How to Fight the Dropout Rate Among Black Youth

4798 In 2011, about 82 percent of San Francisco's students graduated from high school. Ten percent dropped out. Break it down by ethnic group and the numbers change in uncomfortable ways. For example, just 62.3 percent of the city's African-American students graduated, and nearly 20 percent dropped out. The numbers for Latino students are similar. Kids need education and support, but resources are increasingly scarce. Often in these cases, in cities like San Francisco, nonprofits step in. Resources for those organizations are limited, too, but it helps to be able to show pretty much constant success.
This year, San Francisco's Omega Boys Club celebrates its 25th anniversary. It has spent that quarter century helping local boys and girls get out of bad neighborhoods and into different mindsets.

The idea came to mind back in 1982, when Joe Marshall was teaching at Woodrow Wilson High School on the Southeast side of San Francisco. He thought he was pretty good at it, and by academic measures, he was. Then he realized that in a school serving low-income families, that wasn't enough.

"They were getting A's in math and F's in life - and it's tough to get a kid an A in math at 13 and go to his funeral at 19," says Marshall.

Marshall said that he heard horror stories about his students.

"Many were ending up on drugs, in jail or pregnant," says Marshall. "The worst thing to do was have to go to a funeral of a former student who was killed in a drug or gang-related incident."

Marshall started to reflect on his own path. He'd grown up in St. Louis and then South Central L.A. As a young black man, he saw less than half of his African-American peers graduating from high school within four years.

Marshall had bucked the trend: he went to college at the University of San Francisco and became an advocate for civil rights. It wasn't until he traveled to historically black colleges in the South that he found rooms full of African-American role models.

"It showed me that black men are way more than just thugs and non-serious students and athletes, I didn't know anything at that time but it was great, I flourished," says Marshall.

Marshall founded the Omega Boys Club with a fellow teacher, Jack Jacqua in 1987. It served both boys and girls in an after school program that offered academic tutoring and trained kids to stay off the streets, but Marshall says the program was not an immediate success.

"The early kids that I sent off to college did not do well, they weren't prepared for college," says Marshall. "I had a young man who wanted to go to college, very smart, a gang member who said he wanted to go to school, I sent him to college and he sold drugs on campus."

In 1990, only 28 percent of African Americans who went to college got their degrees. Marshall realized the same problems were following many of them out of their neighborhoods.

"They get infected with a way of thinking. It's really sad because you know when they have a virus, but they think they are ok," says Marshall. "They think it's bad luck, but no, they've been programmed that way."

Programmed to fail. Once again, Marshall decided he could do more.


Source: KALW San Francisco | Leila Day
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