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Opportunity for All Demands All of Us

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Contributors: Kwesi Rollins, Director, Leadership Programs at the Institute for Educational Leadership and Reuben Jacobson, Senior Research Associate at the Coalition for Community Schools, Institute for Educational Leadership.

President Obama's announcement of a signature initiative to help young men of color succeed will bring national focus to the many deep inequities they face systemically and on a daily basis.

The President is not only highlighting the "problem," he is working toward solutions toward creating opportunity for all. And he's asking all of us to pitch in, to work together, and with a sense of urgency. Community school leaders and advocates from Oakland to Cincinnati, and in many other communities have been working on solutions and are ready to step up.

In fact one of the strategies the President highlighted is the "Becoming A Man" (B.A.M.) initiative run by Youth Guidance in Chicago, a part of the Chicago Public Schools Community Schools Initiative and one of our partners in the Coalition for Community Schools. Youth Guidance operates B.A.M. in nearly 40 Chicago schools, many of which are community schools where the organization is a lead partner and has a deep relationship with the school principal, teachers and other staff. A community school is a place where the school and partners from across the community come together to educate and support kids.

B.A.M. seeks to reduce dropout and violence among male students through programming inside and outside of school. There are six core values: integrity, accountability, self-determination, positive anger expression, visionary goal setting, and respect for womanhood. These are values that we want for all of our children -- values that community schools and their partners work toward daily.

Our conversation with Youth Guidance leaders indicates that B.A.M. operates most smoothly in community schools.

Malika Graham-Bailey, Director of Community and After-School Programs at Youth Guidance says, "creating a presence for B.A.M. within the community schools framework allows not only for a deeper recognition of non-instructional challenges many students face but also provides access to other diverse, targeted interventions and resources that may be needed, as well as the qualified people to implement them. In addition, the extension of 'whole-child' engagement within our community schools has aided in leveraging essential and impactful resources - both fiscal and in-kind."

The B.A.M story exemplifies what community schools are doing across the country - uniting youth and families with educators, community partners, elected leaders, and funders, to address our most challenging problems. They share responsibility for creating the conditions that will enable our most vulnerable children - children facing the greatest inequities - to succeed.

And they sustain their work because they know that solving deep and systemic problems cannot be solved by a campaign. Our children require a sustained commitment throughout their lives. You can't be "My Brother's Keeper" one day and not the next. It takes a deep commitment to young men of color that they can trust in, day in and day out. Their trust is foundational to our efforts to support them and ensure the opportunities they deserve.

We will be talking about all of these issues together with our friends from Youth Guidance and several B.A.M. young people at our National Forum, Community Schools: The Engine of Opportunity, in Cincinnati in early April. Join us, bring your community, and learn how all of us can work together to make opportunity for all a reality.