Home News Local news Christensen Endorses Report Showing 'A Way Out' for Young Minority Males

Christensen Endorses Report Showing 'A Way Out' for Young Minority Males


Nov. 29, 2006 — Everywhere she goes, Delegate Donna M. Christensen hears the same thing from young men around the territory: "I need a job."
"Going around campaigning, this is always the hardest thing to address," Christensen said. "When I go into housing communities, young men are always there saying, 'I need a job.'"
The problem runs through minority populations across the United States, according to a recent report from a commission led by a legendary activist congressman. Young minority males need a path to a better life, a path that includes not only jobs but also the tools necessary to build a life around meaningful work.
"This has to involve training, basic education and health care," Christensen said. "And being healthy involves being drug-free. When people say they need a job, I ask them, 'Could you pass a drug screen?' And you know what the answer to that usually is."
With a population that's three-fourths African-American, the U.S. Virgin Islands represents a concentrated example of the issue.
The report released this month by the Dellums Commission is called "A Way Out: Creating Partners for Our Nations Prosperity By Expanding Life Paths of Young Men of Color." The man who led the commission, Oakland, Calif., Mayor-Elect Ron Dellums, served as an activist congressman for most of three decades. He drew attention to war crimes during Vietnam and helped found the Congressional Black Caucus, to which Christensen belongs.
With Democrats now controlling Congress, Christensen hopes national priorities will shift toward the kinds of programs espoused by the Dellums report: "Investment in education, health care, job creation and economic opportunity are the heart of the Democratic agenda. The new majority ought to go a long way toward helping that."
Dellums expressed similar sentiments in a speech two years ago at the University of the Virgin Islands, criticizing the priorities of the Bush administration.
"They are willing to spend billions of dollar waging war, but when it comes to poverty and hunger, we throw a mere pittance out there," Dellums said in March 2004. (See "Ronald Dellums Speaks About a Life of Activism.")
The Dellums Report paints a grim picture of life for young minority males over the past 30 years. According to the report, governments have abandoned rehabilitation programs in favor of prison sentences, begun sending teenagers to prison and implemented zero-tolerance policies that drive young people out of schools and into the streets. Suggested improvements at the local, state and federal level include increasing the minimum wage and making mental health care more widely available.
"The diminished life options and outcomes that young men of color confront in todays America is not a natural phenomenon," said Dr. Gail Christopher, director of the Health Policy Institute, which sponsored the Dellums Commission. "The commission uncovered a series of policy decisions over the past three decades that have had a harmful impact on the way minority youth develop in our society. We have a duty to stop them now and reverse course. We cannot give up on our youth, and we must ask that they not give up on us."
Part of the work investigating the nationwide problem was done here in the territory earlier this year. Under the Congressional Black Caucus' "State of the Black Male" initiative, Christensen and other planners gathered young people to tell their stories.
"Unlike others held across the country, it was wisely decided by the V.I. team that before we could plan a conference on the state of the V.I. male, we first needed to hear from them," reads the report by Christensen's planning team. "One session was held on St. Croix on Feb. 24, and another in St. Thomas on the 25th. Twenty-nine young men attended on St. Croix and 32 on St. Thomas. The young men, who were from several public and private junior and (senior) high schools, also came from the Alternative Education Programs on both islands."
The report is called "Young Men Speak, We Listen: The Road to Health and Wholeness." Topics included sex, behavior, violence, drugs, education and opportunities. Some of the reports conclusions:
— Sex: "There was not much information or communication with parents on this subject, and some pointed out that women are uncomfortable talking to their sons about sex. In (St. Croix) they did not think sex education in the schools was the answer because it would just teach the biology or physiology, and that teachers would impart their own biases."
— Behavior: "In (St. Croix) it seemed to be agreed that they wanted and expected more discipline and standards. Someone said that adults, including teachers, give up on young people too quickly and easily, but that they — the young people — depend on them."
— Violence: "In (St. Thomas) they spoke of girls being a major cause of the violence and even instigating it. They said often untrue rumors, neighborhood rivalries, or arguments over material things start it — 'superficial prosperity and values.'"
— Drugs and crime: "On both Islands it was said that finding a job is often hard, especially if you are young, but that illegal jobs are easy to get at any age, and pay good money."
— Education: "Perhaps the most consistent complaint is that class work was boring, not made interesting, by relating it to life, to work or to out of the classroom experiences, and that it should be more interactive. They dont like being talked at all of the time. They felt this is why young men were dropping out, and if that changed, more would be retained. In STX, they said they need to include cultural heritage and environmental issues. The classes are too big, and elected leaders need to just drop into schools and see what they have to go through every day."
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