By Ken A. Epstein
Assemblymember Sandré R. Swanson is seeking to provoke a sense of public urgency about the desperate social and economic conditions faced by boys and men of color.
He held a packed public hearing Jan. 20 in Oakland of the Select Committee on the Status of Boys and Men of Color in California. Other hearings are scheduled for Los Angeles, Fresno, and Sacramento.
“We worked for a year and a half to get this select committee off the ground,” Swanson said, explaining that state leaders were “walking by this problem and not paying attention to it. We were taking for granted that it had to be that way.”
The mission, he said, “Is about saving lives, letting young people know that we care.”
“Many boys and young men of color are trapped in an endless cycle of prison, poverty and disadvantage. Blacks and Latinos make up 43 percent of the state’s population, yet they make up 65 percent of the state prison population,” Swanson said.
The select committee is focusing on issues related to health, education, violence prevention, employment and wealth and youth development.
“The decisions made now will help build the framework for how state and local policies respond to and support the needs of our youth for generations to come,” he said.
One of the many speakers at the event was Dr. Tony Iton, senior vice president of the California Endowment, which funds programs to improve the lives of underserved communities.
Ito emphasized the need for daring leadership and participation of the people who are affected if there is going to be real change. “What is critical in this work is leadership. This is a struggle for equity,” he said, “and a struggle for equity is a struggle about power… We have to enlist the participation of the most impacted.”
Olis Simmons, director of the Oakland nonprofit Youth Uprising, called for more private-public partnerships to meet the needs of youth.
“This is about creating access to economic opportunity,” she said. “In wealthy neighborhoods, nobody is looking for a case manager.”