Washtenaw County Context
AAACF recognizes the economic, social, health, and educational inequities that exist in Washtenaw County, particularly for Black and African-American males.
Data tells us that we are the 8th most economically segregated metropolitan region in the country, and that 60% of African-Americans in Washtenaw County live in low-opportunity areas.
Specifically, according to the MI School Data site, the data reveals that for the Washtenaw County graduating class of 2018-19, college readiness rates are as follows: 15.6% of Black and African American males meet the benchmark compared to 53.2% of all males who meet the benchmark.
For Black men that enroll in college, and 27% require remedial coursework in math compared to only 13% of the general population. These and other circumstances elongate the educational journey and delay graduation as compared to peers, which limits future economic opportunity where you have less years to try and accomplish what others already have a head start on.
For context, Black people represent 12.3% of the total population of Washtenaw County and comprise about 52% of the people of color in our community. According to the Race For Justice Report by Citizens for Racial Equity in Washtenaw, in Washtenaw County, Black people account for 98.16% of the people of color charged by prosecutors in serious capital felony cases and 99.4% of the people of color charged in non-capital felony cases. With a disproportionate number of Black people (and specifically Black men) entering the criminal justice system from our community, it is virtually impossible for them to then achieve educational success when they exit prison and return to community.
We heard time and again through our partnership with Washtenaw My Brother’s Keeper (a local affiliate of the national organization that seeks to close the opportunity gap for young Black men in America) that Black young men aspire to be professionally and personally successful, want to be economically secure to support their current and future families, and want very much to contribute to broader community success and well-being. Our current systemic deficit is not reflective of the strengths, assets, and ongoing contributions of young Black men in our community and yet the inequitable outcomes persist. We would like to be part of community efforts and solutions seeking to change these inequitable outcomes.
For over a year, AAACF has been working with Washtenaw My Brothers Keeper (WMBK) to intensively listen to and incorporate the voices and perspectives of young Black men in Washtenaw County as the core of our EmpowerMENt Fund. The WMBK project resulted in a full length album, entitled Formula 734, and is a musical expression of the hopes, dreams, desires, concerns, and fears that young men experience. This speaks to our goal of helping young Black men find and express their own voice rather than speaking for them, just one of the many ways AAACF is re-considering our approach to promoting racial equity.
Pilot Initiative Activities
The EmpowerMENt Fund and its purpose were established based on extensive community input and advice (over 30 conversations and engagements). The fund’s initiatives will take a holistic approach to support people, groups, networks, and movements that share our goals. Programs and projects supported by the Fund may include but are not limited to education, mentorship, mental health support, advocacy, vocational and skills trade training, financial literacy, and empowerment and healing through the arts. The common theme among the Fund’s initiatives tie back to supporting the young men’s educational success at all levels (elementary, high school, and post-secondary).
Pilot Goals and Outcomes
The EmpowerMENt Fund supports efforts that uplift young Black males in Washtenaw County while promoting their educational success. Our initial thesis is that by focusing support on the programmatic areas listed above our investments will contribute to the following initial measurable outcomes:
Investing in mentorship programs that inspire youth to do well in school and continue their education:
- Increase the number of students who improved their grades
- Measure how many students completed their school year
Investing in re-entry programs for juvenile Black offenders and improving their quality of life:
- Increase the number of young Black re-entry citizens (i.e., released from prison) who receive mental health support
- Increase the number of young Black re-entry citizens who continue their education (e.g. college, skills trade, vocational training)
Investing in programming related to empowerment and healing through the arts:
- Increase the number of young Black males who overcome some type of trauma