August 4, 2011The following is Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's address as prepared for delivery today at a breakfast co-hosted by the Council of Urban Professionals and the New America Alliance at the offices of Kirkland & Ellis LLP
“Thank you, Timothy, and good morning. I want to thank you all for coming, and Kirkland and Ellis for letting us use this wonderful space. I wasn’t really surprised that we were able to get the room at this hour – since most lawyers don’t get out of bed until 9:00 a.m. I’d also like to thank our gracious host organizations: The Council of Urban Professionals and the New America Alliance. These two organizations work hard to ensure that equal opportunity finds its way into every community – and that mission is at the heart of what our country is all about.
“America is based on a promise. It is the promise that hard work and initiative will be rewarded with opportunity and success, the promise that the American Dream can be shared by Americans of all backgrounds. It is that promise that makes ours the greatest nation on earth. And no city embodies that promise more than New York. We are the city of strivers and workers, of dreamers and doers. This is the freest and fairest city in the world.
“And yet, while we have worked to make that true for all, it is still not true for some.
“A few weeks ago, I attended the funeral of NYPD Detective First Grade Sonny Archer. Sonny grew up on the streets of Brownsville in the 70s and 80s. At that time, Brownsville was the type of place where it was far too easy for a young man like Sonny to take a wrong turn. Sonny’s father saw him gravitating towards a life of full of trouble and he got worried. So he worked multiple jobs so he could earn the money to send his son to the New York Military Academy. It was there that Sonny learned the values of discipline, courage, and honor that would inform the rest of his career and life, and help him become a decorated police detective.
“Sonny had his father looking out for him – but many boys don’t. And too often their stories end in poverty, violence, or prison. And that is why we are here today.
“As Mayor I work for every person in this city, in every borough. And I – we – have an obligation to try and extend opportunity’s promise to every community. While we have made significant progress in extending freedom and fairness – in guaranteeing equality of opportunity to all New Yorkers – we have not touched everyone. Because when we look at poverty rates, graduation rates, crime rates and employment rates, one thing stands out: Blacks and Latinos are not fully sharing in the promise of American freedom and far too many are trapped in circumstances that are difficult to escape.
“Even though skin color in America no longer determines a child’s fate, sadly it tells us far more about a child’s future than it should. That reality is not something we ever tell a child. Because, how could we possibly explain to young black and Latino boys that they are twice as likely as white children to grow up in poverty, twice as likely to drop out of school, and twice as likely to end up out of work?
“How could we possibly tell them that when they get older they are far more likely than their peers to become violent criminals – or the victims of violent crimes? How could we possibly look them in the eyes and say America is a great place, where you can grow up to be anything you want, but the odds are against you? The truth is: we can’t possibly look our children in the eyes and say any of those things. The fact that more black and Latino young men end up imprisoned or impoverished – rather than in professions of their choosing – is not a fact we are willing to accept here in New York City. Not today. Not ever.
“And so this morning, we are confronting these facts head-on – not to lament them, but to change them and to ensure that ‘equal opportunity’ is not an abstract notion – but an everyday reality, for all New Yorkers. This is a problem that has defied cities and states for decades – but it remains as urgent as ever. There is no cure-all, and we’re not going to be able to reach every single person no matter what we do. But we have to give it our best shot. Because until we do, we will continue losing billions of dollars in economic activity, billions of dollars in taxpayer money and – worst of all – we will continue losing an untold number of lives to violence and poverty.
“That’s why, about a year and half ago, in my 2010 State of the City speech, I made a commitment that we would find new ways to tackle this challenge. To help us devise a plan of action, I asked two people who are here with us today to guide our steering committee: David Banks – President of the Eagle Academy, a highly-successful school network that educates young men and Ana Oliveira, President of the New York Women’s Foundation, which works to create an equitable future for women, families, and communities in New York City. Since then, David and Ana Oliveira have worked tirelessly alongside Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs, Deputy Mayor and now Chancellor Dennis Walcott, and many others in our administration to devise an entirely new approach to this challenge.
“The three-year action plan we’re presenting today – called the Young Men’s Initiative – is the result of their work. And we believe it is one of the most ambitious and comprehensive attacks on racial and ethnic disparities among young men that any city has ever undertaken.
“Our action plan includes across-the-board policy reforms that will fundamentally change the way our agencies interact with black and Latino young men. This is the first time that New York or any major American city has engaged every relevant local agency in a collective effort to improve outcomes for black and Latino young men. And over the next three years, we will invest more than $127 million in programs and policies designed to improve the futures of young black and Latino men by systematically targeting the areas of greatest disparity. George Soros and his Open Society Foundations are committing $30 million towards this effort. Another $30 million in private investment is coming from Bloomberg Philanthropies. And the City will allocate up to $67.5 million.
“In a time of fiscal constraint, we know that these dollars must be spent wisely and strategically. The return on investment will not be just in the lives that these programs will touch, but in the ways that these lessons will reform how our agencies operate. That’s how we’ll get to the kind of systemic change I asked for when we launched the initiative 18 months ago.
“In developing this plan, our team took the same approach that we have to so many other challenges: We analyzed the data, we scoured the country for best practices and we spoke with the most knowledgeable and experienced people – from researchers, to young men themselves. Based on what we learned, we determined that there are four areas where the disparities are greatest and the consequences most harmful: Education; health; employment; and the justice system – and I’d like to talk a little bit about each, starting with education.
“When I first became Mayor, we made a very conscious and deliberate decision to attack the racial and ethnic achievement gap in high school graduation head-on. And I’m very proud to say that, over the past nine years, we have made major progress – the first measurable progress in a generation. But even as we have made progress in closing that gap, there remains another gap that we cannot ignore – and will not tolerate. Far too many black and Latino men are graduating high school with diplomas, but without the skills to succeed in college or careers. So next month, when the new school year begins, we will launch a pioneering new initiative called ‘Expanded Success.’
“The program will target 40 schools that have already shown progress in closing the achievement gap in high school graduation. We’ll use them as a proving ground to show that we can close the post-graduation achievement gap, too. Through the Expanded Success program we will provide students in these schools with academic supports, increased access to college classes and mentors, and we’ll work harder to engage their parents too. Over the next five years, the program will help black and Latino male students graduate – ready to take the next steps in college or their careers. Once we help the young men in these 40 schools graduate ready to succeed, then we’ll know how to do it in every school.
“At the same time, I’ve asked the Department of Education to make sure that principals of every school throughout the system know that we expect them to bridge the achievement gap. I’ve always said that what gets measured gets done, so the Department of Education has developed specific metrics to measure the performance of black and Latino young men against that of their peers. Starting this year, those metrics will appear on all school progress reports. We are sending the message to the entire school system that we are all responsible for closing the achievement gap – and we are giving parents another tool to hold schools accountable for success.
“We’ll also work to reduce the disparities that exist in special education – and in suspensions. That doesn’t mean we’re willing to compromise school safety, or allow students who don’t want to learn to disrupt things for those who do. We’ve come way too far in our schools to return to the “bad old days.” That will never happen – not on my watch. But we do need to find new ways to keep more black and Latino young men in the classroom – and to ensure they are getting the support they need to succeed in the classroom. Part of that support will involve new after-school mentoring for middle-schoolers – because too many of our young men are growing up without positive role models to look out for them and help them transition into manhood. Our Schools Chancellor, Dennis Walcott, was a key voice in developing our action plan and together, we are committed to holding all schools more accountable for the progress of black and Latino young men.
“The second area we’re focusing on is the health of black and Latino young men and their families. There’s no secret to it: If you have two fully engaged parents – even if they don’t live together – you have a much better shot at doing well in school, staying out of trouble and finding a good career. That’s why we’ve launched a major new effort to get fathers more involved in their children’s lives. A year ago, I asked our agencies to investigate all of the ways we were either unintentionally excluding fathers or missing opportunities to engage them – and we have begun changing that. Two months ago, we honored some of the men who are already succeeding in our fatherhood programs –– Men like Joshua Gonzalez, who joined a high school fatherhood program to prepare for the birth of his son. Today, Joshua is building his future – and his son’s, and that’s why these efforts are so crucial.
“Now, we will continue expanding our Fatherhood Initiative by launching new, innovative programs that will connect young men to economic opportunities that will also help prepare them to be better fathers. For example, we’ll work with CUNY to serve low-income young men who aren’t currently students, but who could benefit from job readiness, college prep, and literacy training, as well as parenting workshops. At the same time, we’ll help more young men avoid fatherhood until they are ready – by making our hospitals, health clinics, and reproductive health services more welcoming to young men. We can offer all of the services in the world, but it won’t make a difference if the young men who need them aren’t getting them.
“By helping more black and Latino teens become college and career ready today and helping more of tomorrow’s teens grow up in stable families, we will go a long way toward achieving success in the third critical area the Young Men’s Initiative will focus on: promoting employment. Today, we are announcing that we will make a record investment in new employment strategies that are designed to reduce the barriers that young black and Latino males face as they pursue jobs. We will invest $25 million to expand Jobs Plus, an evidence-based program that removes barriers to work for residents in public housing and helps connect them to employment.
“Jobs Plus is already operating in two New York City Housing Authority developments, and it has connected hundreds of New Yorkers to jobs and career training. We’ll also invest $9 million to expand the successful subsidized internship program run by our Center for Economic Opportunity and Department of Youth and Community Development that connects young people to education and training while they are working. Timothy, the young man who introduced me, told you what it has meant to him. And these paid internships will provide valuable professional experience to 750 young people, like Timothy, who want to work hard, but just need the right opportunity.
“We’ll continue working with private sector companies to help us sustain and even expand our summer youth employment program, which has lost both State and Federal support in recent years – and we hope that some of you here will join us in that effort. And we’ll make one very simple policy change that will connect thousands of young people to jobs: we’ll help them obtain State-issued IDs. Too many young people don’t have ID’s, making it difficult for them to apply for jobs, open up bank accounts, or receive government benefits and services.
