Last June, I had the privilege of being elected to the board of directors of a non-profit in Nashville known as All The King’s Men www.AKMNashville.org.
The mission of AKM is pretty straightforward: We strive to reduce the disproportionate minority contact and confinement amongst the young male population across the United States with the Juvenile Court System.
Over the past 10 years, I have been blessed with opportunities to serve as a youth advocate, youth program specialist and as an educator to at-risk youth socially and academically.
These have been rewarding experiences. But I have also seen some disturbing issues over the past decade, including the number of young lives adversely impacted by the juvenile courts, failing schools and failing neighborhoods, as well as the lack of financial support for programs to serve the youth.
Our CEO of AKM, Eric Capehart, reported to the Board of Directors that in Davidson County and Nashville, African American children account for only 38 percent of the total population of children under 18, but African American males make up the highest percentage of children referred to juvenile court in Nashville-Davidson County.
These statistics continue to increase with no end in sight. However, a recent speech by Attorney General Eric Holder provides hope and support for youth advocates and our youth who are involved with the juvenile system.
Attorney General Holder doesn’t hide behind those racially-charged questions dealing with the juvenile justice system. The statistics show that African Americans are still at the bottom of the totem pole in the juvenile justice system and programs like “Scared Straight” are not effective.
As youth advocators, we must take a more scientific approach to programs that aim to reduce the disproportionate minority contact and confinement of our youth. As the attorney general said, “We also must adopt a comprehensive plan of action — one that engages law-enforcement partners, medical professionals, social services providers, lawyers, parents, teachers, coaches, mentors and community leaders.”
Essentially, collaboration and coalition building must be part of the new paradigm shift for program development. In Nashville-Davidson County, a task force has been established to investigate the disproportionate minority contact and confinement, a great step for our community.
Our next step in Nashville has to be to collaborate and to build a coalition with the education system, which includes the higher learning universities and the public education system.
As Attorney General Holder said “…it’s time to broaden our approach to juvenile justice.”
We must invest in effective programs. We must take a holistic approach to saving our youth. We must support nonprofits like All The Kings Men, Inc., that has shown that after 12 months of mentoring, participants are not reentering or having contact with the juvenile justice system. We must build strong coalitions and find ways to collaborate across various sectors.
As an old Whitney Houston song goes, “I believe the children are our future, but we as advocates and the like must protect their future.”
Jamal Hutchinson, Ed. S., & M.P.A.
Accomplished Educator & Youth Specialist