By Aisha Carson, ACLU of MS Advocacy Coordinator
As the Sunflower County Systems Change Project (SCSCP) team started to engage the community and express the purpose of the project, there is always one question asked no matter the setting, “What about the girls?” That question is, by all means, an adequate and fair question to pose given that the project’s purpose is directly geared toward improving outcomes for Young Men and Boys of Color (YMBOC). That alone can definitely come across as being exclusive of girls. However, narrative change, discipline policy adjustments, and improved communication channels between the school district and other systems have positive effects on everyone. Even though the project’s goal is to specifically address disparities amongst males, the implications reach far pass one group; however, there are specific reasons why the focus is on minority males.
Young Men and Boys of Color face a very unique plight in our public schools. Due to harsh discipline policies and negative perceptions of YMBOC, they are vulnerable to disparate treatment in schools. National data shows that YMBOC are three times more likely to be suspended and expelled, and five times more likely to be arrested at school. In some Mississippi school districts, they are eight times more likely to be suspended than their white counterparts. These unfortunate statistics are a part of what people call the school to prison pipeline (STPP). This pipeline is credited with funneling children, specifically black males, out of school and into the criminal justice system. The STPP further perpetuates mass incarceration, decreases access to education, and leads to very low outcomes for black males.
During the Obama Administration, notably, there has been a keen focus on improving outcomes for minority males through the My Brother’s Keeper’s Initiatives and reforming the criminal justice system. As the STPP is directly connected with both, the goal of this project is derivative of a national focus on impacting change by specifically focusing on the needs of YMBOC.
Although the project doesn’t directly target girls, there is a broader reach in addressing systemic issues that will enhance their experiences and positively contribute to the notion of having an authentic paradigm shift. The SCSCP seeks to address all of the systems that contribute to the negative impact of STPP policies. Our goal is to foster a community effort that helps to bring awareness and solutions to the problems facing young men in our community, and to improve their outcomes, thereby enhancing our community as a whole.
Learn more at www.sunflowercountysystemschange.com.