“Today, I am an issuing an Executive Order that directs our City agencies – including our 311 Call Center – to develop a plan to educate New Yorkers about the various types of State and Federal identification available, and then guide individuals through the application processes. Simple idea, little to no cost, and potentially huge benefits.
”We know that the crisis of unemployment among young black and Latino men is inextricably linked to another major challenge: the revolving door of our justice system – our fourth priority. One of the most disheartening statistics I’ve ever heard is that three out of every four young men who leave Rikers Island return to Rikers Island. Unfortunately, the things that we know will help people with criminal records to turn the page – a job, a home, a connection to a community – are the very things that are harder to access if you’ve been convicted of a crime. Our action plan seeks to reduce the barriers to success along every point in the justice system, from sentencing to our work in the jails, to probation.
“For too long, probation offices around the country have merely been compliance factories. The process itself sends the message to people on probation that we do not have high expectations for their success. Most of our Department of Probation’s clients are young black and Latino men, and we do have high expectations for their success.
“I believe that with our support they can indeed turn their lives around. And so Probation will transform itself into an agency designed to hold people accountable while connecting them to employment and educational opportunities. To begin to do this, we will move probation offices into the community, co-located with neighborhood-based organizations. And, with $18 million in support from our private partners, we will offer literacy services as well as a unique mentoring program that pairs probationers with mentors from their communities.
“Those mentors will be available to them 24/7, and can help change the attitudes and behaviors that led to a life of crime. It is common sense to make these investments; it is far cheaper to help people turn their lives around than to bear the costs of the revolving door of incarceration.
“Smart criminal justice policy means investing in what works, and not spending money on what doesn’t. We know that keeping kids who get into trouble closer to home is better for them and cheaper for taxpayers. So we are going to continue to press our case for the State to use community-based alternatives to detention. To put our own money where our mouths are, we’ll invest $6 million in a pilot program to serve 100 kids who would otherwise be sent to detention facilities that are far away from their communities that don’t work and that cost taxpayers too much money.
“We believe all of these steps will help young people turn away from crime. But the single biggest thing we can do to reduce recidivism is to help young men leaving prison find jobs, because a job is the best anti-poverty and anti-crime program ever devised anywhere in the world. Part of our work to help more young men make this transition will involve examining the hiring practices of our own City agencies to ensure that those with criminal convictions don’t face unreasonable barriers to employment.
“I believe that as long as you have served your time and stayed clean, and the crime you committed isn’t related to the job you’re seeking or a threat to public safety, you deserve a second chance just like everyone else. And so New York City will now adopt policies already embraced by elected leaders such as former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley to ensure that we aren’t unfairly preventing the City from hiring the best possible candidates for each job.
“With more than $127 million of public and private money on the line, we need to hold ourselves accountable for progress in all of the areas I’ve just discussed – and we will.
“Our Center for Economic Opportunity will help us by bringing its experience of testing out and evaluating new ideas to determine which reforms work and should be expanded, and which do not merit further investment. We will also create a citywide management team under the joint direction of Deputy Mayor Gibbs and Chancellor Walcott that will continue to monitor progress and watch out for any policy or practice that impedes the success of our young men.
“To underscore the importance of this effort and the need for the highest level of vigilance, for the remaining 880 days of my administration, I will hold a monthly meeting with commissioners to hear reports on their progress in implementing these actions.
“We will also convene an advisory board of external partners to think beyond the confines of City government, and engage the support of the private and non-profit sectors and academic institutions.
“We understand how difficult this challenge will be. But our Young Men’s Initiative offers a promising new approach, because the policy changes and investments we are making are all strategically interconnected. For the first time, we have made a comprehensive effort to identify all the “pressure points” for black and Latino men throughout a lifetime, from birth to fatherhood. And we have designed policies and programs to provide support, reduce barriers, and promote opportunity at every single point down the line. Together, these reforms will equal more than the sum of their parts, and create positive and lasting changes that, we hope, will affect young men of this generation – and many generations to come.
“Before I close, I want to express my deep gratitude to one of our key partners in this groundbreaking effort: George Soros and the Open Society Foundations. George is one of the most active and committed philanthropists in the world – and he is not new to this issue. His foundation’s Campaign for Black Male Achievement has done pioneering work, and we are honored to be joining forces with him. I think that foundations coming together to tackle some of our society’s toughest challenges is the wave of the future, and this is a great example of that.
“We’d also like to thank JP Morgan Chase, which is donating $25,000 to help establish the Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council with Coro Leadership Institute. This council will be made up of young people who will help advise all of us in City government on matters of youth policy, and we look forward to working with them.
“Finally, a big thank you to the members of the Young Men’s Initiative Steering Committee: Ana Oliveira; David Banks; Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs; Chancellor Dennis Walcott; Veronica White, the Director of our Center for Economic Opportunity; and – most importantly – Andrea Batista Schlesinger, Linda’s Director of Strategic Initiatives, who really put her heart and soul into this effort. We are grateful to them and to all of the experts, leaders, and staff members who worked with them, advised them, and supported them over the past 18 months.
“Now, the real work begins! Thank you.”
Stu Loeser/Samantha Levine