioning limited resources, Clark said CMS has 1,300 eligible children on a waiting list for a pre-kindergarten program. She used Project Lift as an example of what can happen with a committed community effort. The effort raised $55 million in private money to boost performances at West Charlotte High and its eight feeder schools.
Two years ago, she said, West Charlotte students had a “50-50 chance at graduating. Today the graduation rate of that high school is about 74 percent.